The First Flight from Karachi to Madras by Tata Sons Ltd., Aviation Department on 15 October 1932 was historic in many respects. In a sense it marked the birth of Indian Civil Aviation in the true sense. The schedule was arranged so that the mail arrived from Croydon on the incoming flight the previous evening at Karachi, and was picked up by the Tata service to depart early the next morning. After stops at Ahmedabad and Bombay, the flight halted overnight at Bellary, and continued the next morning on to Madras. J.R.D. Tata piloted the first flight from Karachi to Bombay, and Neville Vintcent onward to Madras.
This event is also very special to Airmails collectors, and there are many beautiful and exciting items to be collected here. I had prepared a 5 frame exhibit which I displayed in Melbourne 2017 and you can see it by clicking the link here.
This cover is perhaps unique, and I always use this expression with some amount of trepidation. It was handcrafted by Stephen Smith, and is a Type 1a and Type 2 combination cover. This is special for a variety of reasons; Handcrafted by Stephen H. Smith - only known example to me; Only example of mail from Britain to India using Tata souvenir covers; One of the very few examples of registered mail from Britain carried on this flight.
This Registered Mail cover was postmarked Notting Hill, London on 5 October 1932 and arrived in Karachi on 14 October by IE 185, and then flown from Karachi, where the boxed First Flight cachet was applied, to Bombay reaching the same day, and then onward by surface to Calcutta, where it was delivered on 17 October.
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.
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.
Jean Voruz, an amateur philatelist actually flew down all the way from Geneva for the weekend to speak with us about the crash of the Malabar Princess. This is the same aircraft that was used by the airline on the maiden voyage from Bombay to London, via Cairo and Geneva on 8 June 1948.
As a young man, he grew up near Chamonix and developed a passion for Alpine hiking. Here on the Bossons glacier, he first heard of the 1950 crash of the Air-India International flight from Bombay to London as it was descending to land at Geneva. Unfortunately, there were no survivors, but the cold weather, and gradual descent of the glacier ensured that the wreckage was remarkably well preserved, and new discoveries are made until this day, and new finds will continue to surface for many years.
He had our complete attention during his entire talk which included a power-point presentation, and was followed by a lively discussion. Voruz also spoke about the 1966 Kanchenjunga accident that occurred almost at the same spot, and about books and theories that continue to circulate about the incident. A very large quantity of mail was recovered salvaged from the Malabar Princess wreckage, and has been well documented in Nierinck. Recent finds include a large lot of about 75 letters by a young Scottish student in July 2010, and the trouble this young lady took in finding out the descendants of the various addressees and sending the mail to them.
Voruz has been kind enough to permit me to share a copy of the presentation he used that day, and also a well illustrated 4 page article he has written on the subject. Both can be downloaded by clicking on the respective links.
The Return flight left London on the morning of 12 June 1948, landing in Bombay on 13 June after halting at Geneva and Cairo. Return mail on this flight is not very common, and only a limited number are thought to exist. Each of the three points of origin have an interesting story, which I will recount in this page. Additionally, no mail originating from any other location has been seen.
My search for Air-India flight covers often results in very interesting discoveries. Here is one that has the 12 anna Air-India commemorative stamp on the Official Souvenir Cover, and is cancelled TUNG, 7 JUN 48, 2.20 PM. 'Tung! never heard of such a place, so let me find out more,' I said to myself.
So, Google, the omnipresent, and omniscient, told me that Tung is a post office in Darjeeling (new name Darjiling), W. Bengal, with a Pin Code 734224. Ok, so the story starts getting more interesting. Then I flipped the cover around, and was fortunate to find the senders information on the reverse flap.
The cover was sent by Lt. Col. L. Hannagan, Margaret's Hope Tea Estate, Tung, India. A tea estate in Darjeeling, makes sense, but a name like Margaret's Hope got to have a story around it. The present owner of tea estate, Goodricke's website has the very touching story on how it was named Margret's Hope.
Situated in north Kurseong at an elevation ranging from 950 meters to 1830 meters, the 150-year-old famous Margaret's Hope Tea Estate was once called Bara Ringtong. At the beginning of the 20th century, legend has it, the then-manager of Ringtong, Mr Bagdon, rechristened it as Margaret's Hope.
The wistful name refers to a great tragedy that befell Mr Bagdon in 1927.
Mr Bagdon, who was the first to plant tea on the southwest ridge of the Balsun River, had a daughter called Margaret. According to the tale, Margaret came all the way from Britain, visited the estate and fell in love with its sublime beauty. She was so taken by the region that she made up her mind to settle at the picturesque Bara Ringtong for good. But, much to her dismay, she had to return to England accompanied by her mother.
However, fate had other plans for Margaret and her hapless father. On her way back to England, during a tortuous four-month journey, Margaret took ill aboard and died on the way. Mr Bagdon continued his duties as the manager of the estate, but was overcome with grief. Sources say he had a vision of his departed daughter, while taking a walk through the estate and remembered how she had hoped she would live there one day. This singular experience inspired him to call the estate Margaret's Hope.
The Margaret's Hope estate is now spread across 586.16 hectares. Although set up in the 1830s, the garden became commercially viable only in 1864. Today, the garden's high-altitude tea buds are harvested in spring and are prized by connoisseurs all over the world.
After 150 years, Margaret's Hope continues to produce its renowned first flush (spring) tea, which has a flowery aroma and golden colour. Its second flush produces a mellow cup with a muscatel character and bronze colour.
This cover is a great addition to our web-site, and very collectible for a variety of reasons. It missed the flight. No Post office should have accepted the cover in the mail after June 5. This was made quite clear in the DG's circular, and this was a contravention. Not only that, it was not supposed to be cancelled locally, but sent to Bombay for franking and onward dispatch. This was not done, another contravention. No Boxed cachet applied. Cancelled at Tung, an unusual place of origin, makes it even more interesting.
Many thanks to Arun Agarwal of Kanpur for procuring this beauty for me.
Update posted on 5 November 2016:
The story does not end here. Gaurav Gupta was kind enough to share images of a similar cover he obtained, with a slight twist. This is from the same Lt. Col. L. Hannagan, at Margaret's Hope Tea Estate, P.O. Tung, W. Bengal, India. However it is postally cancelled TUNG, 14 JUN 48. Now this makes it a highly collectable cover since it is later use of the stamp, and should not have been accepted by the postal authorities. I've posted images below:
Here I will update you on additions and changes to the web-site, and other interesting information about