NEW YORK – Kids of all ages collect models, especially airplanes. From spending hours carefully and lovingly assembling planes from a kit to setting them up on stands and flying one’s collection, model planes have been delighting fans for decades.
Model planes can be made to fly or just be decorative. They range from simple balsa wood or foam polystyrene models to elaborate ones that are built to scale and powered to fly. They can be made out of plastic, resin, pressed steel, fiberglass, die cast or stamped metal, with painted details or decals. There is a model airplane for all interests, whether one collects commercial airline model planes or military aircraft.
“All types of planes are collectible: commercial, military – WWI and WW2 – and civilian,” said Tom Sage, head of toys and trains at Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa. “Models are good but most of the planes that we have sold at Morphy’s and that I have sold personally over the years were made by manufacturers as toys,” he said. “Condition is the most important and for the most part larger planes are more expensive. Having the original boxes on models where boxes were made is important and sometimes adds a lot of value.”
Model airplanes from now defunct American airlines such as TWA and Pan Am are highly collectible such as a stunning model of a Pan Am Yankee Clipper flying boat that realized $2,250 in October 2015 at Morphy Auctions. The heavy and polished metal plane had painted accents and was used for advertising the airline. The circa 1939 model was mounted on a stand in the shape of the Pan American Airways logo with wings around a globe and likely once was in a travel agent’s office, enticing travelers to take an airplane for their next vacation or business trip.
An unusual desktop model of a Douglas DC-6B, which would have been used for passenger travel and cargo, circa 1946 to 1958, earned $2,000 at Soulis Auctions in December 2019. The model depicts the prop-drive plane manufactured by Lockheed that saw service during World War II and later reworked for commercial use.
“Most of the world’s airlines allow their fleet aircraft to be modeled as a form of publicity. In the early days, airlines would order large models of their aircraft and supply them to travel agencies as promotional items,” notes Flight Miniatures website. Vintage examples sell for a few thousand dollars on average today.
Some collectors eagerly buy a few models to put on their desk or on shelves. A few collectors go all-out like Ireland native Michael Kelly. He built what is said to be the world’s largest diecast airplane model collection, accruing more than 1,500 diecast models in 1:200 scale over several decades. The collection went on permanent display at Shannon Airport in Ireland in 2018.
World War I and World War II models are among the most popular in the military genre. Some of the most popular airplanes in World War II are giant scale models in exacting detail, according to Guillow’s. “A few of these kits feature true to life action parts such as movable flying surfaces, sliding canopies, retractable landing gear and dropable bombs,” according to the company, which was founded by U.S. Navy aviator Paul K. Guillow. He started his firm making balsa wood model construction kits replicating famous World War I combat aircraft.
Hard-to-find prewar models made by noted maker American Flyer include a model 560 Lone Eagle monoplane with a clockwork motor and a model 567 Sky King tri-motor biplane. Both have a 23½-inch wingspan and measure 21½ inches long. Value is increased if the decals on the wings are intact.
Many models have an amazing level of detail such as a large folk art half plane model of Manfred von Richtofen’s plane. The Red Baron’s Fokker triplane is painted in a vivid red hue and measures 41½ by 101½ by 23 inches. Made of carved wood, steel, aluminum and rubber elements, the model depicts the Red Baron, the famous German air ace of World War I. Having an 8-feet plus diameter, the plane is sculptural in nature and has a commanding presence.
“While unsigned, it is clearly the work of a master wood carver and craftsman and ranks as one of the most appealing and impressive military sculptures we have ever encountered,” according to Heritage Auctions in its catalog description. Heritage sold this model in 2016 for $7,500.
Collectors of model airplanes can get hours of enjoyment out of their hobby as well as letting their imaginations take flight.