Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) enjoyed celebrity status worldwide. She captured the public’s imagination as an exceptional woman who broke barriers not only in the air but also as a role model for women in America. Among her many accomplishments, on May 20-21, 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, flying between Newfoundland and Ireland. The feat ensured her not only worldwide acclaim but a place in the annals of aviation history.
Philately supported Earhart’s career. The sale of her flown philatelic souvenirs helped offset the expenses of her aeronautic adventures and further ensured her legacy in aerophilately. She personally collected examples of her mail and exhibited them at TIPEX, the May 1936 international stamp exhibition, where she also spoke and distributed exhibitor awards.
On her ill-fated 1937 flight around-the-world, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, carried approximately 5,000 souvenir covers in the nose cargo compartment of her Lockheed Electra airplane. Collectors had ordered and paid $5 each for an autographed, cacheted cover through Gimbels stamp galleries in advance of the flight. Earhart was to add stamps and acquire postmarks along the route, and reports indicate that she did receive postmarks before take-off in Oakland and again in Karachi. Rescuers found no trace of Earhart after her plane ran out of fuel on July 2 and went down during her desperate search for Howland Island.
In 1968, Elsie M. Williamson, assisted by stamp dealer Jacques Minkus of Gimbel Galleries, donated Amelia Earhart’s personal collection of flown mail with photographs and a leather flight suit to the Philatelic and Postal History Division of the U.S. National Museum. Williamson had acquired the collection directly from Earhart’s husband, George Palmer Putnam.
Mary T. Sheahan, National Postal Museum