A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. III: The Postal History

United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41


Joseph Lynch, Jr., ASPP
Murray Fishler, ASPP
Gary Pierson,ASPP




W. G. Crosby Cacheted Covers for the USS BEAR


As far 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. . .

The cachet by W.G. Crosby, of San Pedro, CA, was printed in one of five different colors.

This post card, circa 1930 with a tinted photograph from the Arctic, was the same photo used in Crosby's cachet.



Type I

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Variety in blue of Crosby's thermographed cachet with pasted-on photo

Type II

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Crosby's cachet using the correct name of the ship while at Little America

Type III

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Cachet by W. G. Crosby of San Pedro, California. Printed in one of five different colors

Type IV

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March 20, 1940 was the date that the USS Bear finished unloading supplies at East Base. On the reverse is the Antarctic Continent "Standing Bear" cachet

Type V

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After leaving the United States, the U.S.S. Bear made five stops on the way to Antarctica. The first was Balboa, Canal Zone, then on to the Galapagos Islands.

Type VI

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Variety in blue of Crosby's thermographed cachet with pasted-on photo

Type VII

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Crosby had many varieties of cachets made for this expedition; most of them had errors in names and wording. The Type VI example has the wrong name of the expedition. The Type VII has the correct name as commonly used during 1939-41, however it was later changed to include "SERVICE" in it's name. The correct name of the ship was "U.S.S. Bear" as it was christened on September 11, 1939, after Admiral Byrd gave it to the U.S. Navy. It was the "S.S. Bear of Oakland" during the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition" 1933-35.


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At Balboa, Canal Zone, on her way back from the Antarctic....May 14, 1940.

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


West Base (Little America III) photo post card by Charles C. Shirley, photographer.

It was the view of West Base, from this photo taken the previous season by Charles Shirley, that Walter Holtgreve made his overall green cachet for West Base. (See Figure 1 below).


This cachet was printed in green ink, with an outline for cutting into an an envelope. The cachet was the work of Walter Holtgreve (his name is on the lower left side). It was made from a pen and ink sketch of the buildings at West Base, Little America III, from a photograph by Charles C. Shirley. He was the naval photographer for the United States Antarctic Service Expedition.


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4


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 . . .

This cover has the EAST BASE cachet (in red) used BEFORE East Base was even reached or, for that matter, before the exact location for the base was even selected. It also has the ANTARCTIC CONTINENT "Standing Bear" cachet which was used only when the ship was at the Antarctic continent. They show various dates of important ship movements, i.e. arriving, landing, departing, evacuating, separating from / meeting with the U.S.M.S. North Star. Some dates seen: JAN 14, 15 and 20, 1940; MAR 7, 15, and 20, 1940; JAN 10 and 26, 1941; FEB 1, 1941; MAR 22 (1941). NOTE: The MAR 22 date is known to show no "year" in the dateline


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 . .

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On January 10, 1941, the U.S.S. Bear entered the Bay of Whales to evacuate the expedition at West Base. On March 15, 1941 the U.S.S. Bear again investigated the pack ice without finding a safe passage to Marguerite Bay to evacuate East Base. The U.S.M.S. North Star was dispatched to Magalines, Chile, to load supplies for another season in case the men and the ship became frozen in. The U.S.S. Bear proceeded northwestward to Mikkelson Island, just north of the Antarctic Circle. A party was put ashore, and a landing field was prepared for the two emergency flights from East Base.

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U.S.S. Bear official penalty envelope with the "seal" cachet (unknown designer). Also has the "penguin-ship-dog" cachet designed by Francis Bearse, purser on the U.S.M.S. North Star.

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Free Official Mail from the expedition, from on board the U.S.S. Bear. The letter was sent to John P. Heinmuller, President of a famous watch company....a major contributor to the expedition.

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This cover contained dues for the Antarctic Polar Society to Mr. August Horowitz at his Boy Scouts of America office.

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Three major types of official stationary were used on this expedition: Navy Department, U.S.S. Bear and the Department of the Interior.


Some FIRST DAY cachet types . . .

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Walter Czubay was future maker of ZOO-BAY Cachets

Signed by W. J. Wallace, Postal Clerk on the U.S.S. Bear



Some additional rubber stamps / cachets . . .

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Type 2 cancel used for March 22, 1941 * * * Type 1 used January 21, 1941. Two rubber stamps were used for the return address .... no "SERVICE" used in the name.

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Using West Base personnel, Dr. Ernest E. Lockhart studied the problem of acclimation to the cold weather through physiological investigations. The West Base cachet didn't have a last number in the year as it was intended to be used for many years in the 1940's. The "0" was added with pen and ink by Dr. Lockhart. The mail from the expedition that was taken out by the U.S.S. Bear was put into the U.S. mail system at Balboa, Canal Zone, on May 10, 1940. This cover was received at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on May 15, 1940.

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.



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The Beech Aircraft Corporation, manufacturer of "D17A Beechcraft", the plane Ted A. Petras will fly in Antarctica and will be carried on top of the Snow Cruiser, supplies their personal stationary.


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Official cover carried aboard the Snow Cruiser on its initial overland trip, driven by highway under the captaincy of its designer, Dr. Thomas C. Poulter, scientific director of the Research Foundation of Armour Institute of Technology. This cover, autographed by Dr. Poulter, traveled from Chicago to Boston and then Philadelphia.



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USS Bear arrives at the Bay of Whales. Zadik Collier was one of the airplane mechanics, a technical sergeant of the US Marine Corps. He came to Antarctica on the U.S.M.S. North Star. This cover was posted January 11, 1940 when the Ross Ice Shelf was sighted by the North Star. It was transferred to and canceled on the U.S.S. Bear on January 14, 1940, when she arrived at the Bay of Whales. They established West Base (Little America III) here. NOTE the printed envelopes brought on this expedition by Zadik Collier with the name "Byrd Antarctic Expedition III" which was incorrect.


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The U.S.M.S. North Star passing through the Panama Canal. Cachet by "The Leatherneck Stamp Exchange Club" of Washington, D.C. At 6:15 in the morning on November 29, 1939, the U.S.M.S. North Star started through the Panama Canal. They had to wait in Lake Gatum from 8 to 11 a.m. due to one-way traffic that was caused by repairs to one set of locks. They docked at Pier 15 in Balboa, C.Z., about 3:30 in the afternoon.

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Another USS Bear cover type ...the top with a BLACK cancellation...... the lower cover canceled in the seldom seen magenta color.

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The U.S.S. Bear arrives at Annapolis, Maryland on schedule, one day after leaving Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is her first stop on the way to evacuate the expedition in Antarctica.