Space Cover #153: Morris Beck Crew Covers Acknowledgement: The scan for the USS English (MA-7) is from my website thanks to Eddie Bizub.
Morris Beck was a ship enthusiast who, from an early age, created designs for covers for various events. In the mid 1940s he started designing covers to be postmarked aboard US Navy vessels for events such as the ship's commissioning, decommissioning, Navy Day etc. This naturally led to him producing covers for the Navy's role in the recovery of US astronauts.
His covers involved printed cachets, often in two or three colours. He numbered his main series of Naval covers from 1 to 1000 with each number meant to be used by a different ship and event. The number of covers varied from two to three hundred for the early Recovery covers to over five thousand for Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (less covers were produced for other events). Beck covers are considered the Rolls Royce of Recovery Ship covers.
While his first cover for a Recovery ship was produced for Mercury-Atlas 7, these were unnumbered and only available to the crew.
From Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8) onwards he produced covers for the collector with his first such cover being number 77 for the USS John Paul Jones. Covers were also produced for two other ships in the MA-8 Recovery Force. From Mercury-Atlas 9, Beck produced covers for most ships in each of the U.S. manned missions recovery forces.
It should be noted that while the idea was to use a different number for each ship and event, things did not always work out that way. Sometimes covers designed for one ship found their way onto a number of ships. In many cases such covers are quite rare and demand a premium. In other cases, covers with more than one number were sent to a particular ship.
As a thank you for postmarking his covers, Beck sent a number of unnumbered covers with each group of numbered covers to the ship's Postal Officer to be distributed as he pleased. These are usually known as Beck Crew Covers.
While we know from his records that 25 such covers were send initially, there is no ongoing record of how many unnumbered covers were send to each ship. However, considering how few have survived, it is likely that approximately 25 were sent in each case.
Considering how few such covers were produced by Beck and the fact that they usually went to non-collectors, very few have survived. In most cases less than six examples are known and they bring quite good prices when sold. Examples are know from most missions, although none are known from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Also, none have surfaced from the Apollo 11 primary recovery ship, the USS Hornet.
Below are examples from the Apollo and Skylab missions (see above for examples from Mercury and Gemini).
These should not be confused with the unnumbered Navy Rubber stamp cacheted covers. From Gemini onwards, Beck produced rubber stamps for the Navy and sent two to each ship.
The designs were either identical with or very similar to the printed cachets. These were used by the Postal Officer aboard each ship to cachet covers postmarked for the Recovery. In most cases the Navy used maroon (a dark red) or black ink, although occasionally a different colour was used. Below is a typical example.