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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Buyer Beware When Collecting Wright Brother Items

(Updated October 21, 2019.) In a previous post, I discussed Collecting historical items associated with the Wright Brothers. The post began with a number of suggestions, with the first two appearing below.
  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. Unfortunately, a third suggestion is offered- Know that there are also sellers with full knowledge they are selling forgeries. Further, and this is really unfortunate, sellers in this category can have a 100% feedback rating, so don't use feedback rating as a guarantee of authenticity of products. Please, beware of the buy-it-now or best offer low price "deals", with either a lack of certificate of authenticity (COA), or a COA not worth the paper it is printed on. Don't read the statement "Guaranteed to pass any Authentication Service, or we will issue a full refund", and feel confident this is a genuine item. Any dealer can make that guarantee, and nine out of ten sales, the buyer will never send the item in for verification.
As I routinely check E-bay for Wright Brother related items for sale, I am constantly coming across material that is misidentified or questionable. By constantly, I mean, all the time, every time I check, every day. I am in the habit of contacting the sellers and providing what I believe to be the correct information concerning the item, and often receive a kind response. Occasionally however, my comments are ignored, or rejected as inaccurate. It is disheartening when the item sells, for I know two things have occurred. First, that the buyer has unknowingly paid too much for an incorrectly identified item, and second, that this buyer will then continue the false history out of ignorance as he shows the item to friends, and eventually sells or passes the item on years later. Some of the commonly misidentified material I've observed:
  • Photo of a bi-plane incorrectly identified as a Wright Brothers airplane. 
  • Photo of a bi-plane with two men standing in front of it, and misidentified as Wilbur and Orville Wright. And if the bi-plane just happens to actually be a Wright model, then of course any two men standing near by must be Wilbur and Orville, right?? And if one has a mustache, or one is wearing a derby, then who else could the men possibly be? (Other than 10,000 other individuals).
  • Postcards, photos, or envelopes with questionable Orville or Wilbur Wright signatures. I have seen a lot of these. Beware of signatures on removed autograph book pages, or on scraps of paper or cards. How do you determine if they are genuine?
  • Period press photos with forged Orville Wright signature. In what circumstance would a press photo be removed from the archives of a newspaper and brought to Orville Wright for his signature? I had not seen these listed prior to 2019. How interesting that suddenly many "signed" press photos have come to the market (sarcasm intended). And not a one of them authenticated by a trusted Authentication service.
  • Books signed by O. Wright, or Orville Wright, where the book has no connection with aviation, and no connection with Dayton Ohio, yet it is assumed that this Orville Wright is the Orville of the Wright Brothers. Orville Wright was a common name! Even though the signature doesn't match the handwriting of the aviator Orville, people will throw money at these offers thinking they obtained a bargain.
  • Historically inaccurate, impossible, or highly unlikely claims made concerning an item supposedly associated with the Wright Brothers. 
  • Photo of bike shop and workers, which of course then must be Wilbur and Orville Wright and their brother Lloyd (I am not making this up), because again, who else could they possibly be? (Other than 10,000 other bike shops and work crew of the period).
The following are examples of items I've seen offered:

A. Photograph with fake Orville Wright signature- This item was simply offered as a photo of a Curtiss F8C-4 Helldiver Bi-plane. No mention was made of the Orville Wright signature, and the buy-it-now price was minimal. The seller obviously recognized the signature as faked, and so simply ignored it. I purchased this item for the sole purpose of including it in this post as an example of a forged signature.This is a really bad forged signature. If it isn't incredibly obvious to the reader to be a forged signature, then don't buy signed aviation items! Not only is the signature bad, the choice of photo is bad. This is a Curtiss bi-plane, and Orville Wright would never have signed a Curtiss bi-plane photo.

Forged Orville Wright signature

Unfortunately, where the above item is easily identified as forged, other forged items offered for sale are not so easily recognized. Recently a photo of a bi-plane was offered at auction with what appeared to be Orville and Wilbur Wright's signatures. The photo had not been authenticated by a third-party expert. The image of the bi-plane was small and the resolution was not sufficient to identify the model of the aeroplane, however, it did not appear to be a Wright model. The Wright Brothers would not have signed a patent infringing competitor's bi-plane photo. The placement of the signatures of Orville and Wilbur was odd, and the signatures did not appear to be correct. The event was not identified; the date of the photo was unknown; there was no provenance what-so-ever. Yet, the photo sold for over $8000.
It is not difficult to forge the Wright's names onto an old photograph, their signatures are not that complicated. Please keep in mind that just because the item is a genuine photograph of the time period, doesn't mean that the signature's are genuine.

