The 1944-48 Palestine Airletter Sheet

by Tony Goldstone

Although it is well documented in the archives of the Crown Agents (BAPIP Issue 106 pages 186-188) that plans had been formulated to produce a stamped air letter card (as the aerogramme was then known) as far back as July 1937 nothing came to fruition until the 1940s.

A stampless Air Letter Card was issued to British Forces in Palestine in March 1941, requiring the fixing of an adhesive GB stamp [Fig. 1] and various designs and layouts were printed during the War years and up to 1948. However these airletters were not usually available to civilians, and cannot really be called the official aerogramme of British Palestine.

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 1

It was not until 1944 that the Mandate Authorities in Palestine printed their first airletter sheet for civilian use. Printing was done by typography by Pikovsky Printing House, Jerusalem. There has been some confusion amongst Palestine specialists as to the exact date when the lettersheet was issued, however in the same BAPIP issue mentioned above, there is a photocopy of an official Post Office announcement and also a manuscript annotation in the Crown Agents archives that 1st  November 1944 was the date of issue to the public, ("Civilian Air Mail Letter Form printed in Palestine brought into use 1/11/44"). The Writer of this short article acquired such an airletter sheet mailed as a First Day cover, from Bat Yam, Palestine 1st Nov. 1944 to Cairo, Egypt. [Fig. 2].

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 2

Interestingly the same BAPIP article makes reference to a stampless airletter sheet (requiring adhesives) that was to be distributed to all Post Offices in Palestine on Oct. 16th 1944 as a "holding operation" until the new printed and stamped airletter sheets were delivered ready for 1st  November. No example of such a short lived letter sheet has been found to date to the best of my knowledge. Did they really exist?

Dr. A. Hochheiser in his Postal History of the Palestine Mandate, describes the airletter sheet as rectangular with gummed flaps for sealing after folding. The unfolded sheet measured 192 x 240 (without flaps) but there are variations. The paper is of off-white colour. A watermark variety with the words EXTRA STRONG exists, but is very rare to find. At the time of printing a grey burelage (security overlay of a swirling pattern) was added to both the Address and Sender's panel area. Two printings were made during the lifetime of the airletter (1944-8) and are easily distinguishable by the extent of the burelage.

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 3

In the first issue [Fig. 3] the burelage extends about 4mm past the Sender's panel left vertical border line, whereas the burelage on the second printing (1947?) extends only about 1mm or less. There is no consistency to the burelage, and many examples exist of strong, weak or almost no noticeable overlay. (The Writer has seen examples of the watermark variety only in the first printing and would be delighted to hear from any reader who can submit an example of the watermark in the second printing). The stamp is printed in indigo, depicting the Tower of David on the Jerusalem Wall, with a price of 25 mils. The name Palestine is printed in English, Arabic and Hebrew; all instructions however are printed in English only. Cut-outs of the stamp were legal for regular postage.

For the serious collector, variations can be found in the cut of the flaps, the colour of the gum and colour shades of the stamp and printing ink, as well as the intensity of the burelage mentioned previously.

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 4

The British Mandate ended on 14th May 1948, however due to hostilities regular air service from Palestine ceased on 25th April that year. The airletter [Fig. 4] mailed on 22nd April from Ramatayim to U.S.A was possibly on the last flight out of Palestine, as it would have taken a few days under armed convoy to have reached the airport.

Although no air service existed in the early weeks of the State of Israel which declared its independence on 14th May 1948, an enterprising collector affixed a new Israel stamp on the first day of the Israel postal service (16th May 1948) to the now defunct Palestine aerogramme, creating the first (unofficial) Israel airletter sheet [Fig. 5]!

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 5

At least one private company produced approved airletter sheets during the last years of the Mandate, and these required the addition of an adhesive stamp [Fig. 6].

Palestine Airletter Sheet

Fig 6

Readers are requested to submit any further information, details or corrections to the Writer, via the Editor, anything that will add to the above short history of the Palestine airletter sheet.


BAPIP = The British Association of Palestine-Israel Philatelists, now The Holyland Philatelic Society

The reference book mentioned above, "Postal Stationery of the Palestine Mandate" by Arthur M Hochheiser is available from the Society of Israel Philatelists.

(This article is reproduced from the November 2010 issue of The Postal Stationery Society Journal.)