© Dr. Artur Knoth

Brazilian Philately: The Pan Am Zeppelin Flight of 1930

1930 Zeppelin Pan Am Flight : Brazilian Covers out of Buenos Aires : A Philatelic Tango

I. Introduction

As noted in a previous article /1/, covers originating out of Buenos Aires, but franked with “Brazilian-Condor” stamps, being canceled in Pernambuco (Recife) is among one of many legends of this flight. This legend started with the famous German dealer and aerophilatelist in Görlitz Germany, Alexander Berezowski. In his famous 1930 Handbuch /2/ he states that before even the Argentine PO started accepting covers for the 1930 Pan Am Zeppelin flight, the Condor agency in Buenos Aires accepted covers franked with the Brazilian Condor special stamps. But the covers were first canceled when they arrived in Pernambuco (RECIFE). Since then all the major catalogs, e. g. Sieger and Michel, have accepted this “fact” as fiat, pronounced by the then “doyen” of aerophilately, Berezowski, who was very involved philatelically with this flight. The was communicated to me by Hermann Walter Sieger /3/. Due to my research, I have been able to convince Consul Sieger that it was not Pernambuco, but Rio de Janeiro instead, and the latest edition of the Sieger Catalog /4/ reflects this fact. Unfortunately, Michel /5/ has decided to keep the older, for me, incorrect version. In this article I will present the evidence, some other “possible” evidence, and let the reader make his own decision.

II. Pseudo-Evidence and the Real Thing

While this whole subject may seem to the general aerophilatelist and zeppelin collector a rather trivial little footnote, it does vividly demonstrate, how often evidence, hard evidence, hear-say and plain fruitful imagination, stirred by laziness in researching (I plea guilty as charged), can produce a brew of fact and fiction.

Without trying to really sound like Grissom in the latest episode of “CSI”, solid research, that tries to avoid sloppiness, must in the end approach the subject with a forensic and scientific approach, putting everything into doubt until it has been proved correct or at least doesn't cause contradictions with real known facts (even rumor has, at times, a factual basis). It must be logical and make sense. This comparison with forensics has been taken purposely. One of the newest facts in forensics has been that “eye-witnesses” very often see or record things wrong. This can also happen to quasi “eye-witnesses” such as a Berezowski getting it wrong in his handbook, even though he was intimately involved in the philatelic mail on this flight. Yet my research has shown that the “evidence” (as Grissom would say) speaks a different language.

III. The Zeppelin is Coming – the Aerial War

To understand the chaos and atmosphere that existed, in which the Zeppelin mail out of Buenos Aires was created, one needs to consider the situation in Argentina in the first few months of 1930 leading up to the Zeppelin coming to South America.

Since the discovery of Brazil (South America) in 1500, the rivalry between Argentina and Brazil has been a historical constant. Even Dr.Eckener got to experience this as he traveled to South America to see about establishing a permanent Zeppelin route with fixed landing facilities /6/. During this trip, in 1921, a fast steamer (15 knots) took 20 days for the Seville to Buenos Aires leg, whereas the Zeppelin could do it in 4. There was a real and indispensable need for reliable and speedy mail communication at a time when commerce was growing (and already globalizing).

In the first months of 1930, on the battlefield of providing airmail service between the South American Cone to Europe and North American, four different groups were slugging it out /7/.

Aeropostale: Having lost out in Brazil, this company managed a virtual monopoly for Argentine mail to Europe. And exactly on the 11th of May, 1930, two weeks before the Zeppelin was to arrive, Jean Mermoz left on a much celebrated flight from France to Argentina and back.

NYRBA: This company's maiden flight/8/, February 19th to 26st,1930 introduced a further complication, albeit for mail to North American.

Pan American: Parallel to NYBRA, Pan American Airlines had its inaugural flight from Miami to Buenos Aires April 25th to May 2nd, 1930. Even Charles Lindbergh piloted a plane on a segment of this flight /9/.

Condor: Here too, technically there was no monopoly, but, de facto, it didn't make any difference. In conjunction with Deutsche Lufthansa, Condor already attempted on the 22rd of May, 1930, the first South Atlantic Catapult trial /10/. The Do-Wal plane “Jangadeiro” transferred mail to the ship Cap Arcona at Fernando Noronha. This should be definitely viewed as a counterattack to the Aeropostale-Mermoz activities.

