Lot 115A View Catalog
This full size bronze replica of the famed Thompson Air Race Trophy was made using the original artist's sculpture for the Trophy, as described in Lot 114. Produced by the Pylon Club in 2003, this bronze replica is one of a limited edition of 15 that have been produced, and carries a Pylon Club identification on the side. Incredibly detailed just like the original trophy, this is truly an incredible work of art. The story of the Thompson Trophy is a fascinating one. In 1929, Cliff Henderson was organizing the National Air Races in Cleveland. An Air Race committee volunteer approached Lee Clegg of Thompson Products to sponsor a trophy for one of the many races being held for the first time at the Cleveland air meet. Founded in Cleveland in 1901, Thompson Products had developed cap screws and other fasteners. The company quickly branched out to manufacturing engine valves for the burgeoning automotive industry (there were 137 auto manufacturers in Cleveland in the early days). Soon afterward, its product line expanded to include aircraft engine valves used in Allied fighter planes during World War I. By 1915, the company had become was the leading U.S. manufacturer of engine valves, producing the first one-piece valve in 1917 and a highly durable silicon and chrome steel valve in 1921. Thompson's experimental hollow sodium-cooled valve was used in the Spirit of St. Louis on Lindbergh's historic solo flight in 1927, so the company was a natural sponsor for the air races. (Interesting, in 1958, Thompson Products merged with the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation in Los Angeles, creating Thompson Ramo Wooldridge, known today as TRW). Clegg saw from the list of races needing a trophy that no other company had chosen to provide a trophy for the "International Land Plane Unlimited Class Free-For-All" race and selected it for the "Thompson Cup". Clegg arranged to purchase a very large loving cup for $25 plus $10 for the engraving. Doug Davis won the 1929 Thompson Cup in his Travel Air “Mystery Ship” (see Lot 149) with a speed of 194 mph. For 1930, Clegg suggested to Thompson Products owner, Charles Thompson the permanent establishment of a Thompson Trophy. They sought permission from the National Aeronautic Association, which was granted. Rules for the race were defined (with some flexibility allowed) along with a deed of gift which specified that the trophy was "... to be in competition for at least ten years, after which it could be retired or continued at the discretion of the National Aeronautic Association. The "Charles E. Thompson Trophy" was to be awarded annually to the foreign nation, department of government service, organization or chapter of the National Aeronautic Association represented by the winning pilot, to be properly exhibited until one month prior to the date it is next competed for." Thompson also created an endowment fund with the National Aeronautic Association, interest on which will be used to annually purchase gold, silver and bronze plaques of the trophy, to be awarded to the first three pilots in the race. Upon the trophy being retired, this fund would revert to the National Aeronautic Association for the use as that organization saw fit in the promotion of aeronautics. Thompson also made sure that the prize money for his trophy would be commensurate with its importance, contributing $5,000 to match the amount contributed by the Chicago Air Race Corporation for the first flying year of the race. This $10,000 in prize money was more than had ever been offered for any air speed race. Just as importantly, Charles Thompson wanted his trophy to artistically represent the accomplishment for which it was to be awarded. Noted art authority Dr. Henry Turner Bailey suggested the company contact four notable US sculptors to prepare plaster sketches. It was decided that a committee comprised of Bailey, Orville Wright, David Ingalls, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics, Hon. F. Trubee Davidson, Assistant Secretary of War for Aeronautics; and Col. Clarence Young, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, would judge the sketches. They unanimously chose the design from Walter A. Sinz, from, interestingly, Cleveland! The Thompson Trophy brochure describes this incredibly beautiful work of art: “It tells the story of man’s struggle to cast off the shackles of time and space. This struggle ended triumphantly with the perfection of the modern high speed airplane. The central figure of the trophy is the mythological hero, Icarus. Greek legend tells us that Icarus was the first man to learn the secret of lying. The trophy shows Icarus on the shore of the Agean Sea, the legendary starting point of his flight. Wings spread, eyes cast heavenward, he symbolizes the yearning of ancient mankind to fly like birds. Behind Icarus a craggy cliff portrays the slow climb toward human mastery of distance. At the very base is etched the first primitive runner, “ followed by a man on horseback, a chariot, a galleon, a covered wagon, a locomotive, a steamship, a dirigible and an automobile. Above the cliff are billowy clouds, perched eagles, and a rising sun;. all surmounted by the high-speed airplane that won the last years Thompson Trophy Race. [Note: this practice was followed for two years and discontinued]. Names of the winning pilots were engraved on the ten shields mounted beneath the clouds. The trophy was made of bronze and mounted on a black marble base. Sinz was also asked to create two 10 foot versions of the trophy, which were used for promotional purposes. The Thompson was an unlimited race in that there were no physical restrictions placed on the airplane as to engine size, number of engines, etc., although a qualifying speed had to be met. Later a restriction was included that said no women were allowed to enter. In the 1930 the name of the unlimited race was changed from the ‘Thompson Cup” the "Charles E. Thompson Trophy" Race. The mass start for this event, unlike timed events, made competition very exciting and popular with the spectators, but also dangerous for the competitors. During the first Thompson Trophy Race in 1930, a young Marine pilot, Captain Arthur Page who was leading the race, crashed purportedly due to failure of his aircraft and died a few days later. Charles "Speed" Holman, in a Laird "Solution" that had been completed only hours before the start of the race, went on to win the race. The legacy of death seemed to follow the Thompson Trophy winners; at the start of the 1934 race, only one former winner was still alive, 1932 champion Jimmy Doolittle, who had retired from air racing shortly after his victory. World War II caused the suspension of the Thompson Trophy races between 1940 and 1945, but they resumed in 1946. As civilian craft of the time could not match military aircraft for performance, most of the contenders were military surplus fighters. To encourage the further development of jet aircraft, race organizers decided to have two divisions of the Thompson Trophy race, one for piston powered engines and one for jet powered. Since three time winner 1934, 1938 and 1939) of the Thompson Trophy Roscoe Turner refused to relinquish I, the organizers decided to create two new trophies. Fortunately, the mold for the trophy still existed and two new ones were cast. The trophy’s name at the base was changed from "Charles E. Thompson Trophy" to "The Thompson Trophy" to distinguish it from the original and a small placard for the "R Division" and the "J Division" was added to the respective trophy. The post-war National Air Races were held in Cleveland from 1946 to 1949. Thompson Products retained both of the Trophies and donated the "R Division" trophy to the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum in Cleveland, OH and the "J Division" trophy to the Air Force Museum at Dayton, OH. The original Charles E. Thompson trophy held by Roscoe Turner was donated to the National Air & Space Museum by his wife Madonna, soon after his death in 1970. None of the original full size trophies will ever be available for sale as they are all in museums; this lot affords the collector a rare opportunity to add the beauty of the artwork of the Thompson Trophy to an aviation collection.