Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Two Milton Caniff original illustrations were sold last week at auction.  The paintings were done for a the Aviation Hall of Fame (AHF) and a special program they had honoring the history of flight.  Caniff did several illustrations for collectible envelopes depicting aviation greats and historic scenes.  They were sold by subscription to AHF members.  These were sold before in 2008.  The seller at that time claimed he was the nephew of the man who put the project together, that it was done in 1976 and that the finished product was never widely circulated.  The fact that the only envelopes that have ever surfaced were from the first phase seems to bear this out.

Here Caniff depicted Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer considered the father of the U.S. Air Force.  The painting area is 5.5" x 10". 

This same picture was reproduced in Caniff: A Visual Biography in a two page spread devoted to this AHF envelope program (p.312-313).  The figure of Billy Mitchell was not on any of the eight existing envelopes.

My guess is that the illustration was a preliminary for this final piece above, created by joining the backs of two of the envelopes together.  The scene is of the court martial of Mitchell in 1925 for insubordination.  Mitchell was posthumously honored by FDR with the Congressional Gold Medal.  The B-25 Mitchell bomber was named for him.

This next painting is from one of the eight envelopes.  The "hat in the ring" gang was the nickname of the 94th Aero Squadron, the first American aviation unit in WWI.  Eddie Rickenbacker, America's top World War I flying ace, was one of its members.  

They sold for $145 apiece on Ebay.  According to Worthpoint's database, they sold for $52 combined in 2008.  Quite a nice return.  The AHF is now the National Aviation Hall of Fame.  You can visit the Hall at the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton.  Of particular interest there is the wall of honoree portraits, most of which were drawn by Caniff.

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