Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 476: WWI Aircraft Fabric with Famed 94th Aero Squadron Insignia

Auction Date: May 14, 2021

Rare World War I Aircraft Fabric with Famed 94th Aero Squadron "Hat in the Ring" Insignia

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $12,000 - $18,000

Rare World War I Aircraft Fabric with Famed 94th Aero Squadron "Hat in the Ring" Insignia

Manufacturer: None
Model: None
Type: Other
Item Views: 1380
Item Interest: Active
Catalog Page: 332
Class: Other

This spectacular museum quality piece of World War I aeronautical memorabilia is aircraft fabric with the insignia from the famed 94th Aero Squadron and attributed as belonging to fighter pilot Alden B. Sherry. The two accompanying letters of provenance are both from collector and dealer Ryan Berley and addressed to Richard Nye. The first letter, which is dated June 16, 2001, identifies previous ownership to 94th Aero Squadron member Alvin P. Ottey, which is erroneous as the second letter, which is dated June 22, 2001, attributes the original owner as 94th pilot Alden B. Sherry. Both letters reference the included 7 1/2 inch x 12 inch piece of paper signed by several WWI pilots, including Alden Sherry; not Alvin P. Ottey as stated in the first letter. The back of the paper features a faint caricature drawing of a pilot with the caption date “1919” alongside the same man in civilian clothes with the caption date “1929,” all above the main title “95th Aero Squadron.” Sherry served in the 94th Aero Squadron; however, several signatures are of pilots identified with the 95th Aero Squadron such as Edward “Ned” Buford, Edward “Ted” Curtis, John A. Hambleton, Lansing C. Holden, Jr., and Summer Sewall. As Berley surmised in his second letter, Sherry acquired the signatures and drawing while attending a 95th Aero Squadron reunion sometime after the war, presumably in 1929. After Berley purchased the fabric he had “it professionally mounted on acid-free linen, the tear stabilized and appropriately framed” (see the June 16th letter). In James Sloan’s “Wings of Honor: American Airmen in WWI,” Alden B. Sherry is identified as a combat airman who served with the 94th Aero Squadron from June 5, 1918 to the Armistice (page 132). Sherry was a recipient of the Silver Star. The citation read, “By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 9, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), First Lieutenant (Air Service) Alden B. Sherry, United States Army Air Service, is cited by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. First Lieutenant Sherry distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, in action near Exermont, France, 18 October 1918, in bringing down an enemy biplane.” Perhaps no other American squadron conjures the imagery of the World War I fighter pilot more vividly than the 94th Aero Squadron. The squadron was after all commanded by Medal of Honor recipient Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s WWI ace of aces with 26 aerial victories. The 94th was America’s first pursuit squadron to operate over the skies of the Western Front during WWI and went on to produce eight aces and a total of 70 aerial victories, a score unmatched by any other American unit. The exploits of the squadron, especially the dramatic dogfights, were highly publicized in American media on the home front. Virtually overnight the aviators became national heroes, forever defining the cultural notion of the fighter pilot that still resonates today. The 94th became one of the most famous American squadrons in the history of military aviation. Allowed to design their own insignia, aviators of the 94th chose to commemorate America’s entry into WWI by symbolizing the boxing phrase tossing one’s “hat in the ring.” This phrase signified one’s willingness to become a challenger and perfectly captured the optimistic national spirit at the time America entered the war. The imagery invoked Uncle Sam’s red, white and blue top hat going through a ring. The “hat in the ring” proudly adorned the fuselages of the squadron’s SPADs. The heritage of the 94th Aero Squadron is currently embedded in the 94th Fighter Squadron, one of the oldest USAF units now equipped with the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor and still proudly using the “hat in the ring” as its insignia. Offered here is a fabulous piece of museum quality WWI aircraft fabric and mounted in a 37 ½ inch x 30 inch wood frame. The painted fabric clearly showcases a large and fabulous “hat in the ring” along with the number “8”. The “8” is in the same large style font as used in the numbers that adorned each SPAD in the 94th. Rickenbacker’s SPAD, for instance, displayed the number “5.” The camouflage pattern is unusual as it is the standard lozenge camouflage used by the German Luftwaffe. An included photo of a crashed Hannover CL.III sheds light on the mystery. As documented in Charles Woolley’s “The Hat in the Ring Gang” on page 197, this Hannover was forced down by 94th pilots Rickenbacker and Chambers on October 2, 1918. The Hannover in the photograph clearly shows the lozenge camouflage on the wings. The combination of German camouflage and the 94th “hat in a ring” inspires a few theories: 1) The fabric from the Hannover was reused as a repair on a 94th SPAD; 2) The captured Hannover was put back into service and flown by the 94th, thus the original German makings were removed and replaced with American markings; or 3) The fabric from the Hannover became a war trophy with the victor proudly displaying his markings on the conquered. Nevertheless, WWI aircraft fabric rarely comes up for sale, and fabric with artistic expressions of wartime squadron insignia, especially as one as famous as the 94th, are virtually impossible to find. Provenance: The Putnam Green/Sycamore Collection

Rating Definition:

Fine as mounted on linen and framed. Nearly all of the paint remains and the colors are vivid. An extraordinary work of wartime aviation art from one of America's most famous squadrons that will be a stand out piece to even the most advanced public or private aviation collections. A must have for the serious WWI collector!

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