Okay, the book tour was only two cities, but we made the most of them and we did not make up the rock-star comment.
We gave our first talk for Stamp of the Century to an attentive audience at the WESTPEX Stamp Show in San Francisco at the end of April. While many attendees reveled in the one hundredth anniversary of California’s 1918 declaration of war on squirrels, we celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of airmail with the American Air Mail Society. The launch of scheduled airmail by the Post Office Department in May of 1918 lead to the creation of a special stamp, which lead to the creation of the famous Inverted Jenny error that is the focus of our book. Airmail also inspired the eventual creation of the AAMS in 1923 which supports the collection, study, and research of aerophilately worldwide.
We focused our presentation on Inverted Jenny-owning airmail specialists. We ran down twenty collectors—women and men—highlighting those we thought our audience would find particularly interesting. As we showed photographs from our book, we explored our major theme and followed the money, describing how these collectors accrued the resources they used to acquire their inverts. The business history of invert-owning airmail collectors runs the gamut, including tire valves, boiler lubricants, envelopes, overalls, cornstarch, hand tools, speedometers, beer, and credit cards. Some owners spent their lives in government and politics, others in finance. Both Ethel McCoy and Louise Sholem Davis Hoffman once headed the AAMS, winning competitions with their collections.
We especially had fun talking about Philadelphian Joseph Steinmetz, keen on everything associated with flight. He was on the field when airmail launched and a few days later with Percy Mann, took Bill Robey to a meeting with Eugene Klein, resulting in the sale of Robey’s invert sheet to Klein for $15,000. Steinmetz was thus positioned to be one of the first invert buyers, acquiring positions 11 and 12. We also found out that Steinmetz was an idea hamster, acquiring some fifty-five patents for everything from recreational equipment to dozens of wartime devices aimed at protecting cities from aircraft. As we progressed through a series of slides showing variations on bomb-on-a-rope patents, we were gratified to hear our audience chuckle along with us.
From San Francisco, we headed to Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian National Postal Museum, which provided research and publication funding for the book, coordinated the release of Stamp of the Century with our publisher, the American Philatelic Society, to coincide with other events slated for May 1st.
We started our day at a well-attended first day of issue ceremony by the US Postal Service for its commemorative airmail stamp. The sunny atrium of the Postal Museum was the perfect location, with its three restored airmail planes suspended from the ceiling. Susan Brownell, a USPS vice president, deftly summarized the history of innovation in the post office, which led to creating airmail which set off the development of American commercial aviation. Postal Museum curator, Nancy Pope, told the story of airmail’s beginning and described the museum’s latest exhibition, Postmen of the Skies. Air force historian, Bill Harris, celebrated the accomplishments of airmail that contributed to the genesis of the U.S. Air Force.
As the ceremony ended, we rushed upstairs to a table set up for us to autograph books in the Postal Museum lobby. There, the official sale of Stamp of the Century began. Also there, we finally got to meet people with whom we’d been corresponding for months, including descendants of airmail flight personnel and stamp owners featured in the book. Many bought copies and asked us to sign them—another thing we had never done! We were delighted also to meet many people who attended the stamp release ceremony—some collectors, some not—who stopped to buy books and chat with us as we autographed. While we signed books, Nancy Pope led a private tour of Postmen of the Skies.
At a reception held in the afternoon as part of the book release festivities, director of the museum, Elliot Gruber, and APS editor, Martin Miller, talked about Stamp of the Century, the anniversary of airmail, and the Inverted Jenny. Along with answering questions, we had the pleasure of introducing the descendants. Phillip Glass has double ties to E.H.R. (Ned) Green who bought the sheet of inverts from Eugene Klein in 1918. Phil descends from the marriage between Green’s personal physician and the daughter of his secretary, thus being grandson of Dr. Thomas Glass and great-grandson of Walter Marshall. Glass brought his daughter Natalie with him. We also welcomed Lisa Peterson whose family lived on the estate of invert-owner Philip Gillett Cole. Both Glass and Peterson provided valuable documents and photographs that helped us develop our stories.
Among those related to the airmail story, we were able to introduce Janet Phillips, the oldest daughter of Otto Praeger, second assistant postmaster general in charge of launching airmail; Lori Fleet-Martin, the great-granddaughter of officer-in-charge of airmail Major Reuben Fleet; and Natalie Woodward, the niece of James Clark Edgerton, one of the first airmail pilots to fly on May 15, 1918. They all brought sons, daughters, and spouses with them to enjoy celebrating the accomplishments of their famous ancestors.
The final event in our whirlwind tour took place back in the National Postal Museum atrium the next evening. There, we delivered a custom book talk for the museum’s History After Hours series. Taking a cue from NPM curator Dan Piazza, who helped us research our book in its early stages, we decided to do a tour of Washington, D.C., sites associated with the stamp discovery and airmail launch events of May, 1918. Kellen had found a beautiful 1917 map of D.C. on which we could show most locations we planned to feature and NPM helped us turn it into a handout that attendees could take with them.
Again, we featured some of the stunning photographs from the book, along with a few we found more recently, showing what D.C. looked like at the time of the event. We introduced Praeger and his boss, Postmaster General Albert Burleson, along with Robey, Klein, Green, Fleet, his pilots, and famous dealers and stamp enthusiasts who saw the original sheet of one hundred stamps while showing where they lived and worked. We also highlighted three invert-owners who lived in D.C. and ended the presentation with the story of stolen position 18 handled by D.C. dealer John W. Kaufmann, who inadvertently tried to sell the stamp as position 9 back in 1979.
The event was well-attended by a mix that included people we had met at the previous day’s stamp release ceremony, obvious stamp enthusiasts who thankfully laughed at our jokes, and others interested in history. One of our favorite encounters was with Rich Rizzo, who as we autographed his book introduced himself as the man who built the Gross Gallery upstairs. Another favorite meeting was with a charming couple who had been touring the Postal Museum, heard about the talk (which included free wine and snacks), and decided to wander down for the presentation. They even bought the book!
In the course of our tour, we learned that once APS made the book available online for sale on May 1st, the first print run sold out in less than forty-eight hours. The whole thing made us giddy.
We officially ended our book tour with a hometown party we threw for our families and friends upon our return. We minimized the show-and-tell about our trip and, instead, feted everyone with food, drink, dessert, and a champagne toast to thank them all for supporting us during the three years it took for us to bring Stamp of the Century to fruition.