John P. V. Heinmuller Specialized Collection of Zeppelin Mail

Finding Guide
refer to caption

LZ126/ZR3 1924 America Flight - Azores drop (0.222097.1.53.1) Volume 2

Prepared by Cheryl R. Ganz, Chief Curator of Philately.


The John P.V. Heinmuller Specialized Collection of Zeppelin Mail consists of 33 volumes of mail from by zeppelin airships in the early twentieth century from the pioneer period through the LZ130 Graf Zeppelin II.


John P.V. Heinmuller donated his specialized collection of Zeppelin Mail, Volumes 1 – 33, to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1950s (Accession Numbers 196774, 198541, 199865, 204477, 209048, 211733, 213091, 216097, 222097, 227584, 231790). He donated over 2,000 examples of flown zeppelin mail from his collection of over 5,000 zeppelin covers.

The name ‘John Heinmuller’ is famous among those studying early airmail. Heinmuller was an aero-philatelist and past president of the American Air Mail Society. As a past president of the Longines-Wittnauer Watch Co., Inc., he “organized the Timing Contest Board of the National Aeronautic Association in accordance with the chronometric specifications of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, and served as their chief timer.” He officiated for the 1927 Lindbergh transatlantic flight and other pioneer flights.

Born in Switzerland in 1892, Heinmuller financed part of his first trip to the United States (1912) by selling Bavarian Jubilee issues to a Danzig stamp dealer. His interest in airpost material began in 1909 when, as a seventeen-year-old student in Geneva, Switzerland, a school friend sent him a zeppelin souvenir that had been mailed at the ILA international aviation exhibition in Frankfort-am-Main. Heinmuller eventually collected over 5,000 zeppelin pieces. Some were acquired by purchase or exchange with other collectors; others were acquired by writing Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin directly, asking him to send a postal souvenir from an advertised flight. Part of his acquisitions derived from the well-known Thompson, Steiner, and Luderman collections.

His obsession ultimately led him to research records for all the zeppelin flights. He compiled a list of dates and routes that serves as a catalog of all existing zeppelin covers. Because of his extensive research, he was befriended by von Zeppelin and zeppelin commanders Dr. Hugo Eckener and Ernst Lehman. He actually attended most arrivals of the airships LZ127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ129 Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

He authored a complete chronology of aviation titled Man’s Fight to Fly (first published in 1944; revised in 1947), which some have considered the foremost handbook on aviation records and aero-philatelic information. He died July 11, 1960, in New York City. He was 68 years old.


The collection is organized chronologically by airship and flight. Zeppelin pioneers are followed by the LZ126/ZR3, later named Los Angeles; LZ127 Graf Zeppelin; LZ129 Hindenburg; and LZ130 Graf Zeppelin II. The flights of each airship are in chronological order, and within each flight mail is in the order of dispatch. Mail dispatched from countries visited during the flight is organized in the order of countries visited. Mail transmitted from countries not visited on the flight are organized alphabetical and by leg. On board mail is organized by date and drop mail is in the order dropped. The collection is on Heinmuller’s original album pages.