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Byrd Antarctic Issue

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3-cent Byrd Antarctic Expedition II map of the world single

The Byrd Antarctic Expedition II stamp received immediate endorsement from the Post Office Department when an approved model and three die proofs were sent on September 22, 1933, from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. This 3-cent vertical stamp, the same size and shape as a Special Delivery stamp, was intended for the collectors' market alone. The Post Office Department arranged for 'philatelic mail' bearing this stamp to be carried by the expedition and postmarked at the Little America post office at the expedition's base camp for a fee of fifty-three cents.

Pre-addressed covers and money orders payable to the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, Norfolk, Virginia, had to be received by the postmaster at Norfolk before October 8, the expedition's sailing date. After October 8 but not later than November 10, remaining covers would be forwarded by regular mail steamers to Dunedin, New Zealand, where they would connect with the expedition before it sailed for Antarctica on January 1, 1934. Covers taken with the expedition were returned by supply ship to Dunedin. They would reach U.S. destinations by summer 1934.

'Second cancellation' group of covers could be received for forwarding until November 1, 1934, the last date mail could be sent via Dunedin to Little America before the expedition's return home. The 3-cent Little America stamp was placed on the covers by the Post Office Department before shipping. That group would return to U.S. destinations by June 1935, having traveling about 25,000 miles.

Because the stamp was not intended for use on domestic mail, it was only sold through the Philatelic Agency of the Post Office Department. Nonetheless, the public soon inquired whether this new stamp could be used as postage on regular domestic mail, which it could.

On October 2, 1933, Richard Byrd wrote the postmaster general to thank him and all concerned, saying, "This recognition has helped us immeasurably in a number of ways."

President Franklin Roosevelt supposedly sketched the original design for this issue. Note that he signed and dated the sketch "4/25/34[35]."

Charles F. Anderson, special representative of the postmaster general, was assigned to the post office at Little America. He left Washington, D.C., on November 7, 1934, arrived in San Francisco on November 10, and sailed for Auckland, New Zealand, on November 13. He carried five full pouches of mail, seventeen empty pouches, a canceling machine, and other equipment. Five more arrived before he left for Little America. When he reached the continent, a dog sled transferred the mail and equipment to Little America, a distance of ten miles. To his dismay, he found that mail shipped a year earlier had never been cancelled and was sitting exposed under ice and snow. Anderson had only sixteen days in which to set-up the post office, cancel, and pack the mail. Expedition leaders had no conception of the difficulties involved. For instance, conditions twenty feet below the ice surface were abysmal, providing only enough heat to keep the ink warm enough to flow; water leaked overhead; and inadequate workspace where personal belongings and bedding often disappeared.

Cancelled mail was wrapped in waterproof paper, packed in cartons, encased in two heavy mail sacks, and locked. It was then stored in a tent outdoors, waiting to be loaded on to the next ship. Determined to cancel all the mail, Anderson slept only eighteen hours in sixteen days. "For the first time in the history of polar exploration a mail train was made up of dog sledges drawn by a tractor and with this train, I left Little America at noon February 4," he wrote. "Arriving at the barrier, at the edge of Eleanor Bolling Bay . . . I waited alone for twenty-six hours, without food or water, [until] the 'Bear of Oakland' . . . could be brought in through the braking ice." Back in San Francisco on March 25, "the mail was taken to the Ferry Street Post Office Station, where it was again worked. Five and one half days were required for 16 clerks and myself to rework this mail." A total of 153,217 pieces of mail were dispatched from San Francisco on March 30.

Mary H. Lawson, National Postal Museum

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