A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. III: The Postal History
United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41
Lynch, Jr., ASPP
PART III: COVERS & CACHETS
W. G. Crosby Cacheted Covers for the USS BEAR
as is currently known, eight varieties exist of the famous and attractively
cacheted Crosby covers designed for use aboard the USS BEAR
during the United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41. Illustrated
below are the known cachet types. . .
All these designs! Why? To add to the mystery it appears that most of these covers were aboard the USS BEAR when it departed Norfolk, Virginia for the Antarctic on November 26, 1939. Some of the confusion doubtless was caused by the fact that the 'Bear of Oakland' (Byrd's flagship for the 1933-35 expedition) had been restored to her original name and then commissioned in the United States Navy on September 11, 1939 (designated AG-29 -- auxiliary ship-icebreaker). Another cause of confusion was the fact that Richard Byrd had been organizing private support for his third expedition to Antarctica and this was interrupted by the United States government who took over his plans. The expedition was reorganized and re-titled. Byrd no longer had the control. This caused some controversy and, indeed, a complete confusion amongst the general public, not excluding Mr. Crosby.
Much like tossing a life preserver to a drowning sailor, the answer arrived in the form of photo-copies of two letters written by Mr. Crosby to RAdm. Byrd and Roger Hawthorne (the expedition officer of the expedition). In the first letter, to Byrd dated October 16, 1939, Crosby states that he is sending a quantity of samples to the ship's service officer and requests that he be informed if any changes in the design should be made. In the second letter, to Hawthorne dated November 1, 1939, he remarks that he did not like the way these earlier samples were worded. He again sent another group of samples and mentions that the United States 'seal' has been changed to a 'globe'. The last line of this letter again requests that further information or corrections be sent to him.
The Type IV cacheted cover was not really specifically designed for this expedition. It was a 'general' type cachet which could be changed for any ship in the fleet merely by changing the ship's name and photograph. The Type VI cover is almost exactly as the Type I except that the reader will notice a reversal of the wording: Destination - South Pole to read South Pole Destination.
These letters from Crosby to Byrd and Hawthorne appear to solve the problem we were originally concerned about. That is, why are there so many different cachets? Ordinarily, we would see one, maybe two, different cachets. Here we have a study unto itself amidst all the other mail which has survived from this expedition. Do we have them all? I think not. Not yet. One thing is for certain under the circumstances described and that is that there must be only a few of some of these. The reader / collector would be well advised to check his collection and think hard before trading off a certain cachet. Crosby used a multitude of colors (5) in these cachets and they are unknown quantity-wise as to just how many of each design were serviced. So, a little caution is advised.
Incidentally, W. G. 'Bones' Crosby was born in 1881 and retired from the U.S. Navy in 1925 as a Chief Gunner's Mate. Crosby was from San Pedro, California.
Walter F. Holtgreve Cachets
The overall green cachets seen on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition covers are the work of Walter F. Holtgreve, of Washington, D.C. He made one cachet for West Base - Little America (III) (figure 1) and one for East Base - Neny Fiord (Stonington Island)(figure 2). His name appears on the lower left corner of the West Base cachet (figure 3) and on the lower left side of the East Base cachet (figure 4). These cacheted covers appear to be official, as they seem to have been distributed to all of the expedition members. Also, Admiral Richard E. Byrd did present some to contributors to the expedition. One was presented to John P.V. Heinmuller and was shown in his book Man's Fight to Fly. According to a letter from the Department of the Interior to a private collector, the East Base covers were for base members and that only 3 covers were allotted to each. Perhaps this is true for the West Base covers as well.
The cachets were printed in green ink on a flat sheet of paper, with lines to cut on and were folded and glued by hand. The enclosures found in some of the covers were carbon copies on tissue paper of typed letters.
The West Base covers are usually canceled on the USS BEAR January 26 or February 1, 1941, while the ship was at West Base. Most of the East Base covers are canceled March 22, 1941, the day of evacuation of East Base. Several were carried further and either canceled April 9 at Buenos Aires, Argentina or April 22 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the way home.
Walter F. Holtgreve ... who was he? He doesn't seem to have been a cachet maker at that time. The only other time I have seen his work was the USS EDISTO green cachet used on Operation Windmill when he worked with Glen R. Krause on it. Although the reproduction here is poor, you will notice a 'K+H' in the lower right corner of the cachet (figure 5). Glen R. Krause, from Washington, D.C., was a participant in OPERATION WINDMILL .
Miscellaneous Cachets / Rubber Stamps
Two cachets appear prominently on mail from this expedition, however it is unknown if they were used on private mail or made available for the use of all expedition members . . .
The 'penguin' cachet uses almost the correct expedition title, leaving out only the word "service." Wording also specifies it as being used only at East Base, but it appears on mail with USS BEAR cancels when this vessel was not actually in the vicinity of the base. The 'bear' cachet, on the other hand, uses the wording "ANTARCTIC CONTINENT" and pictures the silhouette of a bear. Most likely this cachet was on board the USS BEAR, as the date stamps within the cachet coincide with the USS BEAR cancellation dates when she was at Little America and East Base.
The following are known examples of corner cards from printed stationery . .
Some FIRST DAY cachet types . . .
VERY RARE REGISTERED FIRST DAY POST OFFICE SERVICE with use of her TARGET cancel
Some additional rubber stamps / cachets . . .
In summation, this essay on Byrd III is anything but complete. Without a doubt, there are many more pieces to the unique puzzle surrounding the postal history of this expedition. By far, this is the most difficult of all American-involved Antarctic expeditions for collectors to complete (if there is such a thing!) . . . many of the pieces are extremely rare and unique. Updates will be made to this section as new information becomes known.
MISCELLANEOUS COVER TYPES