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Author Topic: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction  (Read 2027 times)

Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« on: February 11, 2022, 12:27:10 AM »

A friend of TIGHAR sent me a link to this NYT article:

An Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved (Not That Mystery): How the pilot’s long-lost aviator helmet came to spend the better part of a century in a closet somewhere in Minnesota.

"This October, Anthony Twiggs thought he’d try to unload his famous artifact one last time. He had read about the growing field of photo matching, which compares photos of objects on auction digitally with old photos or film. Extraordinary auction figures have been achieved with this new form of authentication: Thanks to photo matching, a Lou Gehrig jersey was sold at auction for $2.58 million in 2019.

"Mr. Twiggs, himself a retired photographer, gave it a go, trying to match his mother’s keepsake with old Earhart photos from the internet. Right away, he was speechless. His backyard photographs of the helmet (which he carefully positioned on a medium black background) exactly matched pictures from her famous first flight across the Atlantic in 1928."


There is still stuff out there, even in 2022!
LTM,

           Marty
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2022, 07:54:53 AM »

"Mr. Twiggs decided it might be better in a museum instead of a closet in Minnesota."

So what does he do?  Give it to NASM, or the Purdue Collection, or the 99s Museum, or the International Women's Air & Space Museum all of which have professionally curated, publicly accessible collections of Amelia memorabilia? No, he puts it up for auction to the highest bidder. No it will go in somebody else's closet.

The NYT article points out that the helmet is famous, in part, because it was part of Earhart's costume in Putnam's manipulation of her image (in which Amelia was always happy to play along).

"Days before the first leg of the trans-Atlantic flight, from Boston to Newfoundland, Earhart arrived for a secret photo shoot on the roof of Copley Plaza Hotel in the brown leather jacket, lace-up boots and leather helmet that she had worn on flights for years. The photographer angled her profile to look much like the photos of Lindbergh. The stylish shots of Earhart in her flight gear would run in The New York Times, which was paying Putnam for exclusive access to the aviators, if the flight succeeded."
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Daniel R. Brown

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2022, 03:07:13 PM »

For the sake of truthiness I did some archival search on this. I checked the online NewspaperArchive for the 1929 race including flanking dates, and also YouTube as cited in the NYT article.  Remember that AE flew the Vega in this race - most other contestants flew open-cockpit aircraft but there would be no reason for AE to wear such headgear. There were _many_ newspaper accounts including several images of AE but I found no contemporary newspaper photos that showed AE wearing "the helmet" during the timeframe immediately before, during, or after the race. I found no YouTube images whatsoever of AE during or after the race, including the alleged mobbing of AE by fans at the Cleveland airfield.

Several of the other contestants, who flew open-cockpit aircraft, wore seemingly identical headgear, probably a commercially-available item. This specimen might be a target for DNA testing, but I won't be making a bid on it. Trust but verify.

Comments welcome.

Dan Brown, #2408
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2022, 09:14:08 AM »

For the sake of truthiness I did some archival search on this.

Thanks Dan.  Yeah, let's have a look at this.  First of all, the article says, "Earhart arrived for a secret photo shoot on the roof of Copley Plaza Hotel in the brown leather jacket, lace-up boots and leather helmet that she had worn on flights for years."

There are plenty of photos of AE in flying gear prior to 1928, but I can't find one with her wearing a helmet like the white-trimmed one. 

Remember that AE flew the Vega in this race - most other contestants flew open-cockpit aircraft but there would be no reason for AE to wear such headgear.

True, but she apparently did wear a helmet when flying the Vega on the 1932 transatlantic flight. The Spirit of St. Louis was not open cockpit but Lindbergh wore a helmet. Wearing a flying helmet was just what you did. 
The Times article says, "The pictures matched multiple photographs at her Welsh landing site," but I can't find any photos of her in Londonderry wearing or carrying a helmet.  The photo below was taken in England a few days later but it's not the white-rimmed helmet. 


 
There were _many_ newspaper accounts including several images of AE but I found no contemporary newspaper photos that showed AE wearing "the helmet" during the timeframe immediately before, during, or after the race. I found no YouTube images whatsoever of AE during or after the race, including the alleged mobbing of AE by fans at the Cleveland airfield.

There are a few in this Youtube story about the 1929 race but none of them show her wearing a helmet.

Several of the other contestants, who flew open-cockpit aircraft, wore seemingly identical headgear, probably a commercially-available item.

Several of the contestants had white helmets.  Amelia, at some point, also had a white helmet.  Very chic. The distinctive thing about the 1928 helmet is the white trim.  Gladys O'Connell wore one in the 1929 race, so they were commercially available.  Photo below.

This specimen might be a target for DNA testing, but I won't be making a bid on it. Trust but verify.

For a shot at DNA you'd have to find a hair in the helmet with the follicle still attached.  Not likely.
The article says, "Distinctive creasing and puckering on the helmet’s front and sides were plain to see. There was noticeable wear on the trim on the earflaps of the helmet that matched up as well."
Why would the creasing and puckering be any different on anyone else's identical helmet, and why wouldn't any well-worn helmet have noticeable wear on the trim on the earflaps?

