Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Nyoman Eri » 5. Dez 2013, 01:03

Please be patient with me, this is my first post on this forum and my German language skills are very poor.

Considering these LZ-129 "May Day" covers (May 1, 1937), in my mind the singular most pressing question regarding these last flight covers and post cards that were dropped over Cologne is how many were there, and how many likely survive? In other words, just how scarce or rare are they?

According to documented accounts, there were approximately 17,609 pieces of mail on board the Hindenburg when it departed Frankfurt for the US, early evening, May 3. “The Hindenburg had begun the flight with approximately 235 pounds of mail in eight separate mailbags.” Mathematically, that works out to roughly 2,200 pieces of mail in each mail bag assuming a relatively equal distribution of mail within each of the bags. Apparently only one mail bag was dropped over Cologne (the May Day mail) and some accounts mention that this bag was also weighted for proper deployment of the parachute.

While it is very true that these last flight covers that were parachuted down to the Butzweilerhof airfield in Cologne the evening of May 3 escaped the Dante’s inferno that awaited the rest of the mail on board the Hindenburg upon arrival at Lakehurst, the vast majority of this mail was addressed within Germany, and the ravages of war that would be shortly set upon Germany. It would only seem reasonable to assume that a significant majority of that mail did not survive WWII.

While it is purely speculative, it seems reasonable to assume that only around 1,000 pieces (if that many) have survived to this day. That number is less than three times the 358 pieces of mail that were salvaged from the Hindenburg wreckage in Lakehurst.

To put this into further perspective, the Hindenburg carried its largest volume of mail during its first flight to the US. That volume of mail was 2,335 pounds in 60 mail bags. That works out to somewhere around 132,000 pieces of mail…all of which arrived. That means that the first US flight covers (which are not considered rare, or even scarce) are 60 times more common than the May Day covers and postal cards dropped over Cologne.

The rarity of these May Day covers flown on the Hindenburg’s last flight seems to be born out by the market. They do not appear with the great regularity of other Hindenburg flown mail, and moreover, when they do seem to pop up with some semblance of availability, the material being offered can often be traced to one or more dealer selling off a long established collection.

Well, these are my ideas anyway of the quantity of extant May Day covers from the Hindenburg’s last flight and I would enjoy hearing what others think.

Kind regards.
Nyoman Eri
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Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Alfred » 7. Dez 2013, 20:31

Hello Nyoman Erl,

please, allow me to answer your question in German:

Zum Thema der Unglücksfahrt der „Hindenburg“ im Mai 1937 ist schon viel geschrieben worden. Die umfassendsten und vollständigsten Informationen findest Du in Dieter Leders Buch „LZ-129 Hindenburg Zeppelin Crash Mail“, TOPO-Verlag 2012.

Eine Antwort auf Deine Frage findest Du auf den Seiten 12-13:

„At mail closing for the May day flight on Mai 1 at 5 a.m. the railway post office 19 had 234.5 kilograms of mail on hand for this flight. After postmarking and sorting, this mail was bundled and sorted in mailbags. Assuming the average load per bag was about 13 kilograms, 18 mailbags were prepared by the railway post office 19 for the May day flight.“

Anschließend (auf Seite 13) wird auch das Postaufkommen für die 1. Nordamerikafahrt 1937 beschrieben:

The grand total was slightly more than 106 kilogram. All this mail was packed in eight mailbags.
A postal truck with the mail for the Hindenburg was loaded with eight mailbags from the foreign section with canceled and sorted zeppelin mail for the Americas, 18 mailbags from the railway post office 19 with canceled May Day Flight mail to be dropped over Cologne and a small separate bag with uncanceled mail intended for posting onboard during the return flight.“

Wie Du siehst, ist die Abwurfpost nicht in den acht Postsäcken enthalten; insofern geht Deine Rechnung nicht auf.

Zwar bin ich keineswegs ein ausgewiesener „Kenner“ der späten Zeppelinfahrten, aber nach meiner Erfahrung sind die Belege der ausgefallenen Deutschlandfahrt 1937 keineswegs selten. Die Bewertung in den Zeppelinpost-Katalogen von Sieger und Michel spiegelt das wieder, 25-30 Euro sind relativ realistische Preisansätze.

Viele Grüße
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Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Nyoman Eri » 8. Dez 2013, 04:17

Dear Alfred,

Many thanks for your kind reply. Please forgive my confusion.

