There are many coaster collectors world-wide. They tend to focus on specific themes. For instance, many of them collect coasters from pubs, bars and hotels, and yet others focus on brands of beer and ales. Among coaster collectors there is a smaller group that focuses on aviation themed coasters. Knut Wegers from Boenningstedt, Germany is one of the leading collectors of this type. Yes, he collects all kinds of aviation themed coasters made of all kind of material.
Knut chanced upon our web-site, and found the section on Air-India coasters which he says is very very informative and very interesting. His expanding collection now has around 4,500 different coasters from 530 different airlines. He is now an active 73 years of age, and has been collecting from the last 60 years, and he continues to work as a tax-consultant. Knut has an extensive collection of Air-India coasters, and as an advanced collector, he collects both the twin sided, and single sided coasters as two different types.
I asked him what he found most interesting about Air-India coasters, and this is what he had to say. “I like traveling and collecting and I was fascinated by the lot of different locations on the Air India coasters, but so far I did not manage to travel to all these locations only to all of the European ones, plus Beirut, Istanbul, New York, Toronto and Montreal”. Among his collection are some rare old Air-India International coasters never seen by me before. They are made of a velvety type of material. He also has many flimsy material coasters, and has been kind enough to send me images. I plan to upload these images on the web-site shortly.
So, here is wishing Knut all the best, and happy collecting.
Here are some interesting coasters from Knut Wegers' collection.
The first three from the left are quite old and rare.
Among the Air India collection, I saw a large number of Maharajas of varying sizes, made of different materials. Also many rare baggage decals, beer coasters, time tables, maps, booklets, advertisements, menu cards etc. etc.; truly a remarkable collection. Something really special were photographs going back to 1948, when the airline started. These are all ex-John Stroud, and exceedingly well preserved. Also a lovely collection of hand fans, matchboxes, and an acrylic Maharajah which is used as a promotional item on the travel agent counter. This one has hands that are riveted on the shoulder, so that the arms move freely. He is carrying a briefcase and is reminiscent of the 1956 (Frankfurt) Trade Show poster.
Ken is also an artist, and his favourite subject is, yes, you guessed right, it is aircraft! He uses the stippling technique, where you paint by creating a decorative pattern making several small ink dots. Using this technique he has created wonderful illustrations of Air India aircraft. Ken is also a gifted poet, and has published a book of airline verse, Voices from the Heart.
So we had a great day trading stories about Air India, and here’s wishing Ken all the very best with his collecting.
An Air-India Boeing 707 stipple painting by Ken
What I do know is that there was a grand celebration event held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, and Mr. J. R. D. Tata was invited as the chief guest. He spoke nostalgically about his years with the airline, and a Films Division documentary of the 1948 flight was also shown.
The Swarowski Maharajah was also presented to Mr. Tata and other senior Air India officials. The one in my collection was graciously presented to me by a former Managing Director of the airline, and I am ever so grateful to him for his generosity. This is so rare that is all these years of collecting Air India memorabilia, I have never seen this on the market, in India or abroad.
The Maharajah comes packed in molded foam, set inside a strong cylindrical box with a decorative motif and Air-India Centaur and Maharajah logos.
How about an aircraft with no owner? Mysterious. Here is a picture of a DC-3 in Air-India International livery registered as VT-CGP. Just to spice things even more, here is one more photograph of the same aircraft below.
There is a note on the reverse of one of the photographs that records the plane as a Douglas DC-3 airplane VT-CGP, c/n 12928 (ex-42-108908) at London Airport in Air-India International livery, Silver, white, red, black. Picture taken on 24 March 1956. Now, I have checked the airlines web-site, lists maintained by Jeffrey Brown, airwhiners.net, and Warbirds of India, civilian registry, but could not come up with anything meaningful. The other question is, what was Air-india International doing with a DC-3 in London?
Mysterious! would appreciate if someone would research this and enlighten us.
The 8 June 1948 stamp issued to commemorate the first Air-India International service to London was only to be used for mail carried on that flight. Here are two interesting examples of covers used later, and how the postal authorities (correctly) treated the mail.
This Air-India International souvenir cover with the 12 as. stamp is cancelled CALCUTTA 9 JUN, and also has a LONDON 9 JY 48 arrival postmark. The cover is from the Murli Nair collection. Since the letter was posted in Calcutta after the 5 June deadline, it was too late to be sent to Bombay and be carried on the 8 June inaugural service, and also have the first flight cachet applied there. The Calcutta postal authorities did the right thing in treating the cover as unstamped, and still sending it to London with a Postage Due mark. There is a faint 7 visible under the mess of two round black obliterators beside the stamp. This is perhaps the postage due marking. They also cancelled the stamp, thereby rendering it unfit for further use.
