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The Atlantic Cruise Triptychs. A philatelic myth in flight

The Atlantic Decennial Cruise was organised by Italo Balbo in 1933 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Italian Air Force as an autonomous armed force. It was carried out with 25 ‘Savoia-Marchetti S.55X’ seaplanes equipped with a hundred pilots and covered a distance of almost 20,000 km between round-trip, surpassing all the air exploits accomplished up to that time.
The main destination of the stage flight was the ‘Century of Progress’ World’s Fair held in Chicago between 1933 and 1934 to celebrate the city’s centenary.
The cruise left on 1 July 1933 from Orbetello to reach Chicago in seven stages, where it arrived on 15 July. From Chicago it left on 19 July for New York (where it was welcomed in triumph) and on 25 July it left again for Rome, where it arrived on 12 August 1933.
The eight squadrons were identified by a circle, or star, in one of four colours. Hence the squadron designations: Black starred, Black circled, Red starred, Red circled, White starred, White circled, Green starred, Green circled.

From a philatelic point of view, specific airmail stamps called ‘triptychs’ were issued by the Kingdom of Italy because they were composed of three sections, in two values of 25 Lire and 50 Lire. For each of these 20 pairs were issued bearing the initials of 20 aircraft, (lot 604, estimate 4,000 – 6,000 euro) identified according to their pilots. Special ‘triptychs’ were also issued for service airmail and other postage stamps for the Italian Colonies.
The aircraft carried mail franked with the ‘triptychs’ and the exact quantities carried in the various stages are known for each aircraft.
In addition to seven aerogrammes franked with the triptych (lots 605/611) there is one of the very rare examples of the triptych which does not bear the pilot’s initials in the overprint. Only 40 examples are known, and it represents one of the greatest philatelic rarities of the Kingdom of Italy (lot 612, estimate 20,000 – 40,000 euro).