Card addressed to Mrs M Beech in London, signed by Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, one of the aviators on the Handley Page trans-Atlantic attempt.

The Penn-Gaskell collection of aeronautica

The Penn-Gaskell Collection is one of the world’s most important collections of ‘aeronautica’ – items such as prints, postage stamps, postcards and miscellaneous objects which chart, non-technically, the progress of aeronautical science and its social impact. It was gathered together by Miss Winifred Penn-Gaskell from about 1927 and quickly became famous for the quality and comprehensive nature of its coverage. Miss Penn-Gaskell lived in a remote stone cottage over 1000 feet up near Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, and everything was kept there. In 1939 she visited the Science Museum and made arrangements for the whole collection to be bequeathed to the Museum after her death.

Among the collection are letters sent out by balloon during the siege of Paris in 1870-71. For getting news in to the city carrier pigeons taken out in the balloons carried back micro-filmed pages to be read in a projection theatre. This is a remarkably early use of micro-filming. There is a comprehensive collection of air mail stamps including an example of the world’s first, a stamp depicting a balloon which was used for pre-paid mail carried by the balloon ‘Buffalo’ at Nashville, Tennessee, in 1877. The pottery items include plates which depict early balloon ascents, such as that thought to be of an ascent at Cheltenham in July 1822, and a Sunderland mug showing ‘The Ascent of the Aerial’. Items such as snuff boxes, buttons and pendants, all with an aeronautical theme, demonstrate the fascination that balloon flight had in the nineteenth century, long before heavier-than-air aeroplanes first flew.