Another unusual aspect is the application of the London arrival mark on the stamp itself, which is contrary to normal practice of applying it on the reverse of the cover. Interestingly, mail carried on the 8 June flight did not receive any arrival mark in London.
One more interesting cover is shown below:
Here is a similar cover, with the 12 as. stamp, this one with a CALCUTTA, 9 JUN 48, cancellation clearly visible on the reverse. The stamp is cancelled with a LONDON 9 JY inverted arrival mark quite clearly, and there is a handwritten T 50/c postage due endorsement in red visible beside the stamp on the front. Both covers are very interesting, and add spice to any collection.
Undoubtedly, one of India's, and perhaps the world's leading contemporary artists, Hussain's work for Air-India must have been treasured by the airline. Very similar objects as in the poster were used to design the Air-India timetable of April 1963. This was almost 7-8 years after the poster was printed. So, it would be an understatement to say that I was bemused when I saw what they did to the artist's work in the timetable. One of the characters the artist painted, the drummer, has had his head replaced with that of the Maharajah!
I am still in shock, and all I can say is that no one but the Maharajah would have the courage to do something like this. There is one part in me that wants to smile broadly at his gall in pulling this perhaps innocent prank; and another part that is absolutely horrified at how such a liberty could be taken with the master's work.
Judge for yourself, but do remember: he is our Maharajah and all his indiscretions are forgiven.
Top left: The mid-1950s Air-India International travel poster with puppet like cut-outs by M. F. Hussain. Catalogue # 28, size 72 x 101 cms.
Top right: The April 1963 airline timetable with similar characters, but the drummer's head has been replaced with that of our Maharajah.
This was a glorious era, as our newly independent nation found expression in modernity and the airline earned it’s reputation as the finest in the world.
Here we focused on a selection of Air-India International memorabilia from these years, and tied these up with the principal routes developed by the airline during these years. These routes (with start date) were:
The exhibit itself consisted of several items including travel posters, timetables, baggage tags and decals, the famous in-flight service coasters, stationary, first flight covers, route maps etc. etc. On account of the limited space available we could not display many of the 3-dimensional objects like aeroplane models, Maharajah statues etc.
The great news is that Air-India plans to set up a permanent museum and gallery in the ground floor of their Nariman Point office in Mumbai, and has a team working on it. This will display their renowned art collection, as well as their own airline memorabilia. Looking forward to the big day!
Meanwhile, please enjoy some pictures of the event.
One of my professional philatelist friends sent me some rather interesting Air-India International June 1948 flight covers, which included examples of the two known varieties of Constant Errors, but this time on flown covers. I must add that I'm thrilled to have these, and this is the first time I've seen them on cover. Not sure how rare they are, since each sheet had 160 stamps (8x20), and one example of each of the two errors varieties on each sheet. My understanding is that about 3,500 sheets were printed (560,000 stamps). If this assumption is true, then there should be 3,500 of each error variety, and most of them on flown covers. I would love it if readers posted their comments on this hypothesis.
So, here is the first error, the 'Broken Tail' variety. You will notice that the center fin of the tailplane has a break in the leading edge. The Official Souvenir cover is correctly franked 14 as. which was the postal rate to Switzerland, and went on the first flight from Bombay to Geneva.
Below is a cover with an example of the 'Extra Porthole' error. This is on a Registered Air-India International Souvenir cover flown on the first flight from Bombay to London, and then onward to New York. The cover is franked with a block of four 12 a. special postage stamps issued for use on that date. The correct rate would be 24 as., and it has been overstamped by another 24 as.
Now, focus on the stamp on the bottom row on the right hand side. There, quite clearly, you will find the 'Extra Porthole' error stamp.
I hope this provides some motivation to all readers to carefully scan through their collections and look for covers with such stamps.
A series of advertisements and posters were prepared, and I must say the designs are outstanding. Alas, I have not seen any of them myself, but the booklet shown above has images of these. I am reproducing some of these posters below, starting with the teaser poster designed to arouse curiosity, and then on to a series of posters designed to run through the first year of operations. The booklet goes on the detail out other publicity measured the airline planned for the first year including press advertisements, direct mail, route maps, a series of four introductory brochures etc. All in all, an extremely well thought through and executed campaign.
You can download the pdf by clicking the link here Indian Airlines Corporation - Viscount.
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