American Airlines Etiquettes

Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.

American Airlines, as we know it today, first appeared as such in 1934 after E.L. Cord of automotive fame acquired American Airways and renamed it. They worked closely with Donald Douglas to develop the DC-3, the first airplane to carry passengers at a profit without subsidy for mail handling. They were instrumental in establishing LaGuardia Airport.

I shall look at the etiquettes they issued prior to the post-war acquisition, in 1948, of American Export Airlines to form American Overseas Airlines, sold to Pan Am in 1950.

All American Airlines labels were either arrow-shaped or a horizontal hexagon. The first appeared in 1937, claiming “Tomorrow’s Mail Today.” This slogan appeared on all but two of the 8 and two of those in Spanish (Figures 6 & 7 which differ in the size of the lettering). The first four separated “American” and “Airlines” with their flying eagle logo (Figures 1-4); thereafter that logo was omitted.

As you will note in the illustrations, several have “NC136” or NC136A’ on the right wing (Figures 2, 3, 5 & 8). I do not know the significance of this. Perhaps a member can enlighten me.

The first of the two covers I show is from Chicago in 1939 to San Francisco and forwarded within that city, using the first etiquette produced (Figure 9). The 16¢ stamp paid the 6¢ airmail postage and the 10¢ special delivery fee. The second, a postcard, was sent from Mexico using the Spanish-language label. (Figure 10)

The study of American Airlines etiquettes can be extended to include their many early subsidiaries as well as those issued after the War. The last etiquette appeared in 1962.

Figure-1    Figure-2    Figure-3

Figure-4   Figure-5   Figure-6

Figure-7   Figure-8

Figure-9   Figure-10


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Why I Collect Airmail Etiquettes

This article is part of The Captain’s Log, Issue 40-4, Spring 2016
Arthur H. Groten M.D.

For the past several years I have been writing about those funny little pieces of paper that are applied to envelopes to designate carriage by air. I have been a stamp collector for 65 years although for the past 20 or so I have concentrated on postal history or how the postal system works.

We have all seen etiquettes on letters such as airmail, registered, certified and special delivery, to name a few. They tell us what additional services are being utilized. Because much of my interest in postal history has centered on the development of commercial airmail I started paying attention to the labels. Recently, I’ve begun limiting my collection to those used before WWII and I still have several thousand different with many used on envelopes.

You’ve had a taste of these covers in my articles which tend to be about a specific country or theme. Those will continue. Here I want to show a number whose unifying theme is that each is the first airmail etiquette issued by the country involved.

The very first was issued by France on August 17, 1918, a simple boxed “Par Avion” on red paper. (Figure 1) It is on a postcard carried on the first experimental flight by A. Vancaudenberghe at St. Nazaire.

A number of labels specify the route to be used such as Czechoslovakia’s 4 different destinations from Prague. Figure 2 calls for the route from Prague to the Netherlands to pass through Strasbourg. The other routes were through Paris, Warsaw and London. Another, from the Ivory Coast to Paris in 1931, noted “de Dakar a Toulouse.” (Figure 3)

Some, though not many, have the country name on them such as the etiquette on this registered cover from Madagascar to Paris on the first official flight between the two countries in 1930. (Figure 4)

Others indicate the extra postage required for airmail as on this 1934 cover from Mozambique to Scotland: the air fee was Fr. 1.05. French is the official international postal language. In this case, Mozambique added the Portuguese “Por Aviao” to the French “Par Avion.” (Figure 5)

From Tahiti to France in 1927, a particularly rare label was used to seal the letter. (Figure 6)

Etiquettes in the shape of arrows are often seen as on this 1931 cover from Guatemala. The paired oblique lines indicate the end of air service, in this case, most likely in the U.S. (Figure 7)

I have many more and, in due course, they will appear in these pages. I welcome correspondence with interested members.

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