Collecting Aviation History

As a specialized auction house, Swann has the unique ability to connect collectors with their specific interests. This is especially true for aviation collectors; the auctions from our books and manuscripts department bring tangible pieces of history, from photographs of meet-ups among early aviation enthusiasts to autographs by industry pioneers, into eager aerophiles’ hands. Below is a selection of material that is sure to enrich any collection.

The Harvard Boston Aero Meet

Seen here is a photo album of the Harvard Boston Aero Meet—the first major aviation meet in the United States. The event was a partnership of the Aero Club of New England and the Harvard Aeronautical Society of Harvard University. It includes shots of Wright, Bleriot, Farman and Curtiss planes in the air; several shots of President Taft and his family, and several of the excited crowd looking skyward (one titled “The Cranes”). Also depicted are aviators Clifford Harmon, William Starling Burgess, Claude Grahame-White, Ralph Johnstone, Walter Brookins, Wilbur Wright, Alliott Verdon Roe, Sidney MacDonald, and Glenn Curtiss. Boston mayor John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald shows up in the passenger seat of Grahame-White’s plane, and the wrecks of Roe and Harmon’s planes are shown.

Photo album of the Harvard Boston Aero Meet, the first major aviation meet in the United States, 66 photographs, 1910. At auction June 27, 2024. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

Wilbur Wright Demonstrating His Model A

Left: M. Rol & Co, Photographers, Wilbur Wright demonstrating his Model A to French Aviators, silver print, 1908. At auction June 27,2024. Estimate $1,500 to $2,500.

When Wilbur Wright brought the Wright Flyer to Le Mans, France in 1908, he showed skeptical French aviators that he could fly in circles, which they had been unable to accomplish. This photograph shows him in his plane prior to taking off.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart, signature on a small card. Bidding closing June 25, 2024 at 12 PM. Estimate $1,000 to $2,000.

On 20 March 1937, in an attempt to complete the second leg of her flight around the world, Earhart, along with three crew members, attempted to take off from Luke Field on Ford Island in her Lockheed Electra 10E. Unfortunately, the runway was slick with rain, and Earhart’s attempt to correct a slight swing to the left turned into an out-of-control ground loop. Supported for a run of 50-60 feet on only the right wheel, the landing gear on that side suddenly collapsed, followed rapidly by a collapse of the same gear on the left. Sliding on its belly in a shower of sparks, the plane sustained extensive damage, although the pilot and her crew emerged without injury. Plane and pilot boarded the SS Lurline headed back to Lockheed in Burbank for repairs.

Right: Amelia Earhart, a photo from a group of images of events around her crash on Ford Island, 1937. Sold June 2, 2022 for $1,250.

Hornung Jr. clearly took some of these photographs, although the identity of the album compiler is otherwise undetermined. Several of the images viewable online concerning this incident are identical to those here. Other similar images were taken at the same time. All may share the same origin. Barton Kyle Yount (1884-1949), a decorated U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant General, commanded the Army Air Forces Training Command and served in the First and Second World Wars. In 1937 he was stationed at Hickham Field, Hawaii. In the image where Yount is speaking to Earhart, he is visible only from the back, leading this cataloguer to believe that the compiler of the album must have been present or informed by someone present in order to identify him.

An Early Lead Designer for Glenn Curtiss

Benjamin Douglas Thomas (1891-1966) emigrated from England to the United States circa 1913 as a design engineer for Glenn Curtiss in Hammondsport, NY. He played a major role in the development of the famed Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane. By 1915, Thomas became chief engineer and designer of the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Company of Ithaca, NY, founded by two English brothers named Thomas who, oddly enough, were not relatives of B.D. Thomas. He later moved to California in the late 1930s. Many of these photos have extensive captions, some by Thomas and some later by relatives.

Aeronautical Planning Charts

U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey; and others, group of approximately 20 mid-twentieth-century American government aeronautical maps and charts, 1940s-50s. Sold December 2023 for $531.