B. Signatures of the Wright Brothers on envelopes, postcards, and press photos-
Beware of postcards, press photos, and anniversary first flight covers. If a 1928 25th anniversary of the 1903 flight cover (envelope) with Orville Wright's signature across the top is offered for sale, does the reader know how to distinguish a genuine signature from a forged signature? Keep in mind that there are plenty of genuine 1928 25th anniversary covers that are not signed by Orville Wright. How difficult would it be to add a forged signature? When the item is being offered at a low buy-it-now price, or best offer, be suspicious. And when the same seller has a new item like this week after week after week, be very suspicious.(1) A sale just completed this evening with two bidders competing for a postcard supposedly signed by Orville and Wilbur Wright. The item was obviously forged, was not authenticated, and sold for under $550. A genuine dual signed postcard by the Brothers would normally sell for well over $7000. This is so frustrating, as I watch these fakes sell week after week.
  • Do not compare the signature with those on other covers or postcards as you will likely be comparing to another forged signature. Dozens of forged Orville Wright covers and postcards all with the same forged OW signature have sold over the past several years and are continuing to sell.
  • A genuine signed Orville Wright postcard or cover sell in the range of $800 to $1200 or higher. When offered, these are often encased, certified by PSA/DNA or other reputable certifying company. Recently, a forged cover was being offered in this price range, without any item description or certification; high price does not imply the item is genuine.
  • Forged Orville Wright postcards or covers are most often offered at a low buy it now price, with "make offer" accepted. These items are generally not certified. Unfortunately, these items are at times resold by the purchaser at a higher price.
  • Beware of statements such as "Genuine signature. Item is not a reproduction or copy." All this really states is the signature is a genuine signature, (but by whom?), and that the cover or postcard is a genuine item from that time period in lieu of a modern print. A "genuine signature" simply means the signature is written in ink in lieu of a photocopy or print of a signature- genuinely written in ink by the forger. 
  • A COA (Certificate of Authenticity) is only as good at the authentication company offering the services. E-bay provides a list of recommended authentication services on their policies pages. Further, E-bay provides a list of COA's (nearly two dozen) that are not allowed on their Autographed items policy page.  Click on "Read Our Full Policy", and then click on "Certificates of Authenticity" to get to the disallowed list of COA's. Despite the policy, sellers continue to list forged items using COA's  from the banned COA list.
  • Avoid the 25th anniversary of the first airplane flight Capt. B. B. Lipsner covers with Orville Wright's "signature". I have seen a great number of these covers offered, and the majority are forged. These covers originally were prepared and signed by Lipsner. His name is printed on the cover, with the title "The first superintendent to blaze the air mail trail for the U.S. Post Office Department in 1918." He signed his name above his printed name. A forger has taken dozens of these period envelopes and signed Orville's name angled across the center. Of several dozen of these offered over the past two years, I've seen perhaps three of which Orville's signature appeared to be correct, and these were envelopes with hand written addresses to Lipsner's family. (2)
Genuine B.B. Lipsner 1928 cover. These were produced and signed by Lipsner. A forger can very easily take this cover above and add  Orville Wright's name to it, and offer it for sale.

C. Signatures of the Wright Brothers on scraps of paper- 
This one was said to be from an estate sale, and removed from the pages of an autograph book.
Suggestion- if the item is indicated to come with a certificate of authentication, be sure to research the authentication company as they are not all legitimate. An obviously forged item with both fake Wilbur and Orville signatures received many bids. It was indicated to come with an authenticator's COA (certificate of authenticity). A quick search on-line came up with some very negative comments from other collectors concerning the certifying company. Unfortunately, the item sold, and one more collector looking for a bargain has purchased a forged item. Worse, I suspect the item was simply purchased by another "dealer" making the purchase with the intention to later relist the forged item at a higher price. A genuine dual signature of both brothers Wilbur and Orville would not sell for under $300 as this one just did. No doubt this forged item will be relisted in the future at a higher "buy it now" price.

D. Signature attributed to Wilbur Wright though obviously not his handwriting.
This one is really bad, beyond embarrassing. Offered in an Aviation auction, the seller wrote "Hand-written note in black ink dated and signed "Wilbur"...card is cancelled Dayton, Ohio Jun 17, 1909...Since Wilbur Wright died of Typhoid in 1912, his autograph is far more rare than his brother Orville who lived until 1948. A highly desirable early aviation autograph..." The front of the postcard pictured "Military Band in Parade at Wright Bros. Home-Coming Celebration at Dayton, Ohio." The card's value was estimated between $3000 and $4000. It did not sell. 
How the seller made the leap from identifying the signer of this card as Wilbur Wright from all the other "Wilbur's" who might have attended the celebration, I have no idea. The signature looks nothing like Wilbur's signature. The hand-written note has no similarities at all to Wilbur Wright's handwriting style. The message is not characteristic of what Wilbur would have conveyed. And  who is Miss Mary Dawson? Is she even someone associated with Wilbur Wright?

Not attributed to Wilbur Wright
1909 Wright Brother's Home Celebration card sent by an observer by the name of Wilbur.

