The First Flight from New York to Paris by Colonel Ch. A. Lindbergh. Lavish privately printed presentation album commemorating Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic, this copy extra-illustrated with a large silver print photograph of the Spirit of St. Louis in flight over Paris, signed by Lindbergh and tipped onto front free endpaper. Thick, square folio. Orig. brown morocco gilt by A. J. Gonin. N.p. (Paris) (Vacuum Oil Co.) n.d. (1927). One of 13 copies. (45963)
In 1919 Raymond Orteig had famously offered $25,000 to any aviator who could accomplish the seemingly insurmountable feat of crossing the Atlantic in either direction alone and non-stop. Charles A. Lindbergh’s 33 hour flight on the Spirit of Saint Louis from Roosevelt Field in New York to Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris on May 20–21, 1927 not only won him Orteig’s prize money, it changed the course of aviation history.
Then an unknown 25-year-old U.S. Army Reserve officer, Lindbergh raised funds for the project with the help of backers in St. Louis and designed his plane with Ryan Airlines using a Wright J-5c engine. In the months prior to his team’s effort, six aviators before him had perished in the attempt.
The primary challenge was the enormous amount of diesel needed for such a long flight, essentially converting the plane into a flying fuel tank. In fact with a large extra container at the front of the plane, Lindbergh was prevented from having any forward view.
Despite this and many other obstacles, Lindbergh’s crossing was successful.
Given the commonplace nature of transatlantic aviation today, it’s difficult to fully grasp the excitement stirred by Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris. Contemporary accounts record that more than 150,000 spectators stormed the air strip to hoist Lindbergh out of his cockpit to carry him on their shoulders, showering him with champagne and kisses for more than thirty minutes until French police were able to battle through the crowds to his rescue.
Suddenly, the continents were connected by more than telegraph cables and ocean liners. In fewer than 36 hours, a man could fly cross the ocean and walk the streets of a foreign metropolis. In essence, space and time were collapsing. The world was becoming modern.
Of course, the refinement of petroleum products played a significant role in humankind’s ability to master intercontinental travel. It is no small coincidence that one of Lindbergh’s most generous supporters—and certainly his most lavish commemorator—was the Vacuum Oil Company (called ExxonMobil today), which supplied the engine lubricants that enabled The Spirit of St. Louis to operate continuously without defect for the duration of the flight.
F.A. Bernett Books recently acquired one of the rarest and most spectacular publications to celebrate the crossing. Commissioned by the French arm of Vacuum Oil and published in an edition of only thirteen copies, The First Flight from New York to Paris by Colonel Ch. A. Lindbergh weighs in at a whopping 26 pounds and measures 16.5 x 14.5 x 4.25 inches, with tooled & gilt brown morocco covers, silk moiré doublures, marbled front- and rear-free endpapers, 76 mounted machine print photographs (most approx. 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″) each cut to the edge of the image and mounted on an individual cream card backing sheet surrounded by a brown card mat, and 20 folding facsimiles of the front or relevant pages of newspapers and journals all dated May 22nd or 23rd, 1927, each also mounted on an individual cream card backing sheet.
One can scarcely imagine a more exhaustive or extravagant memento of Lindbergh’s feat. In terms of its sheer size, heft, and opulence, The First Flight from New York to Paris possesses a quasi-liturgical quality, as if it were part of an effort to canonize Lindbergh. Indeed it may well have been. The handsome and heroic young aviator held unprecedented potential as a celebrity spokesman for the Vacuum Oil and other firms eager to associate themselves with the knight errant of Jazz-age modernity.
The tome carefully records images of a technician supplying the Spirit’s engine with Mobiloil B, a Vaccum brand product, prior to its departure for Brussels and London in the days following his Paris landing.
Engineer Mr. H Pagny of the Vacuum Aviation division also examines the plane’s oil filters to detect signs of damage or wear.
In fact, Lindbergh tirelessly used his notoriety to promote the growth of transatlantic commercial aviation over the following decade, before the tragic turn of his eldest son’s kidnapping and murder lead him to move his family to Europe in secrecy. After “the crime of the century,” as many called it, Lindbergh all but retreated from the limelight, haunted by guilt that the wealth and fame he had sought had motivated his son’s killer to pursue the family.
The album, limited to only 13 copies, was most likely produced for the top executives of Vacuum Oil and was probably never offered for sale. No name, however, has been filled in on the limitation page in this copy. We are unable to find any record of this title ever coming to the market, and is unrecorded among institutional libraries.
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F.A.B. Item ID # 45963.