A silver presentation cigarette box designed to raise the profile of women in aviation was in fact awarded to a man after it was deemed too windy to allow ladies to compete.
The 9 inch box (lot 1885) designed by Mappin and Webb was won by famed aviator, Lewis W F Turner, on 6th July 1912 at the Ladies Aviation Day event, held at Hendon by the Women’s Aerial League. Flight magazine writing after the event opined, “This was to have been a red letter day for British aviation, for special competitions had been arranged for lady pilots.” Weather conditions, however, meant that women only flew as passengers on what was to have been an inaugural day. Events were possibly restricted owing to the death of famed American pilot, Harriet Quimby, just five days previously during an aviation meet in Boston, Massachusetts.
The box is now being sold at auction by Woolley and Wallis in the next couple of months. Silver specialist, Rupert Slingsby said the box is reminiscent of a very different era. “It seems ludicrous to us now that something as mundane as the weather could stop what was supposed to be a major step forward in female aviation, and yet 1912 is a time before women were even able to vote. In fact, both Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were members of the Women’s Aerial League, even though it was not a political organisation. Of course, in just a few years the war would provide ample opportunity for women to prove their worth in traditional male roles and things would change very quickly, but this box is a lasting reminder of a very different time.”
Despite his lack of female credentials, Major Lewis Turner of Blandford was a worthy winner. Known for flying any machine in any weather he was a well-known and popular competitor at Hendon and one of the most experienced pilots and notable instructors at that time.
The presentation box is included in the Silver and Objects of Vertu auction on 28th April with a pre-sale estimate of £2,000-3,000.