Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.
Please note that this first appeared in the American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine, #97, February 2016
The designs seem to fall into three basic categories: hand-drawn, those made by airline companies and those either generic or specific to a non-airline company.
Hand-drawn ones have a charm all their own. They are usually made for non-philatelic purposes, manifesting the sender’s imagination. They are direct descendants of the 19th century British pen and ink covers (whose artistry is usually quite a bit more evident). The 1939 cover was carried from Belgium on the first flight from France to the U.S. The use of an air etiquette to help define the shape of the drawing shows some design sense. First flight covers rarely have such flamboyance. (Figures 1a&b)
Cpl. Holmes, stationed at Hawaii, received a rather striking cover from New York. It even has a tied-on Christmas seal. (Figures 2a&b)
A charming pen drawing graced the upper left corner of a 1946 cover from Belgium; the sketch shows a Belgian factory and an American skyline. (Figure 3)
Something seen from time to time is the usual red and blue airmail border being added by hand. That makes sense in this return card for which the sender wanted air service. (Figure 4)
Figures 5-8 show four generic envelope designs: U.S. 1931 (Figure 5), Denmark 1950 (Figure 6), Guatemala 1937 (Figure 7) and Mexico 1945 with extra pizzazz from the censor label (Figures 8a&b).
Envelopes produced for use by airlines tend to be a bit more eye-catching: Brazil Condor 1934 (Figure 9), Brazil Panair 1939 of which there are a number of varieties (Figure 10), Paraguay Panagra/Panair carried on first Pan American flight from Asuncion to Rio (Figure 11), Peru Lufthansa 1938 (Figure 12) and Indochina Air Orient 1930 (Figure 13).
Figure 14 is a rather interesting outlier. The Uruguay 1931 envelope specifies that there was an additional fee of 50¢ to Comision Gral. De Aeronautica (General Commission not specifying an airline) for air service. The image at the upper left is typical of the remarkable graphics seen in Uruguay at this time.