Here’s a little something special today. I was looking through my pioneer aviation collection searching for … well, I can’t remember because I became sidetracked. About 7 years ago, I spotted a set of 1910 Wills Aviation cards at auction. It’s one of those silly items I coveted for years so I threw in a modest bid and it turned out to be one of those days aviation and tobacco card collectors were asleep  and I got the entire set of 50. I’m not sure if these are reprints or original, I’ve never checked into how to tell the difference. Regardless, they are still a joy.  

Scan of a Wills' tobacco card - Antoinette Flyer

1910 Wills’ Cigarette card The Antoinette Monoplane – from author’s collection

The cards are pretty cool and considering they are over 100 years old, in extremely good shape. They cover flight from early balloons to the most modern (as of 1910) aeroplanes, including my favourite –  the Antoinette Flyer, designed by Léon Levavasseur.

The Silver Dart comes close to the number 1 spot, but it’s always edged out by the Antoinette. I think primarily because the design seemed so improbable.  It looked like a canoe with wings with a pilot precariously plopped in the middle.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, designer Levavasseur started out designing boats and boat engines.  The Flyer may look fragile, but it was an outstanding aeroplane that helped Hubert (sometimes listed as Herbert) Latham set a number of height and speed records. 

It was powered by Levavasseur’s magnificent V8 (and later) V16 Antoinette engine. 

Photo of Antoinette airplane engine

55/60 HP Antoinette Engine –  Le Salon de l’Aéronautique : moteur Antoinette 55/60 HP : [photographie de presse] / Agence Meurisse – image courtesy BNF/Gallacia

Latham attempted an English Channel (1909) crossing  but had to ditch the Antoinette in the water. Bleriot beat him across the Channel the next day.  

Hubert Latham (left) and Leon Levavasseur (right) Calais 1909 for the English Channel

Hubert Latham (left) and Leon Levavasseur (right) Calais 1909 for the English Channel crossing attempt – image courtesy BNF/Gallica

Page from a 1909 French aeronatic magazine showing 4 airplanes  ready for the English Channel crossing

3rd aeroplane – Antoinette Flyer ready to try the Channel crossing – Image courtesty BNF/Galacia – Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, FOL-LC6-87

Photo of Hubert Latham in cockpit of Antoinette Flyer 1908 just before his 1st English Channel crossing

Latham in cockpit of Antoinette ready to try Channel crossing 1909 – image courtesy BNF/Gallica

Despite this disappointment, Latham went on to set many records including air speed and distance including: 

1909
August, Riems Airshow (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne) world altitude record of 155 metres (509ft)
1910
January, Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, world altitude record of 1,100 metres  (3,600 ft)
April Nice Airshow world airspeed record of 48.186 miles per hour (77.548 km/h) 
July  second Riems Airshow (Grande Semaine de l’Aviation de la Champagne),  world altitude record of 1,384 m (4,541 ft)

All while flying an Antoinette VI or VII

Page from  1909 La Revue aérienne newspaper with photo of Latham flying an Antoinette

Hubert Latham 1909 Airshow –
La Revue aérienne / directeur Emile Mousset Author : Ligue nationale aérienne, Paris. Auteur du texte Publisher : [s.n.] (Paris) Publication date : 1909-09-10 Contributor : Mousset, Émile. Éditeur scientifique – image courtesy BNF/Galacia

I’ve looked around for postage stamps showing Latham, Levavasseur or the Antoinette and have been terribly disappointed. To date, I haven’t been able to find any postage or cinderellas commemorating them, although I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually stumble across at least a Cinderella.   

 

Read more:
Antoinette (Levavasseur) Aircraft Engines by By William Pearce 
This day in aviation 
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) is a marvelous resource for early French aviation information. The archives hold many contemporary aviation magazines and newspaper articles that are impossible to find anywhere else. Search: Leon Levavasseur, Latham Hubert, Antoinette moteur and  l’aéroplane Antointette for the best results.  
Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace has a short page on the Antoinette. They have a reproduction of the flyer on display.

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