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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Siege of Paris Gave Birth to Aerogramme

By: F. Aleem Sundal

The aerogramme was born out of necessity. During the Franco- Prussian war in contact with the outside world. Balloons and messages to and from the sources for carrying messages to and from the surrounded city. That made the light-weight mail a compulsion.

Air letter Sheets, as they were called at that time, were produced privately, but received official sanction immediately. Their shape was that of a modified reply post card with one closing flap. They were in different colours but bore two distinct inscriptions;” Par Balloon Monte”(if the balloon was piloted)) or “Par Balloon”-via balloon.

The first balloon to carry mail from Paris was the Neptune navigated by Jules Duruof. It lifted 275 pounds of mail on September 23, 1870. In all some 2.5 million letters were flown out of the city till the siege ended on January 28, 1871.

After the emergency was over air letter sheets were required no more. But the concept had proved its utility as the most convenient form of moving large quantity of mail by a limited carrier to any destination.

Regular airmail service began in 1911. But the air letter sheets reappeared in 1929 in Colombia and later in Germany. Guatemala, however, issued the first properly printed air letter sheets on June 29, 1930 for domestic airmail service.

All these novelties printed so far carried no face value. The sender had to affix postage stamps in accordance with the postal tariff.

All this time, the use of air letter sheets was not completely discarded. Such a light weight letter writing system could’ not be abandoned and these sheets remained in use by military personnel in many countries, mainly in South East Asia and the Middle East. British troops were allowed to send home one letter sheet, free of postage; once a week.

With the outbreak of World War I, the need for a light-weight form of specific size was realized and use of air letters increased again. To provide a cheap and rapid means of communication between soldiers and their families (as and aid to maintain morale) the postal rates were reduced and air letters were made more attractive by printing pictures and views on them.

The inscription “Air-o-gram” was first employed by Thailand in 1932, but still the letter sheet had no franking validity without postage stamps.

Iraq was the first country to produce aerogramme of the modern type. This aerogramme, King Faisal I and was released on June 15, 1933. By the time, the use of aerogramme had become more common in Europe and the Americas. But the practice of printing a face value on them had still not been adopted as the specific rate printed on sheets was valid only for particular routes or destinations.

Aerogramme used during the world war II by the British Army personnel were printed with dark screens on the writing side of the sheet to prevent the text being seen once the letter was closed. For the same reason, aerogramme was folded twice and both outer sides were printed with straight lines for the addresses.

By the end of the War, the aerogramme had established itself all over the world. The facility was also extended to the general public, even though the aerogramme did not catch on instantly, inspite of its being cheaper than the air mail letter rate.

Air letter sheets gained official recognition from the Universal Postal Union at its 13th Congress held in Brussels in mid 1952 and the sheets were named AEROGRAMS . It was also decided that no enclosure would be allowed, however, due to ignorance enclosures were not avoided and the inscription “if anything is enclosed this letter will be send by ordinary mail: was added in 1953.

Pakistan issued its 1st aerogramme by over printing PAKISTAN on Indian Air letter, sometimes in April 1948. The country’s own designed aerogramme was appeared on August 14, 1955. That was “inland aerogramme” inscribed “For use between East and West Pakistan”. That had a two Anna value showing the super constellation in flight. Later in 1957, a 6 Anna aerogramme was released for Europe, illustrating an Hour Glass.

After decimalization in 1961, a variety of aerogramme was issued, some specially designed for tourists depicting views on the address side. Our aerogramme has since then maintained their colorful standard, projecting a great deal of national heritage. Many commemorative items have also been issued, two on prisoners of war in India, and other on archeology, philatelic exhibitions, Pottery and flowers. Inland aerogramme prepaid for Armed Forces, need no postage.