Zeppelin: And then, in an already hotly contested arena, enters the Zeppelin. Although there was a cooperation between Lufthansa, Condor and Zeppelin, still, if more flights were to be “triangular” in nature (i. e. Europe-South America-North America-Europe), then the Zeppelin would be competition for even the US companies.

In any case, the stage was set for a battle. Dr. Eckener had already investigated earlier, the possibility of the Zeppelin going all the way to Buenos Aires, but decided against it due to logistics and meteorological problems this far south/6/. Embedded in the already crass Argentine-Brazilian rivalry, one gets, due to the Argentine mail that is to be flown on the Zeppelin, a further rivalry escalation superimposed between the French (Aeropostale)-German (Condor/Zeppelin/Lufthansa). Remember, this era is between the two world wars, and feelings are bad on both sides. In any case, one could assume that Aeropostale would do everything in its power, to assure that any Argentine mail destined for the Zeppelin, would pass through its hands. And this would also mean trying to put any and all obstacles in the way of Condor in trying to get the help of the Argentine PO, e. g. issuing special stamps, etc.

IV. What We “Supposedly” Know

Though not wanting to make this article a completely academic and frighteningly tedious affair, it is germane to the discussion to examine a few “sources” to see the degree of contradictions one finds in the literature:

Berezowski /2/: This says that before the Argentine PO (the first overprinted stamps have May 19, 1930 as their first day) started to accept covers to be flown on the Zeppelin, the Condor Agency in Buenos Aires was already accepting correspondence franked with the “Brazilian” Zeppelin stamps. These covers were then canceled in Pernambuco.

Berthold /11/: In this handbook, from the group that the “Kummer” as well as “Sanchez-Gomez” covers, doesn't say much. But they do discuss a special connection flight Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro on the 22nd May, 1930.

German-ArGe /12/: In their 1990 “Rundbrief”, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Pam Am flight, one finds a compilation of the philatelic facts known about this flight. They make three major points that are critical:

?Unknown(note fragment): During my gathering of info, a fragment of perhaps a note, fell into my hands. This source goes even further than the others and states:

Figure 1: Argentine Zeppelin flight cachet /4/

Thus, we have a whole of sources with, at times, contradictory statements as to how the whole thing really proceeded.

V. The Evidence Speaks – The Covers

It is time to examine the hard facts, i. e. The covers and to what testimony they give.

(a) Normal Argentine Covers:

To begin with, what does a typical Argentine (Sieger No.63) look like. Figures 2 and 3 are two typical postcards of this genre.

Figure 2: A Sieger No. 63 with the distinctive violet triangle.

Figure 3: A Sieger No.63 typical postcard without the cachet.

All the handbooks and catalogs agree on one point, all the mail carries the distinctive violet cachet. But just as one often finds that “normal” Brazilian covers (i. e. posted in Brazil), do not always carry a strike of the giant Recife special Cancellation, the same could apply here too. The covers in Fig. 2 and 3 prove that it can and did happen. Also, neither of these covers is on the Aeropostale stationary.

(b) Brazilian Franked Covers:

Now lets take a look at some of the “Brazilian” covers. Fig.4 displays one of many “philatelic” covers one often sees. First of all, this shows what the Aeropostale official stationary for this fight looked like and that one often sees on the “normal” covers franked with Argentine stamps. Till now I have seen at least four “Holtkemper” covers, all franked with the ABC combination (5$, 10$ and 20$000 stamp set) sent to Germany. Another version of this type are the “Phillips” covers (I know of at least 5) all with the DEF (set of “USA” overprinted stamps) sent to New York. These covers were all created by the “Casa Pardo”, the primer philatelic house at the time in Buenos Aires /13/. The Figures 5 and 6 demonstrate the typical company back stamp found on the reverse of these covers and the business card one finds as contents in these covers.

Figure 4: Typical Holtkemper cover sent by Casa Pardo

But not all covers were on the official Aeropostale stationary. The postcard in Fig. 7 (and the reverse Fig. 8) is an example for several aspects. Besides being addressed to Scotland, contents that demonstrate the philatelic nature of this card and imprinted with the return address, 2 other markings on this cover are even more relevant. The first being that the card was already written on the 15th of May, days before the emission of the Argentine stamps, this would also support the argument that, due to uncertainty of having the Argentine stamps available, Condor had made provisions with their “Brazilian” issue to enable correspondence out of Buenos Aires.