If I am reading your post correctly, then the following summary would be correct?

-The amount of mail carried by the Hindenburg on May 3 which was dropped over Cologne was more than twice the amount of mail destined for Lakehurst. In other words, there was 106 kilograms of mail intended for the Americas versus 234.5 kilograms of May Day mail to be dropped over Cologne.

Does that sound reasonable…that there was more than twice as much May Day (local) mail on board the Hindenburg than the very popular trans Atlantic mail? If that is accurate then it means that well over 35,000 pieces of May Day mail was dropped over Cologne on May 3, 1937. Does that seem reasonable?

This is in stark contrast to the account provided by Max Zabel, a surviving crew member of the final Hindenburg flight and acting postmaster of that flight: “The Hindenburg had begun the flight with approximately 235 pounds of mail in eight separate mailbags, though one of those bags had been dropped by parachute over Cologne, Germany on the first night of the trip.” Source:

http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.co ... zabel.html

And more stark contrast:

“The 63rd and last ride of LZ 129 from Frankfurt am Main to Lakehurst began on 3 May 1937 at 20.16 h German local time. 61 crew members were on board, but only 36 passengers, plus 108 kg mail, 148 kg cargo and 879 kg luggage and two baskets with dogs.” Source:


How does one account for the great disparity between reports of one bag of mail being dropped over Cologne on May 3 versus 19 mail bags being dropped over Cologne?

While in no manner trying to appear argumentative, I am trying to get a reasonable estimate of how many of these May Day Hindenburg flight covers remain “out there.”

Many thanks again for your kind reply.
Nyoman Eri
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Registriert: 4. Dez 2013, 02:02

Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Polarfahrtsucher » 8. Dez 2013, 11:53

Hello Alfred and Nyoman Eri

Is it possible that only a small amount of mail was actually carried by the Hindenburg?
Maybe a part was devlieverd by truck to Köln ?

Zuletzt geändert von Polarfahrtsucher am 8. Dez 2013, 14:15, insgesamt 1-mal geändert.
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Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Zeppelin » 8. Dez 2013, 12:25

Hi Eri,

first of all, let me welcome you here at eZEPtalk.de!

Alfred has already answered your questions. Some more information from my end:

Mail bags:
According to general postal regulations (see Dienstanweisungen der Deutschen Reichspost), the weight of a mail bag was not to exceed 40 kilograms (30 kilograms for international mail). Keep in mind that postal workers had to lift these mail bags, they had to carry them around and load or unload them into/from vehicles. In general, the wight of a mailbag was less then that maximum, mailbags were rarely filled up to the maximum: it was easier to handle 2x20 kilogram mailbags than one bag with 40 kilograms. Based on my observations, mail bags were usually about 13 to 15 kilograms. You can call it a conveniant filling.

May Day Flight:
The weight information of 234,5 kilograms is coming from reliable sources and we can therefore assume that the information is correct. Given the above information about mail bags, we can calculate that they needed a minimum of six bags if filled up to the maximum. If filled only with conveniant 13 kilograms, they needed 18 mail bags. Fact is, that the exact number of mail bags is not documented.
Each piece of mail was not to exceed 20 grams. So with that information we can calculate that a minimum of 11.700 pieces of mail were carried (if each piece was 20 grams). If we assume that the average piece on this flight was only 10 grams, then we have already 23.400 pieces flown. Fact is that the exact number of pieces flown is not documented.
What was dropped over Cologne? Well, 234,5 kilograms of mail was dropped. Passenger Grant of the HINDNEBURG reported that one parashute was dropped while 15-year old eyewitness Ernst Schröder reported from the ground to have seen several mailbags being dropped. I recently saw a photo from the Cologne drop depicting one parashute on the ground with three large mailbags. Fact is here, that it is not documented how many bags were dropped and how many parashutes were used. ! Parashute and three large mailbags are confirmed though.
This is all information I have. Everything else would be speculation or calculation.
In any event, this mail was prepared at Frankfurt and dropped over Cologne, this mail has no connection at all to the mail information for the mail carried over the Atlantic and which later crashed.

