Pan American Airways Trans-Pacific Clipper Service (1935-1941)


Map showing the Trans-Pacific route of the Pan-American Airways (PANAM-14 and PANAM-19)


Terms such as trans-pacific, trans-atlantic, China clipper, Pacific clipper covers, Pan-American airways etc are very confusing to me; so I decided to read up on the topic and skim through the vast resources in the internet. These terms are quite important to know because many interesting and unique pre-WWII covers bear these words and not knowing them means you'll miss some of the greatest things in collecting postal history.

Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Clipper Service

Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic are just two of the many routes in the Pan American Airways service. The Pan American Airways (PanAm) was the premier American air carrier from 1920s before its collapse in 1991. "Clipper" simply refers to a 19th century sailing ship but the term is very synonymous to the company because they named their aircrafts with the word "clipper" (e.g. China clipper). This is probably to show the image of sailing through the blue sky to exotic and distant destinations.

The China Clipper passes over the San Francisco waterfront at the start of the inaugural commercial flight across the Pacific Ocean.

China clipper is the name for one of the company's aircraft, and is esentially a Martin M-130 flying boat. Only three M-130s were built: China clipper, Hawaii clipper and the Phillipine clipper. A fourth flying boat called the Russian clipper (designated M-156) was built for the Soviet Union. The China clipper, being the first of the four flying boats of the company, is important because it was the first airmail flight across the Pacific. On November 22, 1935, China clipper 'sailed' from San Francisco for Manila. This event marked the first trans-pacific airmail flight.

A cover sent to US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt from the trans-Pacific first flight

The Trans-Pacific Route

The first trans-Pacific route was designated FAM-14 (Foreign Air Mail Route). From 1935-1939, FAM-14 served as the only route connecting USA to Asia. However, as the World War II seemed inevitable and fears of normal delivery being attacked, the volume of mails carried in the Pacific clipper service began to increase. This prompted the Pan American Airways to open another route in the Pacific region, designated FAM-19, connecting the US and southern Pacific with Auckland as a base.

Cover from N. Borneo to USA on 3 November 1941

When Italy joined the WWII conflict in 1940, all existing Mediterranean routes for airmails were esentially stopped. This means letters from Asia could not be delivered to western European countries through the Mediterranean routes. As a result, two-oceans airmail service was developed, the trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic route. In general, the Pacific clipper service was much safer, faster and reliable, but also more expensive. This explains why covers flown in the service are usually franked with high values stamps.

North Borneo and the Clipper service

The Pacific clipper service only became available in Singapore in May 1941. Several covers from North Borneo were sent using the service. This is usually characterised by high-value frankings and absence of incoming postmark (eg. Singapore). The last flight of the China clipper left Singapore on November 30, 1941 and arrived Manila the same day. It departed Manila on December 1 and arrived San Francisco on Dec 6. For only a brief period of availability, covers from North Borneo, Sarawak, Malaya etc flown via the clipper are considered very rare.

The rates for the service with regards to North Borneo depends on the service used. From May 26, 1941 ½ oz. letter to Europe via Egypt costs 55c, Europe destination with air to NY and then by sea costs $1.45, while with air throughout (i.e. trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic) costs $2.05. US and Canada destinations costs $1.45 however, on July 3, 1941 the rate was raised to $1.55 per ½oz. Postcards have lower rates. In addition to the standard clipper rates, 2 cent War Tax stamp (for non-domestic destination) is also usually charged.


China clipper = Name of first flying boat Martin M-130 across the Pacific from USA
Trans- Pacific = Can be FAM-14 or FAM-19, routes of airmails across the Pacific
Trans-Pacific trans-Atlantic = Two oceans service crossing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by air throughout



$3 Million British Empire Collection in ebay?


$3M collection of British Empire Collection?

Last week, a Russian seller listed this lot in ebay. It didn't sell the first time he listed it and had it relisted again. In the description, it says that the collection covers the British Commonwealth countries, organised from Aden to Zululand.

There are 3 parts in the collection, the first part consists of mostly of mint stamps from 1840-1955 in 90 volumes of album. This is estimated at £1.55 Million based on Stanley Gibbons 2010 catalogue. The second part is the used stamps particularly strong on the Queen Victoria, North Borneo and Western Australia and is estimated £0.32 Million. The third part consists of postal covers and stationaries said to be from as early as 1720-1955, and is estimated at $0.4 million.

Is this valid?