Another feature of this cover is that the card is preprinted stationary of the Scots Church in Buenos Aires. Under the Recife special cancel, one sees the violet cachet and a further red rubber stamp. A better version of this red marking is displayed in Fig. 9. It belongs to the Hotel Jousten. This hotel was the main place to stay for foreigners with business in Buenos Aires /13/.

Figure 5: Casa Pardo Back Stamp

Figure 6: Casa Pardo Business card

Figure 7: Postcard addressed to Scotland

Figure 8: Reverse of card with the 15th of May, 1930 date.

Figure 9: Rubber stamp of the Hotel “Jousten”, often seen on the covers.

Figure 10: Letter to France via Spain with “Jouston” marking on back.

A further letter (Fig. 10), almost certainly philatelically inspired, demonstrates nicely, that there couldn't have been that many stamps available or they sold out very quickly. Obviously the person wanted to send the cover with a complete set. Yet the cover is franked with the ACE combination: 5$000 and 20$000 for Europe and a 10$000 with the “USA” overprint. Not enough “B”s, i. e. 10$000 for Europe were available to make a homogeneous franking as in the case of the Holtkemper and Phillips covers.

(c) Mixed Frankings:

There are also some mixed covers that one sees every once in a while at auctions. These are covers franked with both Argentine and Brazilian stamps.

(1): A cover to Czechoslovakia,using the Aeropostale stationary, is plastered with 6 Argentine Zeppelin stamps and a 12 centavo regular stamp. In addition, a 10$000 red is added. All the stamps are canceled with the Aeropostale canceler and, at least on the front, has no “Brazilian” markings what so ever.

(2): Then there is a postcard to Vienna, using a courtesy picture postcard of the Hotel Jousten, franked with a 300 Reis red Brazilian regular stamp (Mercury issue) and a 5$000-USA Zeppelin stamp. Also present is a copy of the 20 centavo Argentine Zeppelin overprint. In this case all the postal markings are Condor, none from Aeropostale. Here one could image that a 5$000-USA was used due to having run out of normal 5$000 stamps?

Figure 11: Philatelic letter with a ACE franking

Below I have attempted to gather in a table, the number of these covers that I own or have seen at auctions, etc. At present, I know of 28 covers. The true number is probably much greater, but my feeling tells me that that definitive number will be smaller than three digits.

Cover Type













No Stamp

# known (28)














Table 1: Present status of covers known to me

(d) The Merritt/Eccleston Correspondence:

This brings the expose to the last cover to be considered and perhaps one that can shed the most light on this situation. Readers of the APJ will perhaps recognize this cover from my recent article about pseudo-diplomatic mail, the “Merritt” cover. In a case of very good fortune, the cover still contained the original letter also written on the Aeropostale stationary. From the contents of the letter, one sees immediately that this mailing is philatelic. But there two further statements in the letter that are of interest:

The first bullet means that the in Buenos Aires, the understanding (or rumor?) was that the letters would go directly to Pernambuco (probably because Aeropostale was thought to be handling all of the covers out of Buenos Aires.

The second is equally intriguing. A part of the postage used to frank the letter was for payment of the Argentina to Brazil portion of the conveyance. Yet, the correct postage for a Brazilian letter to the USA was exactly 10$000 Zeppelin and 0$300 Reis Brazilian (same holds true for the covers in Fig. 7 and 10 too).

Figure 12: Merritt cover sent by US Embassy to D.C.

Figure 13: The letter of the Merritt cover on Aeropostale stationary

Furthermore, the letter is dated the 21st, at a time when the Argentine PO already had issued their stamps and were accepting covers.

And lastly, even though a violet cachet didn't get applied to this cover, there is no doubt that this cover is part and parcel of the Condor mail out of Buenos Aires.

VI. A Possible Scenario

Now arrives the moment to try to take the different, and at times, contradictory “facts” and fuse them together into a possible coherent and complete picture of what really happened (and paraphrasing George Tenet, it might not be completely right, but it isn't completely wrong).

The biggest handicap with any treatment of mail on the Pan Am flight is that fact that the Zeppelin's ship-log for exactly this particular flight is missing. Even a greater complication is the demise of some of the Condor records. They were transferred to Lufthansa and suffered in the fire storms of World War II (especially the Pan Am records, e. g. the Parahyba issue). Thus, such “guesstimates”, as I'm doing in this case, are all that remains in the realm of the possible.