Postcard message from "Wilbur", offered at auction. Compare the "W" in the signature to an actual signature of Wilbur Wright below. Do they match? Does any of the handwriting match?

Genuine letter written January 25, 1912 by Wilbur Wright. There are absolutely no similarities in the genuine handwriting style or the signature of Wilbur Wright to the handwriting and signature of "Wilbur" from the 1909 postcard above.

E. Photo of Wright Plane and of Wilbur Wright- I've seen many photographs offered on E-bay that are incorrectly offered as depicting a Wright aeroplane, or represented as Orville or Wilbur Wright. The following two photo's received multiple bids, which is confusing, as they clearly are not Wright items. The first was identified as a Wright plane. Anyone familiar with the various Wright models can instantly see that this is not a picture of a Wright plane.

Photo misidentified as a Wright Aeroplane. Clearly, it is not.

For comparison, pictured here is the genuine Wright Model E at Simms Station, the first model to have a single pusher propeller. Compare this to the misidentified photo above this one. 
The second photo was described as "features Wilbur Wright posing for the photo....The photos are affixed to scrapbook paper. The name "Wilbur" is written on the back of the photo."

A unique photograph of Wilbur Wright would likely sell for $500 to $1000 or more. Is this a photo of Wilbur Wright? What proof is offered? What is the location? The date? The event? Let's take a closer look. Compare this photo to a genuine photo of Wilbur. Period style clothes, similar hat, and clean shaven face does not make this Wilbur Wright, and is only wishful thinking on the part of the bidders hoping to purchase a bargain. When the aeroplane is clearly not a Wright plane, why would hope remain that the man pictured just might be Wilbur Wright?

Photo misidentified as that of Wilbur Wright and sold on E-bay.

Misidentified as Wilbur Wright.

Genuine photo of Wilbur Wright.
 
Comparison of the two photos side by side. Wilbur Wright on the left, and someone by the name of Wilbur on the right. I've aligned the photos such that the shoulders and arms match lengths, yet note that the waist location does not match, and that the individual on the right is clearly taller. Wilbur Wright was 5'-10" or so. The man on the right appears to be at least 6' tall.

Three bidders competed for these photos, which eventually sold for $104.50. The value of a picture of a man named Wilbur, and an early biplane? Perhaps $15.

F. Photo of Orville Wright- This is an example of another misidentified photo recently offered on E-bay. The photo is of Orville Wright at Ft. Myer, 1908, likely from September 3rd. He is walking with a group of people, and the man next to him happens to be wearing a derby. A period press photo which shows less of this overall photo, just Orville and the man in the derby was being offered for sale on E-bay. This man was misidentified as Wilbur Wright by the seller, whom was likely provided that misinformation by the source from which the seller originally purchased the item. One would think the presence of Orville's name on the photo, and the absence of Wilbur's name would be a huge clue that the man in the derby is not Wilbur Wright.  The man doesn't look like Wilbur, but he is wearing a derby, and so this photo of Orville Wright and a man wearing a derby was offered for only $1950.00 or best offer, or the buyer could make 24 easy payments of just $91.00 per month for a press photo worth perhaps.....$91.00. Another seller correctly identifies this photo as that of Orville Wright, and copies can be purchased for $6.95.
This photo is from the George Grantham Bain collection, and can be viewed at the Library of Congress website, specifically at ggb2004002171  . The photo is identified as Orville Wright 467-9, written across the top of the photo, from 1908. Wilbur's name is absent for obvious reasons, as Wilbur was across the Atlantic ocean at this time, in Le Mans, France. This photo can be downloaded at no cost from the Library of Congress.

Orville Wright at Ft. Myer, 1908, courtesy of Library of Congress Bain Collection.

A portion of this photo showing Orville Wright was published in the September 20th, 1908 issue of the Morning Oregonian, Portland Oregon, (and likely in many other papers) concerning the news of the fatal crash of September 17th at Ft. Myer in which Thomas Selfridge died, and Orville was injured.

Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, September 20, 1908.



G. Signature of Orville Wright on document- This item was signed O. E. Wright, and the seller claimed that this was Orville Wright's signature, of the Wright Brothers. I informed the seller that Orville Wright had no middle name; none of the Wright children had middle names. The seller's response to my information was "How do you know, you weren't there" or something along those lines. At the time of the auction, I knew the signature was not that of Orville Wright, but I didn't know who the signature did belong to. Also, I didn't recognize the second signature due to my lack of knowledge at that time. I do know who both of these individuals are now, and I now wish I had bid on the item! Not for O. E. Wright's signature, but for Edgar W. Ellis's signature.

Signature of Orville E. Wright, Music teacher, and Edgar W. Ellis, member of the Ten Dayton Boys.


