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The Panama Canal 25th Anniversary Airmails

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10-cent Plane & Map

This series of six airmails (Scott C15-20) marks two significant Panama Canal anniversaries—the 10th anniversary of airmail service in the Canal Zone and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal to ocean-to-ocean ship traffic on August 15, 1914. (The first flight was actually on February 10, 1929, with Charles A. Lindbergh in charge of the first airmail dispatch from Cristobal to Miami.) Collectors almost always refer to this series as 'The Panama Canal 25th Anniversary Airmails'. These stamps all feature an airplane of one type or another superimposed on a Panama Canal-related scene. Many of the denominations do not reflect the common rates then in use for airmail matter sent from the Canal Zone.

Large numbers of first day covers were made of all of the stamps in this series. Literally dozens of individuals and firms operating both on the Isthmus and in the United States prepared cachets. First day covers, with or without a commemorative cachet, frequently bear a copy of each stamp, but only one stamp appears on many others. Naturally, the 1-dollar stamp is the least commonly seen on any cover. Some of the cachets are quite rare, and many are truly attractive, particularly those with a photo by retired sailor Walter G. 'Bones' Crosby in California. Collectors delight in acquiring examples of these colorful stamps on cover, especially those with multiples or combinations of the different stamps to foreign destinations or on registered and special delivery letters.

Surprisingly, except for the 15-cent denomination that paid the airmail rate to the United States, large numbers (sometimes more than half) of these stamps were never sold and were burned after their final withdrawal from sale on February 28, 1941.

Robert J. Karrer

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5-cent Panama Canal 25th Anniversary single

The 5-cent denomination (Scott C15) in this six-stamp commemorative series was issued with its sisters on July 15, 1939. It depicts what appears to be a DC-2 or DC-3 in flight over Sosa Hill, a landmark formation towering over Balboa and La Boca at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The west bank of the canal is easily identified on the right, and numerous ships in the approaches to the canal and the Bay of Panama islands dot the background. It is usually referred to by collectors as 'The Plane Over Sosa Hill', 'The Sosa Hill', or 'The Five-cent Anniversary Airmail Stamp'.

Some 175,000 copies of the 5-cent 'Sosa Hill' stamp were actually received, and a good number were used on first day covers. However, when the unsold remainders were destroyed in 1941, just over half of them were consigned to the fires.

This 5-cent stamp in reality paid no real airmail rate during its period of use, and it is therefore commonly found in a 'make-up' role in combination with other stamps or in multiples of three to pay a fifteen-cent airmail rate to the United States. It may also be found in any number of other roles such as on foreign covers.

Robert J. Karrer

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10-cent Plane & Map single

The 10-cent Panama Canal 25th anniversary stamp was issued on July 15, 1939, as part of the six-stamp set marking the 10th anniversary of airmail from the Canal Zone to the United States and also the Silver Jubilee of the canal's opening.

The design features a Douglas passenger plane superimposed on a map of the Caribbean Basin, an appropriate motif because at the time this type plane flew the airmail route from the United States, down through Mexico and Central America and on to the Isthmus of Panama. The rate to near-by countries such as Costa Rica was also ten cents. In the design's background a Sikorsky flying boat appears over the Caribbean islands. This plane flew the trans-Caribbean airmail routes. Many collectors refer to this 10-cent stamp simply as 'The Planes and Map' stamp.

A total of 175,000 of these 10-cent stamps were printed but only just over 117,000 were sold. Authorities burned the remainders in April 1941.

First day covers of the 10-cent stamp are common, often found with the other stamps of this set. Some singles were used on covers sent to the United States on first day covers, but they were actually transmitted by boat with a notation to the effect that ten cents was insufficient for airmail service. This stamp is almost always found used in combination with other stamps in a make-up rate format on regular airmail, and collectors seldom see single proper usages.

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15-cent Pan Am. Clipper over Pacific Entrance single

This 15-cent airmail (Scott C17) was issued on July 15, 1939, as part of the six-stamp series marking the tenth anniversary of airmail service in the Canal Zone as well as the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. It was intended to be used on single-weight airmail letters to the United States as well as a number of Central American and Caribbean addresses. The design contains an side view of a typical Pan American clipper ship of the time against an allegorical view of the Pacific Entrance of the Panama Canal from a vantage point in the vicinity of the US Army post at Fort Amador. In reality, however, collectors usually just refer to it as 'The 15-cent Anniversary Airmail'.

Some 885,000 were shipped to the Canal Zone, and after sale of stamps from this series was halted on February 28, 1941, only 1,258 had to be burned with the other unsold remainders on April 12, 1941.

First day covers of this stamps are common, both as singles and in combination with other stamps from this series. It was widely used and examples of it from all Canal Zone post offices may be acquired. It was also utilized in large numbers in a 'make-up' rate capacity, and these examples are very popular among collectors.

Robert J. Karrer

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25-cent Panama Canal 25th Anniversary single

The 25-cent stamp (C-18) from this six-stamp series was intended for use as 'make-up' since there was almost no real twenty-five cent rate to any foreign destination at the time. The series honored the 10th annivesary of airmail service in the Canal Zone as well as the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. The stamp depicts what seems to be an undersized Pan American clipper flying boat landing at Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the Canal Zone, where the seaplane terminus was located. Many collectors commonly refer to this issue as merely 'The Twenty-fifth Anniversary 25-cent Airmail'.

Exactly 200,000 copies of the 25-cent airmail were shipped to the Isthmus, but only slightly over 82,000 were sold. The unsold stamps were burned on April 12, 1941.

Many of the 25-cent stamps were used on first day covers either singly or in combination with other stamps from this series. Non-philatelic examples of this stamp are avidly collected, usually in the form of letters to foreign addresses or for special occasions such as registration or on overweight letters.

Robert J. Karrer

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30-cent Panama Canal 25th Anniversary single

The 30-cent stamp (C19) from the 25th Anniversary series was issued on July 15, 1939, as one of six stamps honoring the 10th anniversary of airmail service in the Canal Zone as well as the 25th or Silver Jubilee of the opening of the Panama Canal. It depicts a Pan American clipper flying boat over the Continental Divide at the Gaillard Cut with a battleship and three smaller vessels in transit of the Canal en route to the Pacific Ocean. Collectors commonly call this stamp the 'Clipper Ship Over Gaillard Cut Airmail'.

Some 270,800 of this stamp were printed, but only just over 121,000 were sold before the remainders were burned on April 12, 1941, after being pulled from post office drawers on February 28th.

A relatively large number of these stamps were used on first day covers, most frequently in combination with the other stamps of this series. A 30-cent stamp would pay postage on a double-weight letter to the United States or a single-weight registered letter. Other usages are found in multiples or different stamps in a 'make-up' role. All are avidly collected.

Robert J. Karrer

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1-dollar Panama Canal 25th Anniversary single

The 1-dollar airmail stamp (Scott C20) is the high value of this series commemorating the 10th anniversary of airmail service in the Canal Zone and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal to world shipping. The stamp replicates a scene in which a Pan American clipper flying boat approaches a field for landing. The field must have been at Cristobal on the Atlantic side since that field was the terminal for clipper flights from the United States.

Collectors commonly refer to this stamp as 'The One Dollar Anniversary Airmail'.

Though 105,000 of the 1-dollar airmail stamp were printed, only approximately 40,000 were ever sold. Withdrawn from sale on February 28, 1941, authorities burned the majority of these now-valuable stamps on April 12.

This stamp is very rare properly used on a non-philatelic letter and is nearly always seen in combination with the other stamps of this series on first day covers.

Robert J. Karrer