C13 - 1930 65c Graf Zeppelin green
U.S. #C13 – Only 93,536 65¢ Zeppelins remain.

On April 19, 1930, three special airmail stamps, the Graf Zeppelins, were made available for sale to be used exclusively on mail carried via the Graf Zeppelin on its European – Pan American flights the following month.

In the 1920s many nations became aware of the commercial possibilities of transoceanic flight. However, there was only one company willing and able to initiate this service – Germany’s Luftschiffbau Zeppelin. Even today this firm’s ventures seem daring and visionary.

C14 - 1930 $1.30 Graf Zeppelin brown
U.S. #C14 – There are only 72,428 #C14 stamps left.

The story begins after World War I, when the company was stripped of its three airships (two of the ships went to France and one to Italy) and was left to face a war reparations debt of $800,000. In an act of desperation the company offered to build an airship for the United States as payment of its war debt. The U.S. quickly agreed, but with one stipulation: the dirigible had to be proven by a trans-Atlantic delivery. On October 16, 1924, after 77 hours over the Atlantic, the LZ-126 arrived at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey. It carried 55,714 pieces of mail.

C15 - 1930 $2.60 Graf Zeppelin blue
U.S. #C15 is the rarest of the set, with just 61,296 stamps left undestroyed.

Because of its great success, the Zeppelin Company then planned a trip to the United States by way of Spain and South America. The Graf Zeppelin was to carry mail both ways. The Postmaster General decided to issue a new set of stamps for two reasons. The first and most obvious was to cover payment for mail to be sent on the flight. And secondly, the stamps were intended as a gesture of good will toward Germany.

The Graf Zeppelin stamps went on sale on April 19, 1930, in Washington, D.C., They were then made available for sale at select post offices in other cities two days later. The 65¢ Green issue (Zeppelin over the Atlantic) paid the postage for a post card traveling via Graf Zeppelin one way. The $1.30 Brown issue (Zeppelin between Continents) paid the postage of a letter going one-way. The $2.60 Blue (Zeppelin passing Globe) paid the postage on a letter going the full route. (This included a trip by steamer from New York to Germany, via Spain, to South America and North America.)

Though the Graf Zeppelin stamps are beloved today, they didn’t sell that well. For starters, they were only available for sale until June 7, 1930 – so just over five weeks. Additionally, the stamps were issued during the Great Depression, so very few people could afford them at the time of issue. The cost of all three stamps was equivalent to a workman’s wages for an entire week!

C13-15 - 1930 Graf Zeppelins, 3 stamps
U.S. #C13-15 – Complete set of three Graf Zeppelins.

Anticipating collector demand for these stamps to be astronomical, the Post Office Department had the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produce a combined total of 3,260,000 of the stamps. However, sales of all the stamps were poor and about 90% of the total stamps produced were destroyed.

The Zeppelin’s journey, for which these stamps were issued, began on May 18, 1930. The Graf Zeppelin was later grounded when the Hindenburg exploded on May 6, 1937. However, during its service the Graf established an incredible performance record. It made 590 flights, including 144 ocean crossings, and covered more than one million miles. It carried over 13,000 passengers and 235,300 pounds of mail and freight.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I was aware of the Zeppelins use in both war and trans-Atlantic travel, but, as is usually the case, was not knowledgeable about many things that this article brought out. Here’s another reminder that all of us should share knowledge. Thanks so much, Mystic, for consistently doing so!

  2. Being of German ancestry, this story was of particular interest. I was unaware of the significance of the zeppelin of the time and of the mail/passenger service it provided. Thanks so much for this very informative piece. Do you know if Germany ever used the zeppelin in any of their stamps?

  3. This set is and will most likely remain way out of my budget but I could not just leave the page blank. I found a very nice reproduction set as a space filler and to keep the dream alive.

  4. Bill
    The Germans had there own Zeppelin stamps and are actually more expensive. This is one of the few cases [ hawaiian monarchy stamps being another] where the used or cancelled stamps- particularly covers, are worth more than mint.

    1. Ed D’Andrea, thank you for your reply. I will have to do a search for them. I’d like to see the German version of this commemorative stamp.

  5. Nice background on these stamps. I’m waiting for a more current Stamp-on-Stamp that features this subject.

  6. It would be nice if these articles had the option of printing them as a .pdf. I’d like to include the additional history of certain stamps in my album!
    Rick Zoerb

  7. Is there a list, somewhere, of all the issued Zeppelins from different countries.I know there are quiet a few countries that have issued Zeppelin stamps over the years. Thank you for all the stamp stories you produce.

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