Orville Wright was not a unique name in Dayton. This person was in fact Orville E. Wright, a music teacher at Steele High School where Katharine Wright taught through 1908.
Orville E. Wright, Music Teacher. Not the Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers. From author's collection.

Edgar W Ellis was a member of the Ten Dayton Boys, a club which included William Andrews, Charles W. Olinger, Joseph Boyd, Irvin G. Koogle, Wilbur E. Landis, Reuchlin Wright, Lorin Wright, Wilbur Wright, and Frank J. Gilbert. Edgar Ellis was the last man standing, the last survivor of the Ten Dayton Boys Club. Edgar Ellis is furthest to the right, rear row in photo below. Wilbur is center, rear row. The other men....wait....they all have mustaches....they must all be Orville Wright!

Ten Dayton Boys Club, courtesy of Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University


H. Certified Checks attributed to Orville Wright- Be aware that just because an item has been certified as genuine, does not guarantee that the item has been correctly identified! The following two checks offered for sale on e-bay have been certified as Orville Wright checks by PSA/DNA, while in fact, they clearly are in the hand writing of Lorin Wright! I informed the seller, was kindly thanked for the information, but no change was made to the item description. After all, whom are you going to trust.....an unknown individual (me), or PSA/DNA?
PSA/DNA is "the world's leading third-party authentication service for autographs and memorabilia" per their website. Maybe so, but they sure got it wrong on these two checks. Lorin Wright wrote many checks, signing them "Wright Brothers", or signing them "Orville Wright", while usually adding his initial "L" under the signature, but not always. Lorin's handwriting is very distinctive, and easily identifiable, and easily distinguished from Orville or Wilbur's handwriting.These are still nice Lorin Wright checks, but they should be identified as such. Lorin Wright checks sell in the $150 to $350 range. Orville Wright checks generally start at $350, and value is dependent of how early the date is, and to whom the check is made to.
Anyone can make a mistake, as has occurred here with PSA/DNA. If these checks were sent back to PSA/DNA, they would no doubt recognize the error, and make a correction.
Though this Lorin Wright check (pictured below) is misidentified as an Orville Wright check, it is still very interesting, in that it is made out to Frank Hale, and an early date of 1909. Frank Hale has signed the check on the rear face. Frank lived near the Wright's Cycle shop, and complained of the noise made by  the Wright's  engine tests. Frank was a life long friend of the Wrights, and Lorin Wright served on the Dayton City Commission with Frank in the 1920's as Frank Hale served as Mayor.

1909 check in the hand of Lorin Wright, identified as an Orville Wright check by PSA/DNA certification service.



Close up of incorrect label.


1910 check in the hand of Lorin Wright incorrectly identified as by Orville Wright by PSA/DNA certification service.

For comparison, the following is an example of Lorin Wright's signature on the back of a check.
Genuine Lorin Wright signature. Compare the "W" with the "W" in Wright Brothers in the two checks above.

Lorin's handwriting is flowery. The W has a loop, and is very different than Orville or Wilbur's "W"

Orville and Wilbur Wright's signatures. The "W"s are distinctively different.



I. Louis Christman sketches of 1903 Wright Flyer with Orville Wright notes in red- This one has caused me much frustration. These sketches were first sold as a group through a reputable auction house, and then resold individually on E-bay by the purchaser. The historical account as provided by the auction house was simply repeated by the E-bay seller. The auction house had the collection examined by an expert,  and the history of the items was as provided to them from the original owner. I believe intentions of all involved is honorable, but this doesn't change the fact that the history is Wrong! (3)
Absolutely, these sketches are genuine sketches by Louis Christman. But are the marks in red on these sketches by Orville Wright? That is the question. Buyers are spending hundreds of dollars believing that they are.
Consider the following:

  • Historical account as stated by seller- 
"You are bidding on an original component drawing of the Wright Flyer made by Louis P. Christman, mathematical notes in red ink by Orville Wright. The mathematical data shown was done when Christman returned to Dayton and conferred with Colonel Edward Deeds and Orville Wright. The original owner relates that these working drawings and notes/calculations were done before final drawings of the reconstruction were produced. As an employee of National Cash Register, with his experience in aircraft and machine design, Louis P. Christman was called upon by prominent engineer and inventor, Colonel Edward Deeds, to undertake the restoration of the 1905 Wright Flyer, which resides at Carillon Park, Dayton, Ohio. Christman was given the opportunity to work closely with Orville Wright in order to produce an accurate set of drawings for the 1903, 1904, and 1905 Wright Flyers. Since no complete drawings were ever produced by Orville and Wilbur during the building and flying of the planes, it was required that Christman travel to Washington, D.C. to the Smithsonian Institution to take measurements and make drawings from the original 1903 Flyer that is displayed there and to discuss these drawings with Orville Wright. Christman worked closely with Orville Wright to produce an accurate set of drawings. In creating plans for the 1903 Flyer, Christman traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. to take measurements and make drawings from the original 1903 Flyer displayed there and later the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to study, and trace, informal drawings the Wright brothers had done. Back in Dayton, he would discuss these notes with Orville Wright. Continued meetings and conversations between Orville Wright and Christman resulted in a refined set of drawings of the numerous gliders and planes. Christman, under the direction of Deeds, then began the restoration of the 1905 Flyer in 1947, on the grounds of the National Cash Register Co. Final construction and assembly was completed at Carillon Historical Park, where the plane was reassembled and fabric was stretched. The plane in on display there today."
  • Conflicts of the above account to the actual historical time line of events-  
Orville Wright died January 30th, 1948.
The Smithsonian Institution did not obtain the 1903 Wright Flyer until October of 1948.
The Franklin Institute Wright Brothers collection was obtained through Orville Wright's will- "Dr. Orville Wright deeded to the Franklin Institute in his will and through the Executor's of his Estate all of his and his brother's, Wilbur Wright's, original wind tunnel apparatus, model airfoils, test data and drawings of their early airplanes..."
Obviously, Christman could not have discussed anything with Orville Wright related to his trips to the Smithsonian or the Franklin Institute, because Orville was no longer living!
  • Examination of the calculations and notes in red claimed to be by Orville Wright-
Who performed the analysis of the handwriting to confirm it is in the hand of Orville Wright? I doubt anyone has performed this analysis, as the evidence is pretty clear that the same hand  is responsible for both the notes and calculations in pencil, and the notes and calculations in red!
Calculations in red are attributed to Orville Wright, and calculations in pencil are attributed to Louis Christman. But is the handwriting different? Compare the 186.266/360 in pencil above to the 186.2/360 in red below. Do these appear to be written in different hands? Additionally, notice how the 4's in pencil and the 4's in red are closed 4's. Occasionally in pencil and in red there is an open 4. Orville Wright always made his 4's open. Yet, these Christman drawings are covered with closed 4's in red. So how are these mathematical notes in the hand of Orville Wright?



Are we to believe that Louis Christman's (in pencil) and Orville Wright's  numbering (in red) above, is this similar? Do these appear to be written by different hands?



Genuine example of Orville Wright's handwriting. Note the open style 4. All his 4's are open style, even back to his diary from the 1900's at Kitty Hawk. Yet, on the Christman drawings, most of the 4's in red are closed style.


"Left Side" written in red, attributed to Orville Wright. Compare to "Left Side" written in pencil attributed to Louis Christman on another document below. The handwriting is identical.

Compare "Left Side" in pencil to "Left Side" in red in two examples above.


Are we to believe that Louis Christman's and Orville Wright's handwriting is this similar?


  • Comparison of handwriting in red claimed to be by Orville Wright to actual examples of Orville Wright's handwriting-
What known examples exist of Orville Wright's handwriting that look anything like these marks in red claimed to be by Orville Wright? Has anyone done an analysis?
Orville's handwriting remained amazingly consistent throughout his lifetime.  Below is an example from a letter written by Orville in 1909. Take note of the R in Russian, and how the I is written as two examples. Compare these to the I and R in envelopes written by Orville in 1929, 1942, and 1946, and note how consistent his writing style is.
Genuine Orville Wright letter from 1909.

Note the way the "R" appears in Russian, and the "I" in I am. Then compare to the 1929, 1942, and 1946 script below.


Genuine Orville Wright handwriting from 1929 envelope.

Genuine Orville Wright handwriting from 1942 envelope.

Genuine Orville Wright handwriting in 1946. Note the "R" in Rev, and the "I" in Indiana. Very characteristic of Orville's life long handwriting. These characteristics should appear somewhere in the writing in red ink on the Louis Christman drawings, shouldn't they? Compare Orville's R of 1909, 1929, 1942, and 1946 to the R on the Christman sketches below.

"R" from the Christman drawings claimed to be by Orville, has large loop not seen in Orville's handwriting.

Letters in red claimed to be written by Orville Wright on Christman sketches.
Two more examples from Christman drawings, the "R" has large loop in front not characteristic of Orville Wright's handwriting style. Note how the "F" is written in "First". See below for how Orville writes an "F". Do they match?
Genuine Orville Wright handwriting, note the style of the "F" in France and February. Nothing like the backward "F" above in "First" in the Christman drawing example.

