1924 Pilot's Archive with License signed by Orville Wright
Appraised Value: $2,500 - $3,500
IMAGE: 1 of 12
Appraisal Video: (3:29)
Books & Manuscripts
Director, Fine Books and Manuscripts
Bonhams & Butterfields, LA
GUEST: I brought in a pilot's license that was issued in 1924 by the International Federation of Aeronautics. And what made it interesting to me and, I hope, to everyone else, is that it's signed by Orville Wright. The photograph that you see is a photo of my great-uncle, Loren Ritchey, and we've referred to him as Uncle Buzz. He had an ambition that he wanted to fly as a young man, and so in 1924 he went about purchasing an airplane and taking flying lessons-- the whole boot-- and getting his pilot's license. The license here is the international license.
APPRAISER: This license, which is pretty much a duplicate, is used within the United States. What is so nice about the archive that you've brought in is how complete it is. You have a series of checks. They start in March and they go through May. And the checks are made out to people who are involved in the aviation company where he was taking lessons. So either they are checks for flying classes or possibly they are related to this document, which is the receipt for the biplane that your uncle bought. He bought it for $650, and we have close-- very close-- we're $75 off here.
GUEST: Yes, and I don't think that he shortchanged them. I think maybe one of the checks has gone missing, so...
APPRAISER: Maybe one has gone missing. Over here we have photographs of your uncle in flight, taken from one biplane of the other. And I don't know which plane your uncle is in, but I'm assuming he's in one of them. Here he is standing outside of a plane. Here he is again in the cockpit. And you're right. The two most interesting pieces are the two licenses-- the international license and the American one, both issued by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which was the governing body for piloting in the period. Commercial aviation was so young in 1924. We're just 20 years away from the Wright brothers' flight.
APPRAISER: That's how new and that's how fresh these things are. They are really wonderful pieces of history. There's a photograph of your uncle, his signature, the documentation, Orville Wright's signature. Here is the license number, 149, which is a fairly low number.
GUEST: Yeah, it's very low.
APPRAISER: Tell me what happened with him.
GUEST: Well, unfortunately, the next year, the year after he got these licenses, he just went on a fishing trip up in the Sierras, to Bishop, California, and not knowing what happened, he was involved in a plane crash and he was killed. He was born in 1904, so he was 21. But I think that that love of flying that he had was passed on through the bloodlines to my dad, who became an aviator himself and remained in aviation all his life, so...
APPRAISER: Have you ever had this appraised?
GUEST: No, I've gone online a couple of times just to research Orville Wright's signature and see what those are worth, and I think I saw $700, $800 or something along that line, but these pieces, no, I've never had them appraised.
APPRAISER: Well, I think you're sort of in the ballpark. You have the two licenses, and they can sell kind of in the $1,000, $1,200 range. The entire archive together, I would put a value of $2,500 to $3,500 at auction. With such a great story, it would definitely find a market.
GUEST: Well, thank you very much. That's good to hear.
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