Concorde memorabilia collector interview: Simon Jones

If a city financier chose to collect something, you'd perhaps expect it to be art, fine wines, or perhaps even luxury watches. But, while Simon Jones works in the financial sector in London, he is a collector with a difference...

Since 2003, Simon has been devotedly collecting what could be one of the largest and comprehensive private collections of Concorde memorabilia in the world. Put simply, his collection comprises everything from the cockpit and engine to passengers' flight menus.

Like all the best collectors, Simon has become something of a Concorde historian over the past. It was fascinating speaking with him, and learning why Concorde was the "UK's equivalent of the man on the Moon."

Simon Jones, Concorde collector

Here he talks to Paul Fraser Collectibles about his passion for the sadly-departed plane, the investment potential of this niche sector and his plans for the Concorde Innovation Centre.

PFC: Why do you think Concorde captured the public's imagination?

It was arguably the pinnacle of global travel, the best of the best. You couldn't fly faster in anything except a military jet or space rocket, and even most military jets don't reach the top speed of Concorde. The maximum speed of 1,350mph [or Mach 2.04] was twice the speed of sound, faster than a rifle bullet and quicker than the earth rotates. That speed equates to almost a marathon a minute, about 23 miles covered in every 60 seconds! It doubled aviation speed overnight when it entered service.

Going from London to New York sees you take off from London Heathrow at 10:30am, fly 3.5 hours west and effectively go backwards against the earth's rotation to gain a five hour time difference. The net effect sees you land in New York by 9:30am local time thus you appear to land before you take off!

Concorde machmater
Concorde was capable of reaching
mach 2.2, twice the speed of sound

You're also flying higher than anything else, again except some military jets, reconnaissance aircraft and space rockets. In fact it's so high, Concorde's pilots always claimed they could see the curvature of the earth. To be specific, it flew about 60,000 feet high when all normal commercial airliners achieve around 40,000 feet, so 50% higher.

The other key reason that Concorde captured the public's imagination was the passenger list was packed full of celebrities, leaders, royalty and business owners. It read like a global who's who and put the glamour into world travel.

PFC: How did your background lead you to building your collection of Concorde memorabilia? What started your fascination?

When I think back to my early years growing up in a small English seaside resort town of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, you realise that you have a lot of influences that come into play in later life. These shape many future dreams you go on to achieve. This includes a flight on Concorde and sailing on the QE2 with my father.

In fact, during childhood, my father used to recall tales of when he taught the principles of flight as an officer on helicopter carriers as part of his national service.

Another key influence was living next door to an RAF Squadron Leader who was flying supersonic Mach 2.2 English Electric Lightning jets out of RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire. These jets flew above our house on a daily basis and often in formation, very low and very loud!

Early connections to aviation also stem from being a member of the Air Cadets and being lucky enough to fly in Chipmunks (a small RAF trainer) and gliders when I was young. As part of an Air Cadets camp, we visited Binbrook and I was fortunate to rummage around in one of the scrap parts bins.

It was here that I actually collected my first part of a supersonic jet! It was a small panel from a Lightning's outer skin and was painted in typical MOD/RAF camouflage colours of green and grey paint. Without realising it, I suppose this was a seed when I was very young that would later grow into my passion for collecting parts of Concorde in my 30s and beyond.

Finally, my father was a chemical engineer who was talented enough to design parts of chemical factories which were awarded patents. He travelled all over the world during the 1970s when I was growing up and his heroes included people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, arguably Britain's greatest engineer. However, my father was much more interested in steam trains rather than aviation but he had a huge admiration for Spitfires, another British aviation icon like Concorde. This of course stemmed from the Battle of Britain days in world war two when he was a young boy growing up in London. My father's doctor, Aldridge "Fin" Haddock, had also been a Spitfire pilot (and former prisoner of war)...

Even though I am not technically minded in general, I suppose my father's love of engineering eventually spilled over to my own fascination with Concorde - how was it made, what's behind the outer skin, what materials did they use and how was it all designed? How was supersonic flight possible with so many obstacles to overcome?

I still have some very interesting items from childhood such as books on the best inventions of all time, the Guinness Book of World Records and one called Book of Speed which was all about fast transport. And, of course, you play things like Top Trumps when you're a kid. Concorde appeared in all of them and even paper airplanes you make as kids also look like the shape of Concorde! I still have the scrapbook where I cut out many images of Concorde from English newspapers and magazines when it started commercial passenger flights in January 1976.

In combination, when looking back, you realise all these factors provide a lot of early influences around you which go on to shape your future life somehow. In my case, I ended up collecting parts, artefacts and memorabilia from arguably the world's most famous, glamorous, iconic and fastest airplane, Concorde.

PFC: Did you ever get a chance to fly on a Concorde yourself?

Thankfully, I did achieve that dream! However, the cost of the ticket was such that, like a lot of people, I could only afford to fly on Concorde one way.

My flight came about when BA made a huge announcement on April 10, 2003 saying they would sadly be stopping Concorde flights in six months' time on October 24, 2003 and retiring the aircraft after 27 years' service. Air France had made a similar announcement that day but was ending its Concorde services much earlier on May 31 2003. Therefore, it was a "now or never" sort of thing and Carpe Diem!

Concorde had no in-flight movies and just a music selection but it was pure heaven when combined with the superb cuisine, wine cellar, cheese selection, chocolates and of course the champagne.

PFC: That was in June 2003. Had you already begun your Concorde collection at that point?

Other than what I picked up from my Concorde flight, like a certificate, no, not at all.

In November 2003, all of the Concordes went off to museums and the one I flew - G-BOAE, or Alpha Echo for short - went off to Barbados in November 2003.

Two days before Alpha Echo took off for Barbados, the first major auction of Concorde items had already taken place at Christie's in Paris. It featured Concorde's iconic nose cone on the front cover of the catalogue in black and white. It looked simple, very elegant, technically brilliant, perfectly shaped and incredibly iconic. I knew it would be the one item that defined the world of the Concorde collector and everyone at the auction knew it would have the highest price tag. About 1,300 people were bidding in Paris and the initial estimate for the nose cone was £10,000. It went for nearly £300,000.

Concorde nose cone
The most iconic piece of Concorde memorabilia

This was followed by the auction from Bonhams London, in December 2003. What struck me was the vast array of complex items of all shapes, sizes and colours that were inside Concorde. I wanted to buy the whole lot! I knew it should also make a good investment due to the aircraft's popularity and scarcity, seeing as a total of only 20 were ever made. Some of the pieces just looked absolutely brilliant and I just couldn't believe that you could actually buy parts of a supersonic aircraft.

However, with 18 out of 20 surviving Concordes still in museums, there are very limited opportunities to find Concorde parts. Really we're talking about the spare parts, we're talking about replacement parts. There are obviously not that many of those from just 14 production models and six deve

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