Now to the most important question - Is this whole thing a reliable business or is it just one of the biggest scams ever attempted in ebay? The seller put a but it now price of $880,000 and starting the bid for $800,000. But from the seller's feedback of merely 9 and the fact that the owner would not ship anywhere and requires the buyer to go to Moscow for local pick-up, raise some suspicions to say the least.

The owner provided about 10,000 pictures here. I only looked at the North Borneo, Labuan, Sarawak, Brunei and Malaya stamps and to be fair, the stamps are just perfect and some are exquisitely rare! It is possible that somehow, someone in Russia really has such a great collection, but who knows what would happen once you click the "Buy It Now" button and send your payment? This particular auction has also been discussed more thoroughly in

What About The British Borneo and Malaya Collection?

I don't know much about the other countries collection and I'm only interested in the British Borneo and to a little extent, the Malaya. So I went to look for these countries among the collection. There are literally thousands upon thousands of pictures provided and if you have an old computer, you'll risk crashing your machine in no time. Anyway, here's some of the pictures for the North Borneo and Labuan collection:

To look for more pictures click below:
1. Mint North Borneo & Labuan collection starting here.
2. Used and CTOs N. Borneo and Labuan starting here.
3. All other stamps in the collection here.

So what Now?

I've been waiting since last week to see if there's any wealthy bidder or buyer who has a spare $800,000 for this collection but nobody bided so far. I certainly don't have that much fund to begin with unless I can steal the CT scan or the MRI scan in my hospital and sell it in ebay for a fraction of it's original value. :) But then again, even if I manage to get the money, I'll still be hesitant to bid for the lot...So I'll stick with what's normal rather than an unpromising venture.

Most Wanted August & September 2010


"Most Wanted August &September 2010"
The list is back again for the most wanted philatelic materials of North Borneo on August and September. September was particularly exciting with hundreds of interesting items listed in ebay. Many rare covers, postcards and postmarks were listed and reached very high hammer prices.



Full set of 1925-28 North Borneo stamps (Perf. 12½) from 1cent - $10. MNH.

Ended 23.09.2010

SG Cat price


4 bids



Black and White Postcard showing Labuan Bazaar Wharf, bearing 1 and 3 cents stamps of Labuan. Dated 24 June 01 and addressed to Bruxelles, Belgium (rare destination). Arrived Bruxelles on the 29 July 1901.  Written in French: "Bonjour ma petite Eperie, Je t'embrasse fort, Leon" (T/L: Hello, my little Eperie, kisses [and hugs], Leon).
Ended 14.09.2010

SG Cat price


13 bids


Back of cover

2 separate registered covers bearing the  N. Borneo stamps overprinted with black "Red Cross | Two Cents" from Jesselton (4 Jun 1919) to London, England. Philatelic but highly sought and valuable.

Ended 08.09.10

SG Cat Price

3 bids



Full set of 1939 stamps from 1 cent to $5. MNH. Highly valuable and rare especially the $1-$5.

Ended 06.08.2010
SG Cat Price

17 bids



 Generally a vast collection of North Borneo stamps from the first issues to 1960s. Most stamps are in mint condition but some are used.
Ended 04.09.2010

SG Cat Price
27 bids



North Borneo 1918 Red cross $10 MNH. Generally in very good condition although with some perforation defects.

Ended 22.09.2010

SG Cat price


1 bid



Interesting Salvaged mail of the Comet crash near Calcutta in 2 May 1953. Note the wrong spelling of "Galcutta". More details on this cover here.

Ended 06.09.2010

SG Cat price


11 bids



North Borneo Pacific and Atlantic Clipper cover 24 Nov 1941. The cover has the handwritten endorsement "By Trans-Pacific-trans-Atlantic / By Air Throughout" indicating Pan American airways two - ocean airmail service to the UK. Very likely to be carried by the last flight of the China clipper. Also has the red triangle censor mark "NORTH BORNEO PASSED FOR TRANSMISSION 20"

Ended 18.08.2010

SG Cat price


5 bids



North Borneo 1918 Red cross $5 MNH. Very good general condition.

Ended 22.09.2010

SG Cat price



2 bids



Another wonderful collection from nystamps. Literally hundreds of old and 'new' stamps of North Borneo and British Malaya. Notable postmark include Papar (D1) and Jesselton and Sandakan.

Ended 23.09.2010

SG Cat price


32 bids

The selection criteria for this list include (a) stamps/philatelic items of North Borneo appearing in ebay, (b) must be available internationally and (c) must be on auction format only. Currency conversion to Euro based on exchange rate in 08/10/10.

Check out the previous months: