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 Introducing Aerophilately

The following article appeared in APF News in June 2000.  It is intended to serve as both a general introduction to the competitive exhibiting class of aerophilately as well as an encouragement to visitors to philatelic exhibitions to take a closer look at, appreciate and enjoy the subject of aerophilately.

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Today, delivery of physical mail by air is taken very much for granted. Within Australia, mail for most intrastate locations and interstate capitals is delivered within 24 hours and only a small proportion of letters take longer than two days to reach their destination, despite the huge distances of Australia’s outback. Of course it was not always like that. Before air services, mail to Europe and most other parts of the northern hemisphere took several months by sea; even the first air mail services over these long distances took around a month.

The study of the development of air mail is a fascinating one; it is as much about human endeavour, the pioneering spirit and conquering the elements as it is about simply getting letters from A to B. Whilst to some, its name conjures up visions of nothing but frames full of covers that all look the same, the truth is that aerophilately is far more dynamic, challenging and entertaining than these criticisms which are sometimes made of it. The aerophilatelist takes great pride in showing his or her subject and making history come alive, as well as showing aspects of philately that are often not possible in other classes of philately. So what is aerophilately really all about?

Content and Scope

The formal definition of an aerophilatelic exhibit is one that it is "composed essentially of postal documents transmitted by Air bearing evidence of having been flown (ref. GREV Article 2.3)".  Immediately, one word in this definition is noteworthy - "essentially".

A closer examination of the FIP regulations for this class reveals in fact that aerophilately "represents a study of the development of air mail services and a collection of documents pertaining to such development". This means that the exhibit can include:

1. Postal documents dispatched by air.
2. Official and semi-official stamps issued especially for use on Airmail, in mint or used state, but principally on cover.
3. All types of postal and other marks, vignettes and labels relating to aerial transport.
4. Items connected with a particular means of aerial transport, not conveyed through a postal service but deemed important to the development of air mail.
5. Leaflets, messages and newspapers dropped from the air, as a way of normal postal delivery or on the occasion of postal services interrupted by unforeseen events.
6. Mail recovered from aircraft accidents and incidents.

Sometimes it is important to the development of the exhibit to include items documenting the pioneer period, e.g., air-forwarded forerunners to regular air postal services or early airmail flown by other carriers where postal services were not available, are considered important to the development of airmail services and therefore to aerophilately.

Aerophilatelic exhibits may include ancillary items, such as maps, photographs, timetables and the like as long as they are considered vital to illustrate, and draw the attention to a particular point or situation. They should not overpower the material and accompanying text on display. In addition, any such supporting material should relate to a particular detail which, although important, cannot be otherwise represented. Memorabilia (e.g., menus or the like) should not be used.

An aerophilatelist is primarily interested in mail such as envelopes (covers), postcards, stationery, newspapers wrappers, etc. which have been transported by air and which usually bear dates and indications of the mode of their transportation. Items prepared to be flown but not flown for a legitimate reason, may be included in an aerophilatelic exhibit. The study of routes, postal rates and markings are frequently relevant to the development of the subject. Maps and drawings may be included if they highlight a route or flight, but maps should be restricted in number and used only if relevant to the documentation. The contents of a cover may be included in the exhibit, if they enhance the understanding of the theme or confirm the authenticity of the subject. Duplication of items should be avoided, regardless of value.

Adhesive stamps issued or overprinted specifically for use on airmail are part of aerophilately, even when used for other postal purposes. Postal stationery, including aerogrammes and airmail postcards, issued specifically for airmail use is aerophilatelic material. An exhibit may also include related material, such as Essays and proofs, a study of printing methods or reconstruction of printing or overprinting plates, a study of paper varieties, watermarks, perforations, etc., or printing/overprinting errors. Vignettes or labels used on flown covers may also be included in an aerophilatelic exhibit, but vignettes or labels should not dominate an exhibit.


An exhibit should have a clear beginning, a central theme, and a logical ending. The display must begin with an introductory page in which the exhibitor defines in full what the subject is, explains how it will be developed, and specifies what the self-imposed limits are. The plan should be used to provide relevant general information on the subject and to indicate areas of personal research. It may also include a short list of the important documentary sources used. Remember, the judges will use this information to evaluate the material shown in relation to the aims that the exhibitor has set.

It is entirely up to the exhibitor to define and demonstrate the structure of the exhibit. This can be done in many way. Chronological development is an obvious approach, however other approaches include development of airmail by a geographic area (e.g: country or associated group of countries, route, airline, service e.g., army, navy aircraft manufacturer); and development of airmail by means of transport (e.g: pigeon, lighter than air - i.e balloon, heavier than air - i.e parachute, glider, aircraft, and rocket).

The transportation of mail by air may also be shown in several ways: by adhesive stamps, vignettes, labels, cancellations, cachets, transit, route and other explanatory markings, written endorsements, backstamps and relevant signatures. Material which does not show any treatment by an organised postal service should be restricted to a minimum.

Criteria for Evaluating Exhibits

1. Treatment and Philatelic Importance   30
2. Philatelic and related Knowledge, Personal Study and Research  35
3. Condition (10) and Rarity (20) 30
4. Presentation 5



Treatment and Philatelic Importance

A total of 30 points may be given for treatment and philatelic importance. This is divided into 20 points for development, completeness and correctness and 10 points for philatelic importance.  When evaluating the treatment and importance of the exhibits, judges will look at the:

Exhibitors should ensure that the exhibit is cohesive and avoid combining largely unrelated subjects. The judges will assess whether the material exhibited is relevant to the scope of the exhibit. The exhibit must be developed and balanced in the periods and areas outlined in the title and the plan.

