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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Collecting Historical Items Associated with the Wright Brothers

A number of years ago, I began collecting items associated with early aviation, and then began to specifically concentrate on the Wright Brothers. Initially I purchased a number of early post cards, books, and newspapers. Coin and stamp collectors have ready made albums available for storage of coins and stamps, but such is not the case for collecting odds and ends of aviation history. Below, I offer my experience of how to acquire, and display your collection if you choose to delve into this hobby.
  1. Know your subject. The more knowledgeable you are of the history of the Wright Brothers, the less chance you'll be fooled by misrepresented items, and the greater your ability to identify an item of historical significance. 
  2. Be aware that sellers don't always know their subject. They may unknowingly describe an item inaccurately.  I've lost count the number of pictures or postcards I've seen for sale on E-bay identified incorrectly by the seller as depicting a Wright aeroplane, or one of the Wright brothers.
  3. Research previous sale prices of the items you'd like to collect. Search for items you're interested in collecting on E-bay, and keep a record of what the items sell for. On-line auction houses are another source of information- register free with a number of sites, and search their sales history for prices.
  4. Take your time. Build your collection slowly; the fun is in the search. 
  5. Watch your budget. If you're like most of us, you have a limited amount of cash for purchasing items for your collection. If you purchase this item today, and see a more desirable item next week, will you regret your purchase? 
  6. Beware of purchasing from sellers with little or no history. This is not a hard fast rule, as the first time seller may have a unique item worth purchasing, but just be aware of the risk involved. On the other side of the coin, I have seen examples of sellers with a decent history of sales, who then suddenly make a string of dishonest sales over a short period of a few weeks, and then disappear. 
  7. Tell a story with your collection. Collect similar items related to a specific event that together can visually provide an account of history.
Suggestions of subjects for your collection:
  • Items associated with the 1909 Wright Brother Homecoming Celebration, ranging from the many postcard views of the event which can be purchased for a few dollars, or an original lithograph poster of the event for a mere $35,000!
  • Items associated with Wilbur Wright's Hudson-Fulton flights of September and October of 1909.
  • Items associated with other family members, such as their father Milton Wright, or their sister Katharine Wright.
  • Collect postcards showing various types of Wright aeroplanes.
  • Collect newspapers from 1903-1910 or later providing accounts of flights by Wilbur, Orville, and others in Wright aeroplanes.

The following is an example of a small two page collection of items associated with the telling of the story of the reaction to Wilbur's first flights at Les Hunaudieres, August of 1908. James Tobin tells the story well in "To Conquer the Air", chapter 12, "The Light on Glory's Plume", pages 308-310, writing "It was over in less than two minutes- the first tight half-circle; the race down the backstretch of the track, high above the steeplechase hurdles; a second half-circle; the straight course back to the starting point; then the descent with extraordinary buoyancy and precision and a smooth skid along the grass........people were shouting and cheering......After the figure eight on Monday, (Wilbur) told Orville (by letter), 'Bleriot & Delegrange were so excited they could scarcely speak, and Kapferer could only gasp and could not talk at all. You would have almost died of laughter if you could have seen them.' Henri Farman was in New York...not having seen Will fly, he said: 'I believe that our machines are as good as his'." So the collection of items associated with this account is a postcard signed by Delegrange, a postcard signed by Kapferer, a period picture of Farman, and a period picture of Bleriot, accompanied by the account as written by James Tobin. The account tells the story, and the items bring it a bit to life.

