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    Follow the Stories | Spokane, Washington (2008)

    Autographs of Aviation Celebrities

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    • At the ANTIQUES ROADSHOW event in Spokane, Washington, on August 4, 2007, a guest named Barbara brought in a massive scrapbook of autographs by practically all of the 20th century's most famous aviators. She said her father had been inspired to start the collection at age 12, after meeting the renowned explorer Admiral Richard Byrd in 1927.

    • Barbara told appraiser Ken Sanders that by 1933 her father had managed to collect upwards of 250 autographs. With the help of Barbara's grandmother the collection continued to grow over the next several decades, eventually reaching 990 entries. He acquired this autograph from Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviation pioneer, in June 1937, only about a month before she went missing over the Pacific Ocean during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

    • Barbara's father often typed a summary of an aviator's accomplishments to accompany the autograph, sometimes updating the information periodically as the aviators' careers progressed. Sanders estimated the value of this Earhart autograph at $2,000 to $2,500.

    • Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan's celebrity as an aviator came mainly from his maverick disposition. He is most famous for an unauthorized non-stop flight he made in 1938 from Brooklyn, New York to Ireland. He was supposed to fly to Palm Springs, California, where he'd begun his journey. Corrigan claimed it was a navigational mistake but there were many who found that incredible given his skill and experience as a pilot. Corrigan never publicly admitted flying to Ireland on purpose.

    • Barbara's grandmother acquired this autograph in 1961 from Neil Armstrong, who eight years later would become the first man to set foot on the moon. To his signature Armstrong added a note of modesty: "I'm very pleased to have you place my name along side so many fine aviation Pioneers." Sanders valued this Armstrong autograph at about $2,000.

    • This April 1959 autograph from astronaut Alan Shepard bears a handwritten note by Barbara's grandmother: "Lieut. Commander Alan B. Shepard Jr. One of the group of Mercury Astronauts. Volunteer recruits by NASA for the manned satellite program."

    • A second page on Shepard lists a range of vital statistics from his May 5, 1961, mission in the Freedom 7 rocket, noting at the bottom "Commander Shepard was the first American to be sent aloft in a rocket."

    • Barbara's collection included this 1959 newsletter publishing details on the expected research benefits of Project Mercury, the United States' first spaceflight program. The aim of Project Mercury was to put a man into orbit around earth, which was achieved in February 1962.

    • The astronauts NASA chose for the project were known as the Mercury Seven, all of whom autographed their photos on the newsletter: (from left to right) Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

    • In April 1959, John Glenn wrote a gracious note in response to Barbara's grandmother's request for his autograph. It reads: "Thank you for your kind letter. It was most interesting and I am honored to help add to your collection. Sincerely, John H. Glenn, Jr. Lt. Col. USMC, Project Mercury."

    • On a second page devoted to Glenn, adorned with a 4-cent Project Mercury stamp, a summary describes the "historic mission into the unknown, to be hurled 125 miles into ... and if all goes well, will return to earth."

    • This 1961 autograph is by famed test pilot Chuck Yeager, who in 1947 became the first person to fly an airplane faster than the speed of sound.

    • The summary on the next page describes his achievement this way: "Yeager that day crashed through the sonic wall."

    • Barbara's extensive collection also contains some remarkable autographs by legendary figures from the very early days of aviation. Orville Wright signed this page in 1934. Orville and his brother Wilbur are credited with having built and flown the first machine-powered airplane on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

    • The autograph of French inventor Louis Blériot. He was the first person to fly across a major body of water, crossing the English Channel from a point near Calais, France to Dover, England in July 1909. Blériot won a prize of 1,000 pounds offered by a London newspaper for performing the feat.

    • Eddie Rickenbacker was a hero and famous flying ace during World War I, the first war in which aerial combat played a significant role. In all, Rickenbacker was credited with defeating a total of 26 German airplanes during the course of the war.

    • Transcription of the second letter.
      A nice addition to Barbara's collection is this pen-and-ink sketch by the well-known aviation illustrator Clayton Knight, which he did especially for the book. With such a short time in Spokane, appraiser Ken Sanders was not able to carefully assess all of the nearly 1,000 autographs in Barbara's scrapbooks. But the value of the dozen or so examples he did get to see he estimated at $12,000 to $15,000 in total.

      Watch the full appraisal in our ROADSHOW Archive »

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