At the end of the 1920s, airships and nitrogen filled balloons came to prominence as a form of air travel and the conveyance of light freight such as mail. This development was primarily championed by a German engineer called Zeppelin. He set up his base in Bavaria, Germany, in close proximity to Switzerland and Austria at a place called Freidrichshafen. This was to remain the headquarters of the Zeppelin industry for 10 years until disasters (including the R101 in the UK and the Hindenburg in 1937) and the threat of World War II put an end to the use of balloon transport as a commercial enterprise. Zeppelin, the engineer, was not a supporter of the Nazi party in Germany but France and Great Britain were very wary that the airships could be used for purposes other than the transport of passengers and mail. Airships had already been used during World War I on bombing raids on London and the Home Counties.
There was little doubt that airships were an efficient and stealthy mode of transport but the terminal and servicing arrangements around the world were not without problems. The hangers were necessarily huge to contain the airships and the anchoring of the balloons at their terminal was not without difficulty. It was not unknown for the crew to have to physically assist holding the airship down whilst loading and unloading took place. In the US, the design of the Empire State Building had the original intention of supporting an anchorage for Zeppelins but this was never realised. Some countries also had reservations about flights passing over sensitive areas, particularly following the events of World War I. This opposition largely subsided within a couple of years as evidenced by the fact that the Graf Zeppelin flew over the Cup Final at Wembley in 1931.
Despite this, the British had persuaded the Egyptians to deny air space for Zeppelins over the Suez Canal as it remained a strategic short cut for ships travelling to India and the Far East. However, there remained a strong German presence in the Middle East and in 1931 the Graf Zeppelin visited both Alexandria and Cairo. In 1933, as if to promote the visit of the Zeppelin, an Air Transport Congress was held in Cairo and one of the five stamps in a philatelic set issued to commemorate the event, features the airship.
The stamp featured in this blog is a 27m denomination from the 1926 Egypt Air Mail issue that was overprinted with one of two values – 50m and 100m – a surcharge that was applied when mail was carried by the Graf Zeppelin from Egypt. The featured stamp has the 100m surcharge and the overprint reads ‘GRAF ZEPPELIN AVRIL 1931’ with the value in Arabic and English. The Cairo postmark over the top of the 100m overprint on the original 27m Air Mail stamp means that it is not the easiest to decipher, but it’s a gem nonetheless!
To view postal issues of Egypt, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.