Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127)
Meets the Icebreaker Malyguin
in the Arctic

Among the most desirable of polar philatelic items are those from the polar rendezvous of the Graf Zeppelin airship and the Russian Ice Breaker "Malyguin".  The intent had originally been to rendezvous with the submarine Nautilus, which was then on a Trans-Polar expedition led by Sir Hubert Wilkins.

Between July 24 and July 31, 1931, the Graf Zeppelin was on an Arctic flight.  The pilot was Dr. Hugo Von Eckner, Lincoln Ellsworth (another famous polar explorer in his own right) was the navigator (some sources say just "observer") and a Professor R.L. Somoilovich of the Arctic Institute in Leningrad, who was the head of the 15-man scientific crew.  They traveled some 8,000 miles with a flight time of 136 hours.  The only other American on the flight was USN Lt. Cmdr. (later Rear Admiral) Edward H. "Iceberg" Smith, USCG. Smith was an expert on ice conditions and later (1950s) was head of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. On July 27 they had a mail exchange in their rendezvous, which took place at Hooker Island, located in the Franz Josef group of islands.

Black and white scan of Lawhead Graf Zeppelin cover from 1931.

I find this a most fascinating polar cover! I had the pleasure of actually seeing it and holding it back in 1985, before it was sold by the then-owner, the late Gene Bassman, a stamp dealer in Joplin. I presume he got it from an estate sale of Mr. Lawhead, who lived in nearby Carthage. There has to be a 'story' as to how someone in Missouri scored not one, but two classics of polar postal history. 

The cover was postmarked at Friedrichschafen, instead of Berlin, and also has some additional line markings on the rear that are uncommon. What makes this cover so valuable, of course, and a fact which both myself and Joe Lynch missed at first, is the German franking: the overprinted stamps for Polar Fahrt 1931. (Scott C-42) The 4m stamp alone was cataloguing $800 used, in 1985. I apologize for the lack of color and clarity, but this is all I had-just a scan of a photocopy, and I felt the value of disseminating the polar postal history information outweighed not presenting it.

My guess is that Lawhead had to be a collector, or someone sent him what would surely an unlikely souvenir for someone living in Missouri. Note that someone crossed out the wording for the original planned rendezvous- one with Sir Hubert Wilkins' submarine, the Nautilus, which also had known covers.

Black and white scan of back side of Lawhead Graf Zeppelin cover above.

The markings on the back say "First INTOURIST expedition, 1931 Ice-Breaker Maligin" (sic)

Black and white scan of Graf Zeppelin postcard.

Lawhead also scored this postcard with the 2m stamp, postmarked Berlin.

Close-up scan of the Icebreaker Malyguin cachet used on Graf Zeppelin polar cover.
Close-up of the Malyguin Cachet.

Barbara Rhodes has an especially good historical perspective on her page about the Zeppelin/Rendezvous. Go here to see it.

There exists a wonderful rendition of the rendezvous scene, attributed to an artist named Nick Walmsley,
but you won't see it here! (The jpeg was originally thought to have been in the public domain and no intent of infringement iever ntended.)
 REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF THE ARTIST: COPYRIGHT CLAIM> 2005. delayed due to request having been discovered in Guestbook entry;
unable to be read by webmaster until 2009 (Problems in accessing guestbook; lost password/ID)

Go to two examples of some Russian covers that exist, from the same polar rendezvous.

The link that was posted here was a link to a commercial site that had a 4m cover in auction a couple of years ago, and another one from the same dealer. These were in color and let you see some of the splendor of the original covers.  The link is now dead, but if I am able to find the pictures I saved on disk, I will try to post them later. 

Go here to see a cover with a picture of the Graf Zeppelin in her hangar, in Germany.

Click here to go to a page with DDR Polar Philatelists Commemorative Issue from 1981, for the 50th Anniversary of the Graf Zeppelin's Polar Flight.

Special thanks to Barbara Rhodes of for helpful information and contributions.

Back to My Main Polar Philately Page page last updated 01 Dec 2010 1521Z