    

  • In the words of Louis Christman, his own account of the process-   
From transcript provided by University of Dayton, Wright Brothers- Charles F. Kettering Oral History Project, Louis Christman interviewed by Susan Bennet April or May of 1967- (notes in italics are mine)

Susan Bennent (SB)- How long did it take? (reconstruction of 1905 Flyer)
Louis Christman (LC)- Well, it took me about a year and a half.
SB- A year and a half. Why was it, why did it take that long?
LC- Oh, it was a lot of work. You had to do on that. You see, for three months prior to when I went to work there in, I think it was November, last part of October, November, I spent afternoons with Orville Wright talking about the airplane.
SB- What did he say?
LC- Well, he was telling me different things, you see. And what I had read up or when I questioned him, and the odd part of it was that if I was to sit down with a pencil and paper, and take notes, he would clam up.
SB- He wouldn't talk.
LC- So, my job was to pay attention to what he said, and the minute he left, I'd get busy. Now I was working then...
SB- Now, did he have, did he have any blueprints or drawings, or anything?
LC- No.
SB- Well, now when you talk with Mr. Wright, in the afternoon, what would he talk about? I mean what would he say, this plane is going to be, was this long or was....
LC- Just what he said there.
SB- or use what curve or what? I don't. Did he give you any pictures to work from?
LC- No. I got these pictures from NCR.
SB- When, where did you all talk? At his home? Or his laboratory? Or where?
LC- No, at the NCR.
SB- At the NCR; he would come down there.
LC- In an office up there in Mr. Smith's department. Sat back in the back office of Mr. Smith's. And later on, when he came out, to as I was working over there in that frame building he'd come over there in that frame building. Maybe two, three days a week. And I know one time I talked to Colonel Deeds. I said, Colonel, I have an idea and I want your approval. I would like to get a tape recorder concealed and conceal the microphone so that when I talk to Mr. Wright, I get this data. Because I said that I've got an awful job trying to memorize each day as we go along because the minute he gets out of here, I sit down and try to put notes down, and then start working on my drawing. And I said I won't do it. (Perhaps transcript incorrect here- Likely should read "And he said don't do it.") Mr. Wright would never forgive you for going (doing) a trick like that and he'd never forgive me, because I knew Orville. So please don't do it. I didn't.
SB- Well, he would, would he tell the angle fuse or things like that, or what would he talk about?
LC- Oh, different flights...
SB- Oh.
LC- How, how he'd shape. Orville Wright had, he'd had the habit of little notebooks. They were books about that long, about that wide see, carry it in the vest pocket, and that was full of all kinds of notes what they did. And as they went along, they made changes in their plane. If it broke something, smashed up, they had notes in there. Those are now in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Now I had permission to go through those papers, through the administrator of Wright Estate, Mr. Buzz Miller.(This was after Orville's death) And I was allowed to go to Washington and under supervision of a guard there....
SB- When, when did you go?
LC- That was in 1948.
SB-Oh, oh, when you, when you were working on this plane, they let you do that.
LC- Late '48.
LC- I had the overall figure from the very tip of that. And Orville Wright looked in a book. He says, no sir, that was three quarters of an inch longer than our figure. I sat there for quite a while, and tried to figure out what he meant......(no mention that Orville marked it in red on a drawing)
Oh, I worked on the (wing curve). I had my drawing too. And I had one of the ribs, ribs downstairs see, and I had it laid out and I made a model and the next time that Orville Wright came out, I showed it to him. He looked it over and he checked my drawings. He asked about one difference. I'll show you how we fixed the end of the wire. And he showed me what it was, where you had to, uppercut strip of the bottom cut strip come in and put a saw slot in there, and that trailing edge wire of the fabric laid in there, see. So I made the thing, he made another one, and showed it to him. He told me, he said, "Oh Louis", he said, "You're going too fast on this job. You got time, you're doing fine here and all this stuff is working out, you just go ahead." And, in fact, just before he died, I had three drawings, and he was out there at the plant with Mr. Hoist (?) (Likely Mr. Beust), Colonel Deeds, and in this room where I was working, at that train building, I told Mr. Wright, I said I'm going to put these out in your car. So next week if you have a chance, just look them over and let me know if I'm on the right track, or words to that effect. I never got those drawings, because Orville Wright died, see, he had that stroke and died. And Miss Beck, his private secretary would not let me have those drawings.
(Many pages later in the interview Christman talks about making sketches of the 1903 Flyer)
LC-.....Now when that plane came back here in 19....., 1949, I think it was when it came back here. (the 1903 flyer was returned in 1948) I went to Washington to get my batter, to make these drawings, in fact, Mr. Geyer and myself were scheduled to go to England to make these drawings of the Kitty Hawk, because so many people wanted to build a model or replica of the airplane, but they got their information from this magazine, or that magazine, everybody seemed to be an authority on it, but nothing was authentic. But then Orville Wright had decided that the plane was to come back here when the United States government gave them the recognition, and so the plane was brought back here, and I made, well just before they set it up. And then when it was set up over there, and I almost killed myself on one visit over there, by getting up on a high ladder and the plane is suspended by four cables and I was leaning against that edge, see? And here I was pushing that plane, and it started swaying.
SB- Oh, Oh.
LC- But I finally, I finally got down, and when I got down I wasn't worth a darn for the rest of the day.
(laughter)
LC- But I got a pair of field glasses, so I could get up in distances, in different elevations, and I'd studied things from that plane, on that plane from I don't know, used my imagination a little, that's just so far, see? And I come back and check my drawings that I had. I had to make a complete set of those drawings.......

Available through the University of Dayton Archival and Special Collections, "Guide to the Wright Brothers- Charles F. Kettering Oral History Project" (Jennifer Brancato, UD, 6-2015), Box 2, Folder 3, Louis Christman.

  • Conclusion-
From the above statements of Louis Christman, there is no mention of Orville Wright adding redmarks to drawings or sketches. In lieu of this, Louis describes how he would have to memorize whatever Orville had to share, and write it down after Orville left. Even suggesting to Colonel Deeds that a tape recorder be hidden to record what Orville had to say. Are we really to believe that Orville Wright made many calculations and notes in red ink on Christman's drawings, in a handwriting style identical to Christman's, on sketches made after Orville's death?
A simple comparison of the handwriting in pencil compared to that in red on these documents strongly indicates both are in the same hand in most cases, and are not in the style of Orville Wright.
It is unfortunate that these drawings are now in the hands of many collectors who have been told otherwise. 

J. Wilbur Wright's signature on photograph of bi-plane- This item sold on E-bay in 2015. The seller thought it was likely a photo of Wilbur flying at Ft. Myer. What appeared to be Wilbur Wright's signature was written across the top of the photo. I sent the seller a note indicating that Wilbur did not fly at Ft. Myer, only Orville Wright flew there. Additionally, the signature looked questionable. The photo had no provenance. Who was the original owner? When was the photo signed, and at what event? The seller was guaranteeing the item, but this would require the buyer to have it authenticated. I suggested to the seller that he might want to have the item authenticated before selling the item. I received no response, and the item sold.
The bi-plane was not a Wright Flyer. Why would Wilbur Wright have signed a photograph of a patent infringing competitor's aeroplane? Are there other examples of Wilbur signing a photo of another person's machine and flight?

Why would Wilbur Wright sign this photo? Is this a Wright aeroplane? Note how the wings are squared off at the edges. The pilot is centered. Note the shape of the elevator and rudder. To what Wright aeroplane model does this compare?

For comparison, this photo is currently being offered on E-bay, a nice buy, check it out. This  genuine Wright model B shows how the pilot is offcentered. The wings are curved at the rear edges, not squared as in the photo above this one.

Wilbur Wright's signature on the photo did not look right. It appeared labored, and sloppy. I believe the photo received over 30 bids, and sold for over $2000, which would be a fair price if genuine. I'm not showing the entire photo with the Wilbur Wright signature as I am not 100% certain that it is not genuine. Perhaps Wilbur was handed the photo at some event, he scribbled his name across it in a sloppy manner, his mind being on something else. But I really doubt it.

K. Orville and Charlie Taylor at Ft. Myer- This item was offered at auction on E-bay, with starting bid at $1800, with sellers estimate at $2500 to $3500. The photo was initially identified as Orville and Wilbur Wright at Simms Station. I contacted the seller with the information that this was in fact Orville Wright and Charlie Taylor at Ft. Myer. They thanked me, and indicated that someone else had also just sent them this correct identification. What threw them initially was that this press photo had a stamp on the back with the names Orville and Wilbur Wright. I have found that press photos occasionally have incorrect identification written on the back side as was in this case. A neat photo. The photo was eventually withdrawn.
Photo of Charlie Taylor and Orville Wright at Ft Myer, 1909.

Compare the above photo to two photos below as shown on page 188 of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum "The Wright Brothers and the invention of the aerial age" by Tom Crouch and Peter Jakab, 2003.

This picture is identified as "Wilbur greets old friend Charlie Taylor" at Fort Myer, 1909. Compare Charlie here to the picture above, and notice he is holding his jacket in the same arm when facing Orville. The photos were likely taken just minutes apart.

This photo is identified as at Ft. Myer, 1909, pg 188 of "The Wright Brothers" Crouch & Jakab book. Compare the hangar doors on the ground, ground features, and tree line in background to the picture above identified as at Simms Station. These photos were clearly taken at the same location, Ft. Myer.

I have seen numerous press photos with the wrong identification written on the back of the photo. Again, from the sellers description, it's not that they are trying to be deceptive, its just that they don't know what they have. Why would they doubt the information? I purchased the photo below identified as of the Langely Aerodrome, but as my knowledge in this area increased, I realized that this was in fact a photo of Henri Fabre in 1910. The confusion is understandable, as there are some similarities to this design and the Langely machine after Glen Curtiss altered it by adding pontoons such that it could be launched from the water surface in 1914.

This is a press photo of Henri Fabre incorrectly identified as the Langley Aeroplane. Henri Fabre is the inventor of the first seaplane to fly, March 28, 1910. 

Back side of the above picture of Henri Fabre. This press photo is identified as the Langley Aeroplane, and mentions " Langley, Samuel P. (1834-1906) US physicist, inventor, aeronautics pioneer; built early heavier-than-air craft" This photo has nothing to do with Samuel Langley or the Langley Aerodrome, and likely appeared in a number of newspaper articles incorrectly identifying it as such.


This next press photo is of Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk in 1911, where Orville conducted gliding experiments from October 10th through October 30th. Lorin Wright and nephew Horace joined him, as did Alexander Ogilvie. On October 24th, Orville soared for 9 minutes, 45 seconds, setting a world record that would stand for 10 years. Wilbur did not attend this visit to Kitty Hawk, yet he is identified as being the man standing next to Orville in the next press photo.(4)


Press photo incorrectly identifying man next to Orville Wright as Wilbur Wright. "This photograph from an original negative shows Orville Wright, left, with the late Wilbur Wright. Studying air conditions at Kitty Hawk, N.C." This photo is from October 1911 when Orville was experimenting with a motor-less glider. Wilbur Wright was not present.

Group Photograph, October 1911, Kitty Hawk N.C. courtesy of Wright State University MS-1 Wright Brothers Photograph Collection. "Seated, L to R, Horace Wright, Orville Wright, and Alexander Ogilvie. Standing, L to R, Lorin Wright, Van Ness Harwood, not identified, Arnold Krockman, not identified, and John Mitchell." Likely the man in the previous press photo adjacent to Orville Wright is Van Ness Harwood.






In Summary-
Know your history, and understand that just because an item is labeled or certified, doesn't guarantee the information is correct.


Notes-
1. (2/3/18) Forged Orville and Wilbur Wright signatures are common place and I see them offered for sale every day. And they sell. And they are often then relisted and resold at a higher price. I have observed that one forger is responsible for a vast number of fake Orville Wright signed items. This is evident in that when these items are compared, the signature is noticeably in the same hand, but unfortunately, not Orville's hand. I was recently asked by a potential buyer to offer an opinion on one of these forged Orville Wright items. The seller had listed this item for $3000, and was under the belief that the item was genuine. This seller had a dozen or so other Wright Brother items for sale, all genuine, such that I'm convinced this seller was innocently offering an item he thought was genuine. He agreed to send the item to PSA/DNA for certification. PSA/DNA determined the item was not genuine. The sale listing was immediately removed from E-bay. A good lesson that even reputable dealers can be duped.

2. (2/3/18) As I find time, I hope to research the B.B. Lipsner covers and provide more information. These were prepared and signed by Lipsner. These were not produced with the intention for Orville Wright to sign them. The back side of the envelope is stamped "This is to certify as a member and guest of the International Civil Aeronautics Conference, called by President Calvin Coolidge, to mark the first quarter century of human flight; I accompanied Hon. Orville Wright from Washington, D.C. to Kill Devil Hill, N.C.. On the entire pilgrimage I carried this commemorative cover and finally mailed it personally at the place and on the date as postmarked" (Signed) B. B. Lipsner. No where is it mentioned that Orville Wright also signed the cover.

3.  (2/3/18) The Louis Christman sketches and prints continue to be offered for resale on E-bay by various dealers and collectors, all repeating the same "history" as originally published by Cowen's Auctions. Major lesson to be learned here- Misinformation does not become truth based on the number of times it is repeated by multiple sources. It remains misinformation.
Wright State University obtained 23 Louis Christman prints in 2013 from Cowen's Auctions, and unknowingly repeated the incorrect history in their documentation of the collection MS-477. Within MS-477 the paragraph was repeated " Christman, (1893-1972), an employee of National Cash Register, worked closely with Orville Wright to produce an accurate set of drawings. In creating plans for the 1903 Flyer, Christman traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. to take measurements and make drawings from the original 1903 Flyer displayed there and later the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to study, and trace informal drawings the Wright Brothers had done. Back in Dayton, he would discuss these notes with Orville Wright."
I don't know if MS-477 has been corrected, but a search on-line continues to bring up the original wording. When I informed a seller of the incorrect history in his item description of a Louis Christman drawing indicating the incorrect history above, I was told by the seller that WSU indicates the same history on their website, so obviously I must be mistaken. How frustrating this all is!
Just an interesting example of how misinformation can snowball- similar to today's "fake news" events.

4.  (5/3/19) Those accompanying Orville as recorded in Wilbur & Orville Wright  A Reissue of A Chronology Commemorating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Orville Wright August 19, 1871- by Arthur George Renstrom. Also confirmed from Milton Wright diaries, October 1911, and WSU Core Scholar photos.


Check out the related blog, "Collecting Historical Items associated with the Wright Brothers"

Also see "Value of Historical Collectables associated with the Wright Brothers"

Index of Topics