Plane over Atlantic Air Letter Sheet Conundrum

In the October-December 1998 LPS Journal, I wrote an article detailing American Bank Note Company specimens I had purchased from Kasimir Bileski. As an afterthought, I mentioned the 10c Air Letter Sheet whose indicia had the same design as the ABNC airmails (specifically C47), except that the ABNC name was omitted from the base of the indicia on the air sheet. Neither Colonel Rogers nor von Saleski indicated who the printer was. I had wondered about whether or not ABNC produced the air letter sheet as well as what kind of specimens there were.
More recently, Robert Shoemaker's handbook "Liberian Postal Stationery" answered the question by showing with an example (p. 125) that the sheet was produced not by ABNC but rather by Thomas de la Rue. The illustration showed an oval de la Rue rubber stamp and punch in the lower left, as well as a handstamped "SPECIMEN" in violet in the address area and an inverted perforated "SPECIMEN" through the indicia. Dr. Shoemaker didn't say anything about the printing process, although Rogers called it "the first engraved type" (it doesn't look engraved, but rather lithographed).
According to von Saleski, unwatermarked versions of this air letter sheet were "distributed to charitable organizations during the war in London" (WWII, presumably), and later on and for twenty years could be bought in London. A mint copy of the 1967 unwatermarked version is absolutely useless for Liberian purposes, since it cannot be distinguished from the London Items.
This brings up several questions:
1. What the heck were charitable organizations supposed to do with an air letter sheet that was not even valid for use in Liberia?
2. If these air letter sheets were printed before 1947, does this mean the ABNC stole the design from de la Rue? (I couldn't find any connection between ABNC and de la Rue).
3. If von Saleski was wrong about the air letter sheet's existence before 1956, does that mean that de la Rue stole the design from ABNC? If von Saleski was right, it could help explain why two different designs were issued the same day (November 15, 1956), one printed and the other handstamped.
Note that the word "Aerogramme" (or "aerogram") was not used on Liberia's air letter sheets. Note also that the illustration on p. 163 of Shoemaker's book of an air letter sheet overprinted "On His Majesty's Service" shows the printed design rather than the handstamped design mentioned by von Saleski.
4. Why is a Liberian item being used (1951) by the king of a country, in his own country, with no connection to Liberia?

I'm sure I'm missing something. Any thoughts?


  • Correction to the above: Shoemaker's #sALS#43, the last one, does have "Aerogramme" on it.
  • edited April 2020
    1) I rarely use von Saleski's catalog, and I wasn't aware of his "charitable organizations" story. I wonder if he had first hand knowledge of this or if he had read it somewhere. His catalog contains material he had only heard about but never seen himself. The same is probably true for some of his background information. Perhaps the sheets distributed were the formular sheets without the insignium, and von Saleski's account is based on a misinterpretation of the facts?
    At this point I can only repeat your question no.1. It makes no sense at all.
    I have many copies of the mint unwatermarked variety, and all their insignia have exactly the same light orange red color, which is different from any of the watermarked editions. If there were indeed "old" and "new" unwatermarked print runs of this aerogramme, you would think there's a difference in color, especially with so many years between them, and someone would have pointed this out by now.

    2) The stamp in question is C37, not C47, and it was issued in September 1942. It is an "American" design, showing a Boeing 314 “Clipper” flying the air route from the United States to South America and Africa. I think we can rule out De La Rue as the originator.
    Of course, the design could still have found its way across the Atlantic in the opposite direction during the war, but ... other values of this set were issued as late as June 1944. In my opinion the print of the insignium requires the original die, the quality is simply too good. Why would ABNC pass on their design while they were still printing stamps of this series?

    3) I don't know how the ABNC design ended up with De La Rue, but I have no doubt everything was legal. In all likelihood they simply purchased the die from ABNC when it wasn't needed anymore - after the war, that is.
    BTW, the word "aerogramme" is present in the "By Airmail" tablets of almost all Liberian aerogrammes since 1956; the only exceptions are sALS#10 and the locally produced EVER GREEN AIR LETTERs.

    3+4) Shoemaker's illustration of sOALS#1 is a fiction, which could have been avoided. For correct information on this "official" aerogramme, see Leonard and Norma Smith's article in the LPS Newsletter issue #30 of Jan. 1969.
    Here are two items from my own collection:
  • Thanks, Manfred. I looked up the catalogue number of that 10c airmail sheet stamp in Rogers' handbook. "C47" was a typo in it. Also, For some reason, I missed seeing the finely printed word "Aerogramme" on later sheets.
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