Notes from the Past

Early History of the American Air Mail Service - Part V

"The Taussig Letter."

The last letter aboard the first airmail flight from Washington was a letter from Postmaster General Burleson to the Honorable Thomas G. Patten, Postmaster at New York City.  This cover bore a bottom margin copy of the 24 air mail stamp.  Six high Post Office officials also initialed the selvage of the stamp.  President Woodrow Wilson signed the envelope near the edge of the envelope and just to the left of the stamp.  The stamp is tied by a clear strike of the First Trip cancel.  The address is typed neatly in three lines:  Hon. T. H. Patten.  Postmaster.  New York City.  The use of H for Patten's middle initial instead of G was typical of the events which surrounded the first flight.  Burleson referred to the stamp as being "the first aeroplane postage stamp to be sold by (his) department."

The letter resulted from an idea of Noah W. Taussig, a New York businessman and a life-long stamp collector.  The letter inside became the property of Postmaster Patten.  The cover itself went to Taussig.  He arranged for an auction to benefit the Red Cross and its war-time activities.  Taussig was disappointed when no one topped his guaranteed opening bid of $1,000, and he became the owner of the cover.

In 1978, Philip Silver, President of the American Air Mail Society, tracked down both the letter and the cover.  The letter was still in possession of the incumbent New York City Postmaster.  The cover remained in the possession of the Taussig family.

And Now, For the Rest of the Story

"The Taussig Letter - Part II."

I recently received an e-mail from Mr. Doug Taussig, the grandson of Noah W. Taussig mentioned above.  His told me more about the fate of the noted cover.  His grandfather donated the cover to the Smithsonian sometime in the 1980s.  It is now on display there as:  Taussig Cover.

Still More of the Story

"The Taussig Letter - Part III."

A recent e-mail ( Mr. Tony Marshall, September, 2011) advised me that, contrary to the preceding dates surrounding the unearthing and donation of the Taussig Cover, the cover was donated to the Smithsonian in 1977 which means that Mr. Silver's detective work had to have been done by that date rather than the 1978 noted above.   Mr. Marshall provided a confirming link.  Mr. Marshall noted that as a result of a family and business relationship with the Taussigs he had been involved in the making of a photo record of the cover prior to its presentation.  He cites October 12, 1977, as the date when photographs were provided the New York Postmaster.

Mr. Marshall has since contacted the Smithsonian National Postal Museum regarding the accession date of the cover and Ms. Elizabeth Schorr confirmed that the acquisition date was December 20, 1977.  Ms. Schorr also cited two articles by Mr. Silver regarding the cover. Mr. Silver's work was first reported in the April, 1978, issue of the American Philatelist, "Someone Wrote to the President." Mr. Silver wrote a subsequent article published in the February, 1979, issue of the American Philatelist, "About That 24-Cent Air Mail Cover Autographed by President Wilson."  The first article appears to have been written after the cover had been located some time in 1977 but before the cover had been given to the Smithsonian.  Mr. Marshall believes the article was written after October 12.  The second article confirms December 20, 1977, for the Smithsonian accession date for the cover.  Delays in publication of such results are typical of journals such as the American Philatelist.  Mr. Holmes may not have been aware of the 1979 article which reported the gift to the Smithsonian.

Both Mr. Marshall and Ms. Schorr have my thanks for their update and additions to this note.

To be Continued.

 Posted April 4, 2000; updated June 21, 2008 and September 27, 2011

Editor's Note:  This series will draw on Donald B. Holmes' Air Mail -- an illustrated history 1793-1981 which is an exceptional piece of philatelic literature and The American Air Mail Catalogue Vol. 1 published by the American Air Mail Society.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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