Thursday, July 28, 2011

1938 Empire Air Mail Scheme:
Rate Confusion Anticipated by C.P.O.

On February 28, 1938, Canada inaugurated a compulsory Empire Air Mail Scheme whereby first class mail for specified Empire countries was conveyed to Britain by ship then carried exclusively by air beyond England. The Empire Scheme was a British plan completed in stages from June 1937 to July 1938, and ending at the onset of war in September, 1939.

The 1937-38 Official Canada Postal Guide described the service as follows:

The surface letter rate of 3 cents per ounce was replaced with a higher all-up rate of 6 cents per one-half ounce. The post card rate was increased from 2 cents to 4 cents.

Britain and other countries, which were participants in the Empire Air Mail Scheme prior to Canada's entry, experienced large volumes of underfranked mail due to the public's confusion regarding the new all-up rates. The British Post Office, for example, applied the following handstamp on underpaid covers to Empire scheme destinations:

The surface letter rate of 1 1/2d. per OUNCE had been replace by the Empire scheme rate of 1 1/2d. per HALF OUNCE. The rate for a one ounce letter had doubled.

The Canadian increase for a one ounce all-up letter was even greater. At 6 cents per half-ounce, the one ounce all-up letter rate was 12 cents, four times the abolished 3 cent per ounce surface letter rate! The post office anticipated problems with the new rates and prepared the following a handstamp to be applied on shortpaid all-up mail:


In the case of the cover shown below, the"Please Advise" handstamp was applied two days before the introduction of all-up Empire service. Canada Post Office was clearly aware of the difficulties encountered in Britain and had anticipated similar confusion in Canada.

The letter was mailed from Toronto to Pretoria, February 26, 1938 at the surface letter rate of 3 cents per ounce. By the time the letter arrived in England, Canada was an Empire Air Mail Scheme participant. It is therefore likely that the cover received air mail conveyance from Britain to South Africa at the old surface rate.

The next cover shown was conveyed under the Empire Air Mail Scheme and properly franked 6 cents:

Montreal to Pretoria, South Africa, April 25, 1938
6 cents per half-ounce Empire Air Mail Scheme

Note to Readers: Covers from Canada mailed under the
Empire Air Mail Scheme are uncommon. Post cards with the 4 cent rate are particularly elusive. If you have such a post card please contact me at