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?