26 September 2020

In the 1930s the world became increasingly smaller by the introduction of regular flights between every possible destination. The aircraft industry could barely keep pace with the ever demanding airlines, which asked for safe, less noisy, air-pressured cabins and larger aircraft. Comfort and luxury were key words for 1930s passenger airlines. But aircraft were of more use than only transporting passengers: they became a very important means of transporting freight and mail. Especially the last category could be transported in large quantities.

PH-AKR ‘Rietvink’. This DC-2 aircraft carried the letter from Bandoeng to Amsterdam Schiphol.

For the first time in history Dutch inhabitants of the Indies (West and East) could communicate with their relatives in the Netherlands without having to wait six or more weeks for an answer. In addition to this the leading Dutch airline (KLM) improved her service every year. In the early 1930s it took more than ten days for a KLM aircraft to fly from Bandoeng to Amsterdam. In the late 1930s new modern (American) DC-3 aircraft could make the journey in a time span of only two days! That’s what you call progress!

This letter departed Paroengkoeda (now Parungkuda) on the 2nd of August 1936. First you might think that it arrived in Amsterdam on the 20th of the same month. A longer than usual travel time, isn’t that a bit odd? With the introduction of the modern DC-2 flying machines a journey from the Indies to the Netherlands took only 5 days in the summer of 1935…so first thing what came to my mind was an engine failure. They often occurred in these days.

Letter departed Bandoeng on the 2nd of August 1935 and was probably forwarded from Amsterdam to Venice on the 20th of August. Attractive stamping of the square 12 1/2c Queen Wilhelmina ‘Kreisler’ and the 30c Seegers’ lonely ship stamp.

After a while though I wasn’t so sure anymore: I looked the flight up in TSchroots’ great airmail encyclopedia and read that the DC-2 ‘Rietvink’ departed Bandoeng on the 3rd of August and arrived accordingly to its flight schedule in Amsterdam on the 8th. No engine failure whatsoever, just a lazy philatelist which jumped to conclusions too quickly.

‘Forwarding postmark’ Amsterdam Central Station?

It think we might have been tricked by the Amsterdam postmark. This ‘pseudo-arrival’ postmark is probably only an indication of the time and day on which the letter was forwarded to Venice (and since you’re probably more shrewd as I am, you might have guessed that already).

The sender of the letter was not aware of Mr Heldring’s departure to Italy – obviously – so Mr Biesenbach’s of Paroengkoeda letter was at the mercy of the postal services now. In these days you could still rely on such an forwarding immaculate service. The European postal agencies quickly forwarded his letter to Venice. It arrived there only two days later on the 22nd of August.

Close-up of the two stamps and postmarks.

Now two questions come to mind:

  • What is the reason of the 18-day gap between the send date and forwarding date? Did it took Heldring’s family so long to forward the letter to him from their home address in Amsterdam? Or did Mr Biesenbach’s letter linger in the Javanese forests for some time before reaching Bandoeng? Or…?
  • What were Mr Heldring businesses in Kaprun and Venice? His wife (or assistant) first wrote down the wrong address (Hotel Kesselfall, Kaprun) before correcting it into the more famous Grünewald Hotel in Venice. I think the ‘corrector’ was perfectly aware of Mr Heldring’s travel schedule. He appears to me as an important man. Moreover, his name rung a bell when my eyes met this cover. In fact, in the end I bought the cover because of this name and not because of it’s attractive stamping and neat postmarks.

Ernst Heldring – Dutch entrepreneur

Much Dutchmen probably don’t remember his name, and if they do they remember his name because of his son. The addressee – Ernst Heldring – nevertheless was a famous and very influential individual during the first half of the last century. Born in 1871, he was educated at the Public School of Trade in Amsterdam during the 1880s. Within 10 years he had established good contacts with the Dutch Indies where he was responsible for numerous (industrial) initiatives, such as the the construction of a harbour in Sabang and a new ship route which connected Java to Japan. He started this last venture in 1902 after having becoming president of the prestigious Royal Dutch Steamboat Company (KNSM) in 1899.

Ernst Heldring on the roof of his house (De Lairessestraat 96). Viceroy of Amsterdam.

Perhaps more important for philatelists is his function as president of the Royal Dutch West India Mail (KWIM) between 1912 and 1928. By that time people called him a proper shipowner (‘reder’ in Dutch) and in the Netherlands with its long history of trade and ships such a function meant (and still means) influence and prestige. Soon he became known as the Viceroy of Amsterdam. He made it into the upper class of Dutch society.

In the 1930s Heldring occupied numerous functions, most of them commissionerships, at the Dutch National Bank, the Hoogovens and the Dutch Trade Company. Most notably for our letter tracing process could have been the position he held at the Holland Bank for the Mediterranean in the mid thirties. Which sort of other business could possible distract you from simmering Italian summers….

For the sake of all of us, he had the extraordinary gift to keep his diary up to date. So here are some notes of his own hand, written in September 1935 which will tell you his real activities in the summer of 1935.

Gisteravond thuisgekomen van 4 weken vacantie in Beieren, Oostenrijk en Italië met Jet als reisgezelle. We hadden prachtig weer, behalve in de bergen, waar we ons voornemen tochten te maken moesten opgeven, toen we voldoende getraind waren. De laatste 8 à 9 dagen brachten we te Venetië, Padua en Verona, Brescia, Bergamo en Milaan door. Venetië is een oude bekende, die ik gaarne terugzie. Ditmaal was er in het Palazzo Pisaro een prachtige tentoonstelling van werken van Titiaan, waar zijn meesterschap in portretkunst, het coloriet en de compositie, doch ook zijn tekortschieten in geestelijke diepte – geheel overeenkomstig zijn tijd en omgeving – gedemonstreerd werden. Ditmaal bezocht ik ook het oud-Romaansche, half-Byzantijnsche kerkje te Torcello op een afgelegen lagune-eiland. Heel mooi. De Giotto’s en Mantegna’s te Padua waren een verrukking bij het weerzien na 30 jaren, zoo ook Verona. De musea in beide steden, vooral dat te Padua, vond ik uitmuntend gereorganiseerd. Te Brescia waren we slechts een paar uur tusschen 2 treinen, wegens slagregen grootendeels in een café. Het oude Bergamo op den berg gelegen met zijn door kerken en loggia’s omgeven piazza is een juweel.

Translation: “Yesterday I returned after having spend 4 weeks of holidays in Bavaria, Austria and Italy with Jet as my travel companion. The weather was great, except in the mountains, where we had to give up our intention of making walks after sufficient training. The last 8/9 days we stayed in Venice, Padua, Verona, Brescia, Bergama and Milan. Venice is like an old acquaintance, whom I very much like to visit again. This time there was a beautiful exposition of pieces of Titian, where his mastery in portrait art, of colorite and composition, but also his under performance in philosophy- which perfectly corresponds to his age and surroundings – was demonstrated. I visited the old and small Romanic, half Byzantine church of Torcello as well this time, which stands on a remote island in the lagoon. Very pretty. To see the paintings of Giotto and Mantegna again in Padua was a sheer delight after 30 years. The same applies to Verona. I found that the museums in both cities were very well organized, especially in Padua. Since we had to switch trains in Brescia, we had only a couple of hours to visit this city. (Unfortunately) We had to take shelter in a cafe because of a downpour. The ancient city of Bergamo situated on its mountain and its piazza surrounded by churches and loggia’s is a gem.”

So Mr Heldring was not for business in Italy and Austria: he enjoyed a lengthy holiday there! One mystery solved.

For the original publication see the Dutch Philately blog by Hugo Brieffies.

Hugo Brieffies

Hugo Brieffies

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