The importance of an exhibit will be measured in relation to the overall development of airmail transportation. The aerophilatelic exhibit of an area with greater contribution to the development of the infrastructure of world airmail services lies higher on the scale of importance than an exhibit from an area with a lesser contribution. As a general rule:

As the General Regulations indicate, the aerophilatelic interest of an exhibit is also a contributing factor.

Philatelic and Related Knowledge, Personal Study and Research

A total of 35 points may be given for philatelic and related knowledge, personal study and research.

Philatelic and related knowledge is demonstrated by the items chosen for display and their related comments. Personal study is demonstrated by the proper analysis of the items chosen for display. For exhibits where original research (presentation of new facts related to the chosen subject) is evident, a large proportion of the total points may be given for it. For subjects which have been extensively researched previously, judges will look how far this research has been successfully used in the exhibit.

Air mail services, particularly in the pioneering period before WWII, attracted much public attention, and hence reports of first flights and inaugural air mail services were often well documented. Patience when researching aerophilately will often be rewarded with unusual but relevant facts that can enhance the exhibit. For flights where large mails are known, the astute exhibitor will look for that unusual variation such as a rarer intermediary flight or perhaps a cover cancelled incorrectly such as on the day after the flight departed.

The information given should not overwhelm the philatelic material shown. A well thought out plan may avoid otherwise lengthy descriptions in the exhibit.

Condition and Rarity

A total of 30 points may be given for condition and rarity. This comprises 20 points for rarity and significance and 10 points for condition.

Rarity is directly related to the philatelic items shown and the relative scarcity of material of the type shown, and in particular to the aerophilatelic rarity. Rarity is not always equivalent with or proportional to value. Often covers from less prominent flights can be more elusive to collectors than are covers from more high profile flights. This is because the latter, although lesser in number and more expensive, usually attract attention in the philatelic market place, whilst the former can sometimes be hidden in bulk lots at auctions or their relative scarcity not well understood by the vendor.

As condition varies for aerophilatelic items, judges will consider the quality obtainable. In general, good condition, clear legible postal markings and cachets, and a good general appearance will be rewarded, while poor quality will be penalised. The stamps on covers and other items should be in good condition (crash covers are an exception to the general rule on condition, however the postal markings applied to salvaged covers should be as clear as possible). Repaired items should be mentioned in the description. Obviously faked or repaired material which is not described as such will be penalised by the judges.

When displaying covers from air services where large quantities of mail are known to have been carried, particular care should be taken to avoid including poor to average condition covers.


Presentation may be given up to 5 points. Presentation should complement the treatment of the exhibit by its general layout and clarity. Judges will evaluate how the presentation enhances the understanding and attractiveness of the exhibit.

When it is desirable to illustrate significant markings on the reverse side of a cover, they should either be drawn or illustrated with a reproduction (photograph or photocopy), but a reproduction should be apparent as such to the observer. Colour photocopies or photographs should be at least 25% different in size from the original.


Aerophilatelic exhibits can encompass a wide range of philatelic and historically important non-philatelic items. As such, they help bring history to life, and help us to understand and appreciate one of the most significant aspects of the development of communication of the past century.

To build an aerophilatelic exhibit is like researching and re-writing a little piece of history. Why not take the time out at the next philatelic exhibition you attend to look more closely at and admire aerophilately.

The Australian Airmail Society Inc.

The Australian Airmail Society was founded in South Australia during October 1968 when a meeting of aerophilatelic enthusiasts gathered in the office of Nelson Eustis in Gawler Place, Adelaide. Ted Roberts was elected President and Nelson Eustis the Secretary, positions each held for a long time, Ted until a few years before his death in 1997 – Nelson is still Secretary with thirty two years service. Today, the society is still based in Adelaide and meets at SAPHIL House, 22 Gray Court, Adelaide every two months . The society has an extensive specialised library holding which is housed at SAPHIL house.

Apart from fostering aerophilately generally, the society has organised a number of re-enactments of important pioneer flights. The most ambitious was that which in 1969 commemorated the epic Ross Smith 1919 England – Australia flight. This resultant highly successful operation was brought about with the cooperation of almost every postal administration en-route, especially Australia. Scheduled airlines brought the official commemorative airmails to Singapore where they were transferred to a TAA DC-3 chartered by the society. From Singapore the DC-3 with a full complement of society members, flew the mailbags via Indonesia and Portuguese Timor through to Melbourne.

Other important re-enactments have featured the 1926 Pacific first flights on the 50th anniversary in 1976. The 1910 first Australian flight at Bolivar, near Adelaide; the 1917 Adelaide-Gawler and Captain Harry Butler’s Minlaton mails have been commemorated a number of times.

In 1988 the society organised Aeropex 88, an exhibition of airmails with international participation, in the Adelaide Town Hall. It was such a great success the society staged a repeat show, Aeropex 94 in the same venue and with similar success.

A members’ magazine, The Australian Aerophilatelist, is published quarterly by the society and is included in the yearly subscription of $A15. The society has many overseas members, particularly in the UK where Australian aerophilately is very popular. Membership enquiries should be directed to the society at GPO Box 954, Adelaide, 5001.

The society has always been favoured with famous people as patrons, beginning with Sir Hudson Fysh and followed by ‘Nobby’ Buckley, Ernie Crome and ‘Scotty’ Allan. The current patron is Nancy-Bird Walton and the vice-patron Dick Smith.


FIP Commission for Aerophilately

Air Mail Society of New Zealand