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December 13, 2018 • Headline News
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Unique stamps and envelopes found at Tyson Library
Artwork and penmanship harkens memory to the golden days of U.S. Mail

Via Air Mail from Indianapolis, Osgood, Indiana celebrated National Air Mail Week in 1938. The cover says, “Home of one of the oldest County Fairs in State.”

Jared D. Rogers

In the spring of 2018, interim director at Tyson Library, Margaret Ann Riley, reported to the Versailles Republican that she had found a large, heavy, old book tucked away in the library that contained a unique collection of envelopes. The book has a small plate affixed on the inside of its back cover reading, “Housed in a Mohawk Knurl Knob Post Binder, a product of Wilson-Jones-U.S.A.” Blank on its cover, it contains an ornate cover page with the title, “First Day Covers, Flights & Dedications, Collection of Glen E. Smith, Versailles, Indiana.”

Glen Estal Smith was born to Walter Henry Smith and Glenna (McQueen) Smith on May 22, 1920 in Versailles. Glen graduated from Versailles High School and Indiana University, and then joined the U.S. Army Air Force to serve in World War II in 1942. He trained at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and Lorry Field, Colorado, before moving into the rank of Captain and working as Headquarters Intelligence Officer in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In total, he served for 42 months.

Later, Glen married Charlotte (Mendall) Smith and they raised one son, Christopher. According to his obituary in the September 2 issue of the Osgood Journal, Smith died on August 29, 1997 in John’s Island, South Carolina, where he lived with his second wife, Joan.

Over dozens of proceeding pages, envelopes postmarked as early as 1849, through 1948, are organized four to a page. Most of the used pages are full, although some only contain two or three envelopes instead of four. Several of them are also falling out of the small corner adhesives that held them in place.

That earliest envelope from 1849 was postmarked on either November 3 or 8, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and addressed to a Dr. Steele of Markington County, Arkansas. The newest envelope in the collection, found on the last used page, was postmarked at 9:00 a.m. on April 7, 1948 in Natchez, Mississippi, addressed to Glen E. Smith, Versailles, Indiana. Many blank pages remain in the book following those last envelopes, leaving one to wonder just what happened to Mr. Smith’s interest in collection.

The bulk of the envelopes are dated in two time periods: One small group from the late 1880s and early 1890s, and a much more substantial group from between 1929 and 1948. It was in ’37 that the first envelope postmarked to Glen Smith appears, an “Air Mail” piece from December 4 at 12:00 p.m. Of the dozens of envelopes addressed to Mr. Smith thereon, none ever contain a street address. Under Smith’s name was simply, “Versailles, Indiana,” sometimes with “Ripley County” written in on the side.

In addition to Glen, three other names are featured prominently on the envelopes. The first is his father, Walter H. Smith, also of Versailles. The second is Victor C. Otto, who lived at 103 Philadelphia Avenue, Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. The third is William Jordan, Jr., of 126 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Interestingly, a marking on several envelopes to those New Jersey men had the message, “Address your mail to street and number,” a practice that seemed to be growing in larger cities, whereas the practice hadn’t yet reached rural areas.

As the cover page implied, many envelopes were dedicated “First Flights.” Among those in Smith’s collection were “First Day of Issue” and “First Flight” stamps and covers from San Diego, Atlantic City, Walla Walla (Washington), Montreal, Canada, to Burlington, Vermont, Dayton to Chicago, Auburn (Maine), Fairbanks to Juneau, Baltimore to Bermuda, Boulder City (Nevada), Jacksonville (Florida), Phoenix, Akron, Trans-Atlantic, Gettysburg (an “experimental” pickup location), U.S.A. to Newfoundland, South Pacific Service from San Francisco, La Junta (Colorado), Brunswick (Georgia), and Gainesville (Florida). Some of those envelopes also had markings that said, “Via Air Mail,” and, “Air Mail Saves Time.”

Another prominent theme in the overall collection are World War II stamps and covers. “Let Freedom Ring” covers, along with flags of these nations are featured (each on its own individual envelope): Korea, France, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, Greece, Austria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and Denmark. Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials, “Win the War,” and “for Honorable Service” covers are also found in the WWII section.

Among other dedication covers, many envelopes feature famous authors, poets, artists, composers, and scientists. There is also a collection of “National Air Mail Week” covers from various cities, including local sites like Batesville, Columbus, Jeffersonville, Brownstown, and Osgood. Still several other envelopes commemorate anniversaries of statehood, anniversaries of important organizations such as the American Medical Association, and anniversaries of famous inventions such as the steamboat.

It is plausible, but not factually known, to say that Glen likely discovered his interests in envelope covers and stamps through his father, Walter H. Smith, as some of the earliest envelopes were addressed to the older Smith. In 1937, when Glen’s name first appears on the label, he would have been 17 years old. The last envelope addressed to him in 1948 would have made him 27 when he ended his collection in this particular book. That means he amassed these envelopes through his final school year at Versailles, through college at I.U., and through his military service, which ended in 1945.
It would seem that the many envelopes mailed to Victor C. Otto and Wm. Jordan, Jr., both of New Jersey, made their way into Smith’s collection through his service in the military, as he was headquartered in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is even plausible to think that Smith’s young interest in Air Mail might have played a motivating role in his decision to join the Army Air Force.

It could be that a living relative of Glen E. Smith could replace these ideas with facts, and give more insight into what sparked the young man’s interest, and why he stopped his collection close to 11 years later. Maybe, too, it is fine to leave it to wonder. As it is, the book is a beautiful and careful curation of the creative history of the U.S. Postal Service’s covers and stamps.

Assistant Editor’s note: Thanks to Margaret Ann Riley for sharing her find with the Versailles Republican and Tyson Library Director Margaret Marcy for providing additional access to the book. Thanks to Barbara Eades of the Ripley County Historical Society for assistance in researching Glen E. Smith and family. In addition to the obituary mentioned, information for Smith was found in Kathy Bertoli’s family history binder, “Smith-Arend Family History,” and in the WWII collection, “Lest We Forget,” compiled by the Historical Society.

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