Actually, I have Amelia's helmet.  Bids are open.

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Daniel R. Brown

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2022, 01:54:26 PM »

Just what you did? Maybe. The latitude, altitude, and flight leg duration were very different for the transatlantic flight, necessitating warm clothing in contrast to the 1929 race across southern deserts. Is there any evidence to support the claim that this item had been “missing” since 1929? Are there any supporting statements from family members of the seller? The seller does himself a disservice by citing his mother’s occasional lapses in truthiness and failure to specifically identify the alleged finder. The story seems not even minimally credible to me, just sayin’.

Dan Brown, #2408
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Andrew M McKenna

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Don Yee

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2022, 12:04:15 PM »

A colleague showed me this on social media. There is a current auction for one of Amelia's flight caps. The letter states that during the 1929 air races Amelia lost it and it came into possession of someone in the sellers family.

https://sports.ha.com/itm/miscellaneous-collectibles/general/1928-29-amelia-earhart-flight-worn-cap-from-first-crossing-of-atlantic-ocean-photo-matched-/a/50052-80138.s

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Daniel R. Brown

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2022, 02:12:30 PM »

There can be no doubt that AE wore such a cap (not necessarily _this_ specimen) during the 1928 transatlantic flight. Similar womens' lined leather aviator caps were advertised for sale in the 1928 newspapers for $1. There is no supporting evidence whatsoever that she wore such a cap during the 1929 race. For an engaging popular summary of the 1929 race, read "Sky Girls" [2018] by Gene Nora Jessen.

Dan Brown, #2408
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Daniel R. Brown

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2022, 02:54:16 PM »

p.s. the "A. Earhart" inked inside the specimen for sale is equivocal. The block printing style, especially the sharply pointed capital "A" and square "E" do not match any contemporary signature of AE's on any other document or object I can find, including a soft leather baby's shoe (!), however someone else may have written her name inside it at any time.

Dan Brown, #2408
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2022, 02:58:44 PM »

See the discussion about this topic in the News, Views, Books etc. section of this forum.

Spoiler Alert:  Don't bid.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2022, 03:15:00 PM »

Why would you ink your name on your flying helmet?  My last name was stenciled on the back of my Army flying helmet but that was so people could know who they were shouting at. 
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2022, 05:56:18 AM »

See the discussion about this topic in the News, Views, Books etc. section of this forum.

Spoiler Alert:  Don't bid.


I merged the two posts in the new topic with this board, FWIW.

LTM,

           Marty
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Don White

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2022, 06:41:42 PM »

I can think of a lot better things to spend $825,000 on. I could sell you a house that would be a lot more useful, or you could have a classic car, or probably an airplane, or give TIGHAR a big donation.

This illustrates that provenance is everything, especially with an object that was made in enough numbers that there are likely to be many in existence. All that sets this specimen apart from any other is its supposed ownership by Earhart. Thus its value rests on someone believing that story.

This reminds me of a conversation with an archaeologist friend about whether something was "historic" -- in that case it was a building, but it applies to many old things. Old does not equal historic. That building -- it was the Rhodes Tavern in DC, over whose preservation there was a heated and eventually unsuccessful campaign -- was considered historic because "George Washington was here" but the building itself (said my friend, who did not consider it historic or worth preserving) was nothing special as a building, architecturally.

There are also times when a once-commonplace object acquires historic interest merely by surviving. Ivor Noel Hume discusses that in his book Martin's Hundred, talking about an earthenware jug, the kind seen in many 16th century genre paintings, but today very rare because it was a utility container that no one valued very much when it was new.

Helmets like that were very common. I have a leather motoring helmet that is of similar design, that I wear when driving my Morgan in cold weather with the top down (its normal state). How many ladies in flying helmets can you count in the 1933 movie Flying Down to Rio? And at the end of Grand Hotel (1932) there's a couple arriving in their open touring car, both in helmets very like the one that was just auctioned. Which may also explain why she might write her name in it, if she was likely to remove it among a group of pilots all owning similar headgear (at this time gentlemen all wore fedoras and might have put their names in them for the same reason).

Well, a fool and his money... they could send it my way.

LTM,
Don


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Daniel R. Brown

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Re: AE's 1928 trans-Atlantic flight helmet up for auction
« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2022, 01:30:58 PM »

In the account of the 1928 transatlantic flight published as a book attributed to AE as author, "20 Hrs., 40 Min.", there is a photograph captioned, "The first step in England. Hubert Scott helps me ashore." I ask that anyone who has a higher resolution image than the one in the paperback edition please comment whether the white fur trim on the aviator cap she is shown wearing matches the auction helmet.

Dan Brown, #2408

Update 3/21/22: Notice the person named in 20 Hrs., 40 Min. does not exactly match the photo caption shown here.

DRB #2408
« Last Edit: March 21, 2022, 10:48:52 AM by Daniel R. Brown »
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