Last Updated: March 15, 2007|
The Mounted Aerogrammes
from the Thomas A. Matthews Collection
Jerome V. V. Kasper
Although the Aerogramme (or Air Letter) was developed prior to World War II, the war saw a dramatic increase in its acceptance and use. By 1950, aerogrammes had become a preferred medium for sending messages by air due to their convenience and the reduced postage rates that applied throughout the world. Following the war, many collectors avidly sought aerogrammes. Numerous dealers around the world aided them by searching for and making available mint and cancelled aerogrammes. One of the two finest collections of aerogrammes in the world was assembled by Thomas A. Matthews, a wealthy collector of airmail stamps and stationery. He purchased material from many sources, but his primary source was the dealer F. W. Kessler. Since Matthews spared no expense, he quickly became Kessler’s preferred customer. Due to his world-wide contacts, Kessler was frequently offered rare aerogrammes which soon found a home in Matthews’ collection.
In the early 1950’s, Matthews began to mount his extensive collection. He had special black pages prepared and hired assistants to print the text by hand and draw the illustrations in white and colored ink. It has been said that almost 4 years of labor were needed to complete the task. Since the collection contained more than 2600 carefully and neatly prepared pages, this estimate is not unreasonable.
He was rightfully proud of his collection and wanted the collecting world to know about it. In the late 1950’s, he funded the production of the two-volume “Kessler’s Catalogue of Aerograms” published by the Aerogram Catalogue Publishing Co., Inc. of New York in 1961. Assisting Matthews and Kessler in the effort were six Associate Editors and twenty Section Editors; all were noted collectors of and/or dealers in aerogrammes. This masterwork listed all regular, military, official and semi-official aerograms and included all items, errors and varieties that had been identified through the end of 1960. To be included, the form had to have either imprinted or handstamped indicia that in some way indicated the actual postage or that the postage was paid or free. An indication that the form was to be carried by air had also to be present. Even though 40 years out of date, the Catalogue is still considered a requirement for the collector of this material.
Complete and accurate illustrations or photographs were essential for the Catalogue. Kessler’s reference collection provided the more common items and a few rarities. Since Matthews’ collection contained many unique or unusually rare items it provided most of the rest. It has been estimated that over 98% of the illustrations in the Catalogue were of items belonging to either Kessler or Matthews.
Matthews stopped collecting once the catalog was published and for 20 years attempted to sell his collection intact. In the mid 1970’s, he sold part of the collection, the Portuguese Colonies, to Artur Lewandowski, often known as LAVA, who for many years was “Mr. Aerogramme”. In 1981, shortly before he died, Matthews sold the “balance” of the collection to a collector who did not exhibit his material. Late in 2001, the collection was again sold. From 1960 until 2002, the pages shown in this exhibit have not been available for viewing by the philatelic community.
Unfortunately, over the years some pages have disappeared, items have been damaged by the use of non-archival sleeves and by moisture, and several pages have “lost by photographer” notes in place of the aerogramme. Regardless, the remaining pages comprise one of the key reference collections in the field of Postal Stationery.
The collection currently totals approximately 2600 pages with over 4000 aerogrammes. There are 569 pages of Spain, 138 of British Military Forces, 128 of Great Britain, 123 of South Africa and about 60 each of Australia, Canada, Israel and Japan. An additional 120 countries are represented. Recently, approximately 160 pages of Portuguese Colonies has been located and now joins the bulk of the collection. The above numbers reflect Matthews’ principal interests in Great Britain, its colonies and Spain.
The “catalog” numbers in the lower left of the pages are rarely those ultimately assigned by Kessler. Furthermore, time has added to our knowledge and many of the pages have erroneous text. Many of the items that were believed unique in the 1950’s are known to exist in small quantities and some are even common today. In a few cases, features were misidentified or incorrectly described. At the present time, such errors are NOT indicated in the pages on exhibit.
The early collectors often did not distinguish between cancelled to order, flown or commercially used aerogrammes since they were happy to have any example with a postmark. All are referred to in this collection as “used”.
Due to their size when unfolded, a number of the aerogrammes were mounted on a page other than the one with the descriptive text. Such pages will be included without the corresponding aerogramme.
The pages in this "exhibit" are in frames of 16 pages, as conventional exhibits. The pages are ordered by Kessler Catalog # within countries/areas. At present, only 96 of the 2600 pages have been scanned and are on this website. Our goal is to scan all of the pages and make them available for the philatelic community. This summary page will evolve as the number of pages/frames grows.