The problems Dr. Eckener went through trying to get special stamps for this flight are well described in his book /5/. His success in both Brazil and Argentina was mixed and neither are really “official”. Thus, in light of the facts above, I see the following chronology having happened.

Condor applied for special overprinted Argentine air mail stamps. Aeropostale objected and was of the opinion that only they could transport the covers to Brazil and any special stamps issued were to be paid for by Condor and not the Argentine PO. With a court case running concerning the costs of the Argentine stamps, Condor got permission to send some “Brazilian” stamps to service initial early covers, probably transported by the Condor plane initially sent to Buenos Aires to convey the Zeppelin covers to Brazil.

After everything got finally sorted out the last minute, an Aeropostale plane transported the Argentine covers to Pernambuco. The Condor plane returned to Rio, but probably not completely empty (my supposition). I'm of the opinion that this plane carried the “Brazilian” franked covers to Rio and they were canceled there.

There is some circumstantial evidence that could point in this direction. As described in Lehmann's book /14/, Condor had planes available for the Zeppelin passengers you wanted to do some tourism in the rest of Brazil, during the few days that the Zeppelin was in Brazil. Since the Condor fleet was small (at times 2 planes – Aeropostale had 6), the plane from Buenos Aires could return passengers who stayed in Rio and wanted to rejoin the Zeppelin in Pernambuco.

Thus one can list the following conclusions:

VII. Whose Mail?

Finally, there remains a perhaps trivial question, just whose mail are the covers franked with Brazilian stamps sent from Buenos Aires: Argentine Zeppelin Mail (AZM) or Brazilian Zeppelin Mail (BZM)? Most handbooks and catalogs put these under Argentina. The case for AZM is that the covers (usually) carry the Argentine cachet, the senders were out of Buenos Aires and the covers entered the mail stream in Buenos Aires. The Case of considering the covers a special case of BZM is simply put, there are no Argentine postage stamps of any sort on the cover, neither the Argentine Zeppelin stamps nor, most importantly, are the 5 or 12 centavos official Argentine PO stamps present, only those (200 to 500 Reis) of the Brazilian PO.

The way I look at it, it is comparable to the “offices” that the major powers had in foreign countries in the 19th century. Also comparable to the “Vorläufer” stamps, i. e. Mother country stamps, unoverprinted, used in the colonies/offices before overprinted supplies arrived. After all, Condor may well have had a table or bureau in the lobby of the “Jouston” hotel as an “office” in Buenos Aires.


/1/ A. Knoth: Urban Legends and Internet Myths:...; Airpost Journal 75 (2), 55 ( February 2004)

/2/ Alexander Berezowski: Handbuch der Luftpostkunde – Zeppelin-Posten; pp 81-2, (Görlitz 1930 – Reprint 1981)

/3/ Sieger - private communication e-mail

/4/ Zeppelin Post Katalog, Sieger Verlag 22st Ed., bottom page 105, (Lorch, Germany 2001)

/5/ Zeppelin- und Flugpost-Spezial-Katalog 2002, Michel Verlag, top page 97, (Munich, Germany 2002)

/6/ Dr. Hugo Eckener: Im Zeppelin Über Länder und Meere; (Verlagshaus Christian Wolff – Flensburg 1949)

/7/ R.E.G. Davies: Airlines of Latin America Since 1919; (Putnam – London 1984)

/8/ Julius Grigore, Jr.: NYRBA's Triple Crash and Outlaw Flight Covers and it's Postal Markings; (1991-USA)

/9/ Frank H. Blumenthal: Two Mystery Cachets from the 1930 7-Day Service New York – Buenos Aires; Lindbergh Notes – Jack Knight Air Log 55(3), 41 (July-September 1998) and 56(3), 61 (July-September 1999)

/10/ Erich Haberer: Katalog Über die Katapultpost, Teil 2: Südatlantik; p5 (Weil der Stadt 1987)

/11/ Dr. Victor M. Berthold and F.W. Kummer: Handbook of Zeppelin Letters Postal Cards and Stamps – 1911-1931; pp 49-50 (1932 Ed.)

/12/ Hanns Schlotter: Die Südamerikafahrt 1930 des LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin; ArGe Zeppelin Rundbrief Nr.1, 1(1990)

/13/ Kuchan: private communication

/14/ E. A. Lehmann: Auf Luftpatrouille und Weltfahrt; pp329-32 (Schmidt&Schmidt, Leipzig, Germany 1937)