Crash Flight
The zeppelin postage was calculated per 5 grams, maximum was 2 kilogram per item. 240 pounds of mail were on board, stored in 8 mail bags. This equals to 108,96 kilograms total mail load with a calculated 13,6 kilograms load per mail bag and 6,18 gram per mailing. The Frankfurt post office handling the mail confirmed 17.507 pieces, other sources mention 17.609 pieces of mail. These numbers are from reliable sources and they are matching the average numbers of mail carried on late 1936 flights to North America, both by number and weight.
This mail was loaded at Frankfurt. Additional mail was dispatched during the flight. And only this Frankfurt/onboard mail crashed. Only 372 pieces of mail have been recovered.

I have not stated any refences for this information, those interested will find them in the footnotes of the book LZ-129 HINDENBURG, ZEPPELIN CRASH MAIL
Herausgeber des/editor of the ZEPPELIN POST JOURNAL
A.I.E.P. Prüfer/expertiser
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Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon Nyoman Eri » 9. Dez 2013, 01:02

A fascinating discussion, and kudos to everyone for their time taken to offer in depth and well articulated responses. Many thanks!

My “quest” to estimate a reasonable estimate of the number of surviving May Day covers/cards might be an impossible dream based on the somewhat confusing and often conflicting data regarding these particular covers/cards, so may I switch gears a minute and approach this topic from an entirely different perspective?

This perspective will require the experience of long established Zeppelin collectors (and dealers) who have over many years seen many hundreds, if not thousands of covers/cards flown by the Hindenburg on its numerous flights.

For those sage and highly experienced collectors (and dealers), what would their “gut feeling” be regarding the rarity of these May Day covers relative to other documented (and authentic) covers flown on other Hindenburg flights? If Mr. Alfred is correct with his earlier comment that a 25 to 30 Euro value for these covers is accurate, then that would surely indicate that these covers/cards are common, and likely as common as various first flight covers which abound, since their “catalogue” value is about the same. But, is that catalogue value an accurate barometer of their actual rarity?

Somewhat as an aside, but still salient to this discussion, right now on eBay one can find about twenty nine May Day covers/cards for sale. But, of those, twenty two are being offered by the same dealer who has advised me by e-mail that they are all part of one very large collection of many hundred Zeppelin flight covers acquired many years ago from one collection. The remaining covers are offered by other collector/dealers with two being offered by one very well known and very high volume dealer on the east coast of the US. However, if one takes as many hours as I recently have to search current dealer inventory and auction results on the internet, these May Day covers are assuredly not common, in my own assessment of course.

To “come clean” with the honorable members of this forum, and to explain the reason for my posting, my particular interest in these May Day covers has only recently germinated.

For me there is something particularly magical about these covers. By a strange quirk of fate they were not flown and delivered as planned on May Day, 1937, rather they were kept on board the Hindenburg to be dropped over Cologne on the night of May 3 while the Hindenburg was on its fateful last voyage to America. While these covers are not survivors of the crash, they are, none the less, survivors of the Hindenburg’s last flight.

As a semi-serious postal history collector for many long years, I have never been drawn to what I consider as “contrived” material such as first day covers, first flight covers or any of the myriad of material primarily produced to satisfy collector’s urges, or to serve as souvenirs. While these “May Day” covers are precisely that sort of philatelic material, in my mind they transcend this contrivance because their destiny did not include the intended result of their creation…they were not delivered to Berlin on May 1, 1937.

While these covers will never hold the extreme appeal of a surviving crash cover, dare I say these are the “next best thing?”

While uncertain if there will be additional posts here by those willing to offer their “gut level” assessment of the relative rarity of these covers/cards, please allow me to thank them in advance, and to also reiterate my thanks again to those who have responded to this thread.

Kindest regards, Eri
Nyoman Eri
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Registriert: 4. Dez 2013, 02:02

Re: Just How Rare Are These Covers?

Beitragvon pasol » 10. Jan 2014, 19:13

Dear friends,

there is an interesting article about this flight in "Zeppelinpost" 1/1995. On p.63 in "The statement of loading of LZ-129" during this 63.Flight you can read: "...Post (Mail) 106 kg + 234,5 kg ! until Cologne..."
@Zeppelin wrote: "...I recently saw a photo from the Cologne drop depicting one parashute on the ground with three large mailbags..."

I can show this photo :D
Thus the mail until Cologne (it is total weight 234,5 kg) was delivered by LZ-129 "Hindenburg" and was dropped above Cologne.

Koelner_Abwurf_03051937_03m.jpg (145.54 KiB) 6765-mal betrachtet
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