From Discourse 11
I’m sitting in my office on the 1st of November, taking stock of the interesting events of the past month. It was the 3rd of October when Ali Fujino, administrator of the Drachen Foundation, forwarded an email she had received from Carsyn Gaines, a man asking about two items he was considering bringing to market via eBay. Carsyn had already done his homework and knew a little about what he had. He knew there was one of these in the Smithsonian; he knew the Drachen Foundation might shed light on the objects. He also was in touch with Bob White, a Canadian friend of the kite world who has focused on the historical aspects of kiting, to get an idea of what these objects might be worth.
Well, you might have guessed what Carsyn held: not just one, but two original Eddy kites. It was revealed he had purchased the kites for little from a posting on an area Craigslist. After asking (and hoping) that Carsyn not put both kites on eBay, he and his sister decided to put both kites up for online auction.
So now the wait began again. Both kites were listed on eBay in mid-October and were on for almost ten days before their auctions were final. Needless to say, the Eddys received a lot of attention f rom the American kite community. Ali, working on another project, happened to speak with museum curators who expressed interest but explained that an institution cannot put itself into an auction situation to acquire such items. The opening prices were steep, $2500 and $1500, limiting the number of kite people who could “afford” to be interested.
For the entire history of the Drachen Foundation, the acquisition strategy has been to accept donations, buy kites when the prices are very reasonable or an item of importance is at risk, and finally, borrow kites for exhibition or display from me, the board president. The strategy has worked well, lowering the storage costs of maintaining the collection, knowing that I will continue to build my own personal collection to complement the Foundation’s. So here was another situation where I felt strongly that acquiring the kites for my collection would allow them to be a digital asset for the Foundation’s online archive, besides being offered to the world, and could be traveled by me or the Foundation for hands-on study. If both could be purchased, I would prevent the two being separated and/or lost. Having a large body of specimens to study is the chosen desire of researchers.
So here I am again in my office on November 1st. I bid and bought the kites, they were shipped last Friday, and I expect them at any minute.
Taking advantage of the wait, I looked online at the Eddy patent to re-familiarize myself with its details (see page 13). Here I found the Dieter Dehn article from a past issue of Discourse (http://www.drachen.org/ article/eddy-and-woglom-parakite- contribution-eddy-kite), comparing Eddy and Woglom kites. I was about to put my hands on kite history!
The kites arrived via the US mail on the afternoon of the 1st, and I dutifully left them alone until this morning (the 2nd, during a blinding snowstorm) so I could photograph every moment of their reception.
I’ve unrolled the orange kite first, and several things jump out at me. First, it’s in quite good condition, one small rip in the sail and two more where the bridle was attached. Second, the edges are all intact with what looks to be original hardware at each corner (rather crudely shaped wire connections for the frame hardware). Finally, a surprise to me, the “guys” passing around the sail are wire, not hemp line. (In the patent, Eddy describes them this way: “guys passing therearound to form a symmetrical frame, a flexible covering secured by its edges to the end of said members and along said guys,…”)
The last thing I immediately noticed were the two distinct “gathers” on each side of the sail to make the “box plaid” described in the Woglom patent. (I think we’d call this a “box pleat” today, but maybe this really is the sewing term still used.)
Then on to a quick examination of the white kite. Again, I’m impressed at the condition. Except for degradation at the bottom of the sail, it’s in very good shape. I don’t think this one could or should be stretched onto a frame, while the orange one probably could be. The bridle is still attached to the sail, at the intersