1924 Pilot's Archive with License signed by Orville Wright

Value (2009) | $2,500 Auction$3,500 Auction

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.

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.

Yes, and I don't think that he shortchanged them. I think maybe one of the checks has gone missing, so...

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.


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.

Yeah, it's very low.

Tell me what happened with him.

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...

Have you ever had this appraised?

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.

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.

Well, thank you very much. That's good to hear.

Appraisal Details

Bonhams, LA
Los Angeles, CA
Appraised value (2009)
$2,500 Auction$3,500 Auction
Phoenix, AZ (August 01, 2009)

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.