Italo Balbo

Stamps and flight have both had roles in state propaganda machines at various times and never more so than in Italy in the 1930’s. Bennito Mussolini came to power in the early 1920’s and one of the goals of Italian fascism was to increase the Italian sense of identity as a way of uniting the country. Air travel was new and after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927 air travel was as promoted and romanticized as space travel was in the 1960’s and 1970’s (and no doubt world exploration was in the 1500’s). Italo Balbo was a young Italian who knew nothing about airplanes and flying but he knew about propaganda and popularity and more importantly he was politically well connected. He was made the head of the Italian Air Force in 1926 and quickly learned how to fly. His greatest philatelic significance was the 1933 flight that he organized from Rome to Chicago as part of the Century of Progress celebration held in that city (and for which the US #C18 was issued). Flying in an armada of 24 Flying Boats (huge water based planes), the planes were among the largest ever flown at that time and the sight of them landing in Lake Michigan in formation must have been impressive. Italy issued a set of two stamps for the mail that was flown on the flight and each stamp was issued with an overprint for each of the 24 planes making 48 collectible varieties for collectors. Weight was an issue so mail was limited making covers very scarce and used stamps worth far more than mint.

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