Vignettes in Early Aviation

October 31, 2017 by Stanley Gibbons

Shortly after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight in 1903, pioneering aviators around the world, in particular Europe, took to the skies in a variety of machines to perform demonstration flights for the public. John F Roe, Philatelic Coordinator, Bath Postal Museum, examines the stamp-like vignettes that were produced to advertise and promote these early aviation events.

The Wright Brothers are generally recognised as being the first aviators to undertake a controlled flight in a heavierthan-air machine. Figure 1 shows Wilbur Wright watching brother, Orville, making the first flight on 17 December 1903. It was not long before several individuals in France – such as Voisin and Archdeacon, Santos Dumont, Bleriot, Farnham, Antoinette, and Sommer – Curtiss in America, and Cody in Great Britain began designing, building and testing their own machines. In Europe, and in France in particular, there was something of a boom in the production of and demonstration flights of planes from about 1905 onwards.

Postcards to promote aviation

Amongst these early designers and aviators was Robert Esnault-Pelterie, with his REP1 monoplane being flown at Buc in northwest France in October 1907. Postcards were printed to show aviators in flight, and posted cards spread the ‘word’ amongst the population at large. Even in October 1907, postcards were seemingly ‘doctored’ to show the aeroplane in flight. Comparing these two postcards shown in Figure 2, one finds they have quite different long views and yet very similar close views. Here, the man on the right of both cards (with a very white collar) is common to both, as are the mother (in a very white frock) with her son, located to the rear of the plane. A man in a short-length grey jacket appears in one card with his hands raised and with his hands by his side in the other card. Despite these similar shots, one card shows the aeroplane after it had landed, while the other shows it still some 3m off the ground. Mr Esnault-Pelterie was only the fourth man to be awarded an Aviators Certificate by the Aero Club de France in 1908, but that year he modified his design and in REP2 he created records by monoplanes for distances flown and for height achieved.

Fig 1 Orville Wright making the first controlled flight in a heavier-than-air machine on 17 December 1903, while his brother, Wilbur, looks on

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