Isolated form its neighboring islands and the mainland, tiny Rattlesnake Island sits in Lake Erie, the essence of tranquility.
This isolation, however, proved to be a definite disadvantage when it came to obtaining postal service. The nearby islands of North, Middle, and South Bass were services under a contract with Island Airlines, operated by World War II Pilot Ralph Dietrick. This small airline flew the shortest commercial airline route in the with a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor. The route was so short that when the Ford Tri-Motor took off from South Bass Island, the wheels were still spinning when the plane set down on Middle Bass Island. The “Tin Goose” as it was affectionately known, made the daily run to the Bass Islands and landed on Rattlesnake Island, but only to deliver supplies, not mail.
From 1959 to 1966 the island struggled with the U.S. Post Office Department (USPOD) to establish mail service with the island but to no avail. So on August 27, 1966, following footsteps of Herman Herst Jr., who established the Shrub Oak Local Post in New York in 1952, Dr. Frackelton (who purchased Rattlesnake Island with a group of doctors and a stockbroker in 1959) established the first air mail local post in the country and issued the original Rattlesnake Island Local Post stamps.
The original rectangular designs included a 5¢ red and black chart of the island for postcards, and a 10¢ green and black aerial view of the island and the Ford Tri-Motor for letters, and a 25¢ blue and black harbor scene for parcel post. Actually, the picture used for the 25¢ stamp was of the U.S. Coast Guard docking for free coffee that they received regularly from the island’s restaurant.
The first issue of stamps was not yet four months old when the USPOD issued a ruling stating that as of December 9, 1966, “… that the stamps being used by the Rattlesnake Island – Local Post’ violate Section 475, of Title 18, U.S. Code, and that matter bearing them may not be accepted for mailing” U.S. stamps. But if they thought Dr. Frackelton was going to give up that easy, they were sadly mistaken. After conferring with the General Counsel’s office in Washington, D.C., it was determined that neither the philosophy nor the legality of the Rattlesnake Island Local Post was in question. The General Council concurred that triangular-shaped stamps would be an acceptable replacement as the United States had never used that format. Hence, the second issue of the Rattlesnake Island Local Post was born. However, in between the time the USPOD issued their desist order and the time the second issued was put into circulation, mail was still emanating from the island. But instead of the locals post stamps, the mail contained only the distinctive diamond cancel with a manuscript “Fee Paid” beside it. This “stampless period”, as it’s known, lasted from December 9, 1966 until January 22, 1967. The bulk of the “stampless” covers carry the Rattlesnake Island diamond cancellation date of December 30, 1966, as it was the date of the mailing sent to collectors by Lillian Busch, the first postmistress of the island [yes, it was postmistress in those days], announcing the First Day of Issue date for the new triangular second issue of stamps. There are other cancellation dates in this period, but they are difficult to find. The speculation was that the stamps were too attractive and might be easily confused with the official
Rattlesnake Island stamp design progressed from photographs of island scenes to original art of the flora and fauna, buildings, ships, and artifacts of the area. In just a matter of 23 years the postal rate for service from the island increased from the original values in 1966 of 5¢ for post cards, 10¢ for letters, and 25¢ for parcel post to their philatelically inflated values of $1.00, $1.50, and $2.00 respectively, in 1989. Perhaps these one-time legitimate airmail local post stamps had mutated into collector items issued for philatelic purposes but that’s another story for another time.
But then 16 years later, in 2005, Dr. Frackelton announced that the island would again start issuing the popular stamps. The new stamps were issued in three denominations as before for post cards, letters, and parcel post. The 25¢ post card stamp featured a photograph of the island airstrip, the 50¢ letter stamp a photograph of the northwest corner of the island, and the $1.00 parcel post stamp a photograph of the new island marina. They were issued in perf and imperf formats as before. But unlike before, the new stamps were not processed through the Port Clinton, Ohio, Post Office but through the Post Office at Sandusky, Ohio.This text used with permission from Dr. Frackelton (adopted from his album “Rattlesnake Island Local Post Stamps”).