The 1930 Graf Zeppelin stamps were a set of three airmail postage stamps, each depicting the image of the Graf Zeppelin airship, exclusively issued by the United States Post Office Department, USPOD, in 1930 for delivery of mail carried aboard that airship. Although the stamps were valid for postage shipped via the Zeppelin Pan American flight from Germany to the United States, via Brazil, the set was marketed to collectors and was largely intended to promote the route. 93.5% of the revenue generated by the sale of these stamps went to the Zeppelin Airship Works in Germany. The stamps were also issued as a gesture of good will toward Germany. The three stamps were used briefly and then withdrawn from sale where the remainder of the stock was destroyed by the Post Office. Due to the great depression and the high cost of the stamps most collectors and the general public could not afford to purchase or use them. Consequently, only about 227,000 of the stamps were sold, just 7% of the total made, making them relatively scarce and highly prized by collectors.
In 1928 the Graf Zeppelin debuted and set new long-distance airship records. In honors of its achievements, the Zeppelin Company planned for the Graf Zeppelin to fly to Europe, Brazil and Rio de Janeiro.
In an agreement with The German Zeppelin Airship Works and as a good will gesture toward Germany the United States Post Office produced a set of 3 separate Airmail postage stamps that commemorated the Graf Zeppelin and the coming transatlantic flight, which were used to pay the postage for mail carried aboard the Zeppelin, a rigid airship that was over 775 feet (236 m) long. Mail would be carried and delivered from Germany to points in North and South America and back again.
The three stamps all featured the Graf Zeppelin in various configurations. All three stamps were first issued in Washington D.C. on April 19, 1930, one month before the historic trans Atlantic first flight was made. The stamps were also placed on sale at other selected post offices on April 21, 1930.
The Graf Zeppelin departed from Friedrichshafen, Germany on the May 30, 1930, and returned there on June 6. The 65c and $1.30 values were used to pay postage for postcards and letters respectively which were carried on the last leg of the journey from the United States to Seville, Spain and Friedrichshafen. The $1.30 and $2.60 stamps paid the postage for postcards and letters respectively that were carried on the round trip flight via Friedrichshafen or Seville. The round trip letter rate was $3.90, the exact amount which could be paid with the $2.60 and $1.30 stamps. Mail franked with the Zeppelin stamps was forwarded to Germany by boat where it was picked up at Friedrichshafen and put aboard the Graf Zeppelin. The week-long flight of the Graf Zeppelin extended from Germany to Brazil and on to the United States and then returned to Friedrichshafen.
The stamps were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing which had only six weeks to design, print and distribute the issues to customers for use on mail to Germany in time for the departing flight. However U.S. the Post Office would only receive a small profit of 6.5% of the stamp’s denomination for letters that would actually be carried aboard the Graf Zeppelin. The German Zeppelin Airship Works would receive most of the profit for those stamps that were actually used to pay postage and were carried by their airship. The U.S. Post Office still agreed to issue the stamps anticipating that most of the stamps sold would be to stamp collectors eager to add the new stamps to their stamp collections, and consequently would be retaining all of the revenue generated.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing created plates of two hundred postage stamps situated in four panes consisting of fifty stamps each. The stamps sheets were perforated with 11 gauge perforations. Because a margin (selvage) of paper extended around all four sides of each sheet there are no stamps with straight unperforated edges.
A total of 1,000,000 of each stamp denomination were printed, but only 227,260 stamps in all were actually sold, or 7% of the total amount printed. The Zeppelin stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, 1930 and the remaining stocks were destroyed by the Post Office.
The set of three stamps shared a common border design inscribed with the words GRAF ZEPPELIN (first row) and EUROPE – PAN AMERICAN FLIGHT (second row) in upper case letters along near the top of the border, and with the words UNITED STATES POSTAGE, also in upper case, along the bottom border. The stamps were printed in different colors for each denomination (see individual stamp images below) with denominations that paid the various rates used along the route on the flight. The attractive stamps were highly publicized but were considered controversial among some collectors of the time and others and refused to purchase these issues, complaining that the Post Office was charging too much while at the same time were trying to drive up the demand for these stamps by destroying the unsold issues. The $4.55 face value for the set of three stamps represented a lot of money during the depression years of their release. However, over time, these stamps increased in popularity. They became highly sought-after by stamp and postal history collectors and remain so today.
The green 65-cent Graf Zeppelin stamp depicts the Graf Zeppelin flying eastward over the Atlantic Ocean. Like the other two denominations of $1.30 and $2.60 its inscription along the top reads GRAF ZEPPELIN -- EUROPE PAN AMERICAN FLIGHT, and UNITED STATES POSTAGE along the bottom. The lowest of the three denominations, this issue paid the post card rate. The Scotts catalog number for this issue is C13. Out of 1,000,000 stamps printed, the total quantities sold for this issue were 93,336.
The $1.30 Graf Zeppelin stamp was first issued in Washington DC on April 19, 1930. The stamp was printed in brown and depicts the Graf Zeppelin flying westward, superimposed over a map of the continents of Europe and South and North America with the names of various cities depicted in it. This issue paid the postcard and letter rates on the May 1930 Pan American flight that departed from Germany, flying to Brazil and then the United States. Postage rates depended on the distance between points along the route. The Scotts catalog number for this issue is C14. Out of 1,000,000 stamps printed, the total quantities sold for this issue were only 72,428.
The blue $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp of depicts the Graf Zeppelin in among clouds and superimposed over a globe and traveling in a westerly direction. This issue was designed by C.A. Huston and A.R. Meissner. The Scotts catalog number for this issue is C15. Out of 1,000,000 stamps printed, the total quantities sold for this issue were only 61,296.
Mail flown and delivered by the Graf Zeppelin airship received special cancellations and cachets. This cover made the complete round trip, bears all three Zeppelin stamps attached to a 5c Air Post envelope which received special cachets (i.e., hand stampings). The diamond shaped cachet depicts a map showing the route used by the Graf Zeppelin on its first flight and a special red cancellation specially made to cancel mail it carried, bearing the name of and used in Friedrichshafen, along with an image of the Zeppelin.
A 50-cent Zeppelin stamp, often referred to by collectors as the 'Baby Zeppelin', was released October 2, 1933, for the Century of Progress, of which 324,700 were issued. It is not to be confused with the Zeppelin stamps that were issued in 1930. With a far higher number available to collectors it is also considerably less expensive than the 1930 issues.