The allure of retro aeroplanes

Harrison Ford is well known for his love of flying. His collection of historic aeroplanes includes a 1929 Waco Taperwing open-top biplane, and a metallic silver 1942 Ryan PT-22 Recruit, which the Indiana Jones actor ploughed into a Santa Monica golf course in 2015. Not one to be outdone, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has also amassed an impressive collection of mostly World War II aircraft, which he opened to the public in 2004. But you don’t need a budget the size of theirs to start your own vintage aeroplane collection. Indeed, now’s “the ideal time to get started”, says Mark Huber in Barron’s Penta magazine. “It’s a buyer’s market for many models.”

“You’ve got a lot of guys who collect who are in their 70s and 80s, and they’re getting rid of their collections,” Brent Taylor, president of America’s Antique Airplane Association, tells Huber. Typically, collectors will start with a 1940s vintage Piper Cub, a Taylorcraft or an Aeronca Champion (“something with an engine in the range of 65 horsepower that they can push out of the hangar themselves and go flying”), before upgrading to, say, a 1930s Stearman ($85,000 to $250,000), says Taylor. Online broker Trade-A-Plane.com lists a 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D in California for as
little as $20,500, and a UK-based 1947 Luscombe 8E for £32,500. So-called “warbirds” – fighter planes from World War II – are another matter, commanding sky-high price tags.

Should your new vintage plane need a spruce up to make it air-worthy, there is a handful of companies in Britain on hand, including the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC), based at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire. In 2016 it invested in building a bigger hanger to house a World War II Lancaster bomber that it had been contracted by the Royal Air Force to repair, ARC’s founder, John Romain, told Coutts’s Insights blog earlier this year. Spirit in the Sky is another British repair specialist, which also provides brokerage, financing and insurance services. Insuring a vintage plane is similar to insuring a classic car – the premium depends on factors including the age of the aircraft, claims history, flying hours, and where it has been stored.

Get it right and your retro plane could turn out to be a lucrative investment. But as with all so-called “passion plays”, it should be a hobby first, and an investment second. As Tennessee-based collector John Parish Snr tells Penta: “Most people don’t need an expensive aeroplane to enjoy it, but be careful not to make it part of your business.” And assuming you’re a qualified pilot, it would be a shame not to take it out for a spin now and then – after all, as Ford told The Mail on Sunday in 2010: “Flying is like good music: it elevates the spirit and it’s an exhilarating freedom.”

The art of vintage airline posters

Vintage airline posters from the 1930s to the mid-century, when flying was still exciting and glamorous, are works of art, says Helen Coffey in The Independent. Airlines often commissioned well-known artists to design “stunning” graphic images depicting destinations that were a world away from everyday life, “from chic Paris to vibrant Mexico”. At auction, posters can go for upwards of £1,000.

“Airline and aviation posters have consistently been popular,” Elisabeth Burdon, a professional seller of posters, ephemera and antique prints at specialists Old Imprints, tells Coffey. “Factors in poster popularity… include the location the poster celebrates, artist, iconic subject matter of the image and scarcity.”

Age, on the other hand, matters less than supply and demand. The rarer a poster is, the more valuable it tends to be. But personal taste and changing fashions also play a large part in determining value, so you should buy what speaks to you, Burdon advises. That said, works by well-known names in the field, such as Joseph Binder, Joseph Feher, Stan Galli, David Klein, and Edward McKnight Kauffer, are particularly sought after.

Rare books seller AbeBooks has put together an online catalogue of the most notable vintage posters dating from between 1940 and 1984, which range in value from $125 at the low end to a top price of $1,797. See AbeBooks.co.uk.

Roses in a Glass Vase © Sotheby's

Auctions

Going…

An oil painting by Winston Churchill of three rosebuds (pictured) that was gifted by the wartime leader to actress Vivien Leigh in 1951 is to go on display at Sotheby’s in London before being auctioned on 26 September as part of a sale of Leigh’s belongings. The Gone with the Wind actress placed Roses in a Glass Vase, which is expected to fetch £100,000, on the wall opposite her bed. She once said, “Whenever I feel particularly low or depressed I look at those three rosebuds.” Churchill and Leigh first met in 1936 on the set of Fire Over England, when she was a little-known actress. They remained friends for 30 years.

Gone…

A collection of scrawled notes written by Mao Zedong to a professor in 1975 as his eyesight was failing the year before his death fetched £704,750 at Sotheby’s in London earlier this month – ten times its estimate. The notes relate to his readings in classical Chinese literature and poetry – a favourite pastime of the Communist leader.