Cuban Rocket Mail Stamps
by Bert van Eijck translated by Charles Bromser
The Cuban Post Office gave the world the first official rocket stamp in 1939 and surprised us all on 12 April 1989 (Day of the Cosmos) by the issue of six stamps depicting classic rocket mail covers. Again a world first.
What a pity that the Cuban Post Office did not consult an expert in the field, for they forgot to include the “father” of Rocket Mail, Friedrich Schmiedl and Reinhold Tiling too. While Karel Roberti scores twice, even though his covers are rather suspect, Karel Roberti conducted the first Dutch rocket experiments, on the beach at Katwijk aan Zee, on 6 December 1934. His first trial rocket called Meteor, exploded on ignition. Most of the 200 covers were destroyed. Some see Roberti as a con merchant.
His rockets were just sky-rockets, purchased from the well known fire-work producers, A.J. Kat in Leiden. Roberti and Thoolen, a Dutch stamp dealer, started the Nederlandsche Rakettenbouw (Dutch Rocket Construction Inc.) as a cover. Towards the end of the 30’s there were numerous exposes about “Rocket Post Swindle” in the Dutch stamp magazine “Philatelie”.
After some two years of articles of pros vs cons, the conclusion was “there has been a lot of rocket mail experiments and very few rocket experiments”. Roberti also used rocket planes, during one experiment the rocket planes wings were torn off during flight. Roberti also had flights in Belgium and Luxembourg. He wanted to send rockets across the Channel from Calais to Dover but was thwarted by French officialdom.
The Cuban rockets are linked to the constructor of the rockets, Antonio Funes, but the driving force behind these experiments was the organiser Dr Tomas A. Terry, the president of the Cuban National Philatelic Club. The first trial rocket was 75cm long (2,5 feet) and carried 70 covers. Matanzas revenue stamps had been overprinted with the inscription “PRIMER COHETE AEREO, 1939” each cover received an overprinted stamp, together with a large C-1 first flight cachet.
The rocket was to have been fired across the provinces of Havana and Matanzas, but suitable terrain could not be found. The launch took place on October 1, 1939, on the army rifle range at Miramar. The rocket exploded after travelling but 12 metres (39 feet). Only 60 covers were recovered.
The second trial was held on October 3rd, it carried 21 covers. The rocket travelled 500 metres (550 yards). The third test flight flew off course into the sea. Only 16 covers were retrieved.
October 15, 1939 was to be the big day for the actual rocket flight. The Cuban Post Office had prepared 20,000 stamps, an overprint on a 10cent green air mail issue. The overprint reads: “EXPERIMENTO DEL COHETE POSTAL AND DE 1939”, Yvert P.A. 31 (Scott C 31). The crowds had gathered with lots of officials. The rocket took off but after travelling only 11 metres (12 yards) it fell to the ground.
The nose section was broken. The mail was despatched by the Havana Post Office. The world’s first official rocket mail had come to a sad end, as did Cuba’s involvement with Rocket Mail.
Australia, Young – 1934 – India, Smith – 1934 – England, Zucker – 1934
Nederland, Roberti – 1935 – France, Roberti – 1935 – Cuba, Fumes – 1939