Reaction to Wilbur Wright's August 8th, 1908 flights.
Suggestions on where to make your purchases:
  • Antique Malls- I've had some success with finding items at antique malls, but my wife and I have searched through a lot of stores. But something of historical nature might be hiding in one of those stores, so we keep looking. This is a hobby, and the fun is in the search. Antique shops have been a good source of books and bound magazines associated with the Wrights.
  • Antique Shows- One of the local County Fairgrounds hosts Antique shows once a month through the year. Many times I've returned home without a purchase, but occasionally I've found something of interest. As an example of the importance of knowing your subject of collecting, a number of years ago I came across a seller that had a stack of Religious Telescopes for sale. At the time, I didn't know that Wilbur and Orville's father Milton had been editor of the Religious Telescope from 1869-1877, and a contributor to the Telescope up to 1889. I just glanced over those Telescope issues, and went on. Today, if I came across that stack, I'd have been all through those issues. But I was lacking knowledge at the time. Since that time, I have acquired a nice collection of Religious Telescopes from other sources.

  • On-line Auction houses- I recently made a purchase on Cowan's Auctions. Cowan's is a Cincinnati Ohio based antiques auction house, and founder Wes Cowan has been featured as an appraiser on PBS's Antique Roadshow. Information for upcoming auctions is available at the website, and you just have to be diligent with checking the various auctions for aviation related material. I've been disappointed more than once to become aware of a neat Wright Brother item only after the auction had been completed; especially disappointed when seeing the selling price well below what I would have been willing to bid! Other auction houses are out there, but if interested, check out Cowen's Auctions.
  • E-bay-The majority of my purchases have been made on E-bay. The most basic search I use is "Wright Brothers". But this search only brings up some of the many items available that week. Again, knowledge is helpful here. One of my searches is "Bound 1908". This will bring up bound sets of magazines or newspapers from 1908. Why 1908? This was the year the Wrights demonstrated their flyer to the world. I also search "Biplane photo", and this turns up old photos of biplanes, and occasionally a Wright biplane. I actually have a large list of search words that I use, but I don't want to give up all my secrets just yet, or I'll be bidding against you!

Once you've made your purchase, preserve the item under your care. It is a piece of history, and you are its temporary owner. Preserve it for future admirers.

1. Store paper items such as postcards, newspapers, photographs, letters, brochures, etc. in acid free storage folders, such as those manufactured by ITOYA of America , Ltd. They make a variety of sizes of storage/display books. Prestige makes a nice archival folder with removable pages, at a higher cost.
ITOYA archival books of various sizes, and Prestige archival folder at right.

The 8.5" by 11" is ideal for letter size documents. The 18" by 24" size is great for storing and display of historic newspapers. Locally in Dayton, the folders are available through United Art & Education store locations.
ITOYA 8.5" by 11" works well for letter size documents. 
2. Newspapers from the early 1900's are very brittle. Handle them carefully, and protect them by storing in an acid free archival folder. Front page news stories are desirable as they are easily displayed in lieu of a story hidden within the newspaper pages. For newspapers that contain the story of interest on the inside pages, you can make a copy of the story and slip in front as seen below to keep an easy visual record of the story within.
18" by 24" archival folder works well for newspaper storage and protection.

3. Small booklets, or magazines and other items store and display well in the Prestige archival folder also sold at United Art & Education. Though more expensive, the plastic and paper are of a heavier gauge, and offer more support for heavier items such as the Smithsonian report below on Samuel Langley.
Prestige Archival folder works well for magazines and small thin booklets.

4. Postcards can be displayed in acid-free photo albums, protecting the cards and allowing viewing of card from either side if desired, without handling.

Dayton 1913 flood postcard collection.

Consider eventually donating your collection. One of the benefits of collecting is the preservation of historical material that might otherwise be discarded. If you are able to obtain unique items associated with the immediate family members of Wilbur and Orville Wright, consider an eventual donation of the items to a museum. Wright State University has an extensive Wright Brother archive, and would appreciate any donations of significant items directly related to Wilbur and Orville Wright, and to their immediate family. For more information, go to the WSU Special Collections website. Under Featured Services, select Donating.

Check out related posts-
"Value of Historical Collectables associated with the Wright Brothers"

"Buyer Beware When Collecting Wright Brother Items"

Index of Topics

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