The Story of... Aviation pioneers soaring onto the auction block

Earlier this week, a sale of a vast collection of Concorde memorabilia for six times its auction estimate at the US's Regency Superior auction house underlined the value that is attached to historic technology-affiliated memorabilia.

It goes without saying the history and value are entwined when it comes to collectible investments. For this reason, collectors can do much worse than seek out memorabilia of one of mankind's greatest 20th century achievements...

Regular Paul Fraser Collectibles readers will already be familiar with the benefits of investing in space exploration memorabilia. But how about memorabilia of one of the earliest achievements that made it possible to put a man on the Moon...?

The achievement we're referring to is the invention of the fixed-wing aircraft - better known in layman's terms as the aeroplane - an achievement which (although disputed in some quarters) can be credited to the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur.

Orville Wright photographed with a 1901 glider

The Wright brothers weren't the first inventors to fly experiment aircraft. But they were accredited with building the world's first successful aeroplane, and with making the world's first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903.

After building their mechanical skills through years of working with printing presses, bicycles, motors in their machine shop, the genius of the Wright brothers' inventiveness lay in seeing things where other inventors didn't...

While other experimenters focussed on building ever-more-powerful engines, the Wrights instead concentrated on what they termed the "flying problem" - leading them to the breakthrough, the 'three axis control'.

Instead of focussing on power, the brothers devoted themselves to finding ways to control and maintain the equilibrium of the aircraft in flight. When their US patent was eventually filed, it cited the invention "of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces."

The rest is history: and the three axis control is still used in all fixed-wing aircraft to this day. What's more, for collectors, there are far more ways to enjoy and benefit from the Wrights' legacy than merely hopping on a plane...

In contrast to the first man on the Moon Neil Armstrong's autograph, who happens to be the world's rarest - and among the most valuable - signatures, an autograph by one of the Wright brothers can be purchased at a relatively affordable price.

Examples presently on the market include a cheque bearing Orville Wright's signature, dated December 11, 1920, and written out to an Ohio gas company for the payment of 69 cents. In excellent quality and in fine black ink, it can be owned for a entry-level investment price of £1,500.

Cheque, signed by Orville Wright

Naturally, Wright brothers documents can also bring considerably more, depending on their content and provenance. Take, for instance, a letter written by Wilbur Wright in Paris, fretting over the readiness of his new planes, the training of new pilots, and the cost of building the aircraft.

"It is my opinion that the company ought to make no engagements which would interfere with its our business (sic)," reads the letter. Dated to March 13, 1909, the four pages long letter sold for $14,400, including buyer's premium.

For investors willing to explore alternatives and 'think outside the box' - just as the Wright brothers themselves did back in the early-20th century - there are ample opportunities for passion, pleasure and profit in aviation memorabilia.




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