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Up, Up and Away - Aviation Memorabilia at Auction

31st July 2020.

Aviation memorabilia is a niche area of collecting, but one that inspires dedicated enthusiasts to scour the world for rare pieces of early aeronautical history. The subject encompasses military history, transport history, engineering and represents the extraordinary technical achievements as well as the pioneering spirit, daring and bravery of the aviators of the early 20th century. A strong selection of aviation memorabilia is coming up for auction in Tennants’ Militaria and Ethnographica Sale on 4th September, which includes rare lots of Zeppelin interest.

First developed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin at the turn of the century, rigid airships or Zeppelins were hailed as the future of air transport. The German inventor’s first successful design came three years before the Wright Brothers took their first flight – and after improvements a commercial airline was established in 1910. By the outbreak of the First World War, the airline had flown over 1500 fee paying flights. Subsequently adapted for war, Zeppelins became the instruments of the first bombing raids over Britain; killing 500 people they loomed large in the public imagination. Restrictions after the war temporarily halted the airline, but by the mid-1930s the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg were operating transatlantic passenger flights; they were both a symbol of modernity and of German might. The Hindenburg disaster of 1937 combined with political and economical turmoil halted the airship programme. Allied bombing raids destroyed the Zeppelin factory in World War II, and enormous technological advances in aeroplane engineering spelled the end of the age of the Zeppelin.

Many of the Zeppelin related lots in the sale come from a Private Collection, including an Aluminium Exhibition Model of the Hindenburg Zeppelin (estimate: £3,000-5,000 plus buyer’s premium). The Model comes with provenance from the sale of The David Kirch Collection of Zeppelin and Airship Memorabilia in 2012; Kirch, a businessman, collector and philanthropist assembled the world’s largest collection of Zeppelin memorabilia, which he sold in aid of his Charitable Foundation. From the same Private Collection comes two framed transport posters, advertising the transatlantic Zeppelin crossings circa 1936. Encapsulating 1930s design, the poster by Ottomar Anton is estimated at £3,000-5,000, and the poster by Jupp Wiertz is estimated at £2,000-3,000. Also of interest is a Collection of Ephemera and Photographs relating to airships (estimate: £200-300), and an Anti-Zeppelin Flechette or Aerial Dart (estimate: £300-400). Flechettes were used by both the German Zeppelins to drop on enemy troops and by British pilots to drop onto Zeppelins.

Consigned by another vendor, coincidentally, is a Sepia Vignette Photograph of RFC Pilot Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, standing before his biplane (estimate: £100-150). Robinson, at the age of 21, became the first airman to shoot down a German airship. On the night of 2nd/3rd September 1916, Robinson was patrolling over Hertfordshire, when he strafed the Schutte-Lanz SL11 airship with incendiary bullets during the largest airship raids of the war. His actions established a fighting technique and marked a turning point in the battle against Zeppelins; Robinson proved became a national hero overnight and was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Amongst further lots of Aviation history are two early 20th Century propeller blades, each offered with an estimate of £2,500-3,500. Wooden propellers from the early years of aviation are one of the most collectable items at auction. On offer in this sale are a Bleriot Two Blade Aeroplane Propeller, built buy Lang Propeller Ltd, and a Chauvière Two Blade Integral Aeroplane Propeller. Chauvière was the first to design propellers constructed from laminated planks of wood – a sophisticated advance that produced a stronger, more stable propeller.  Two French World War I altimeters are on offer too, including a model by Naudet & Cie of Paris (estimate: £600-800). Dating from World War II is a scarce tail wheel for a Mk.I/Mk.II Spitfire Supermarine aeroplane, with provenance from Walney Island Airfield, Cumbria, circa 1942 (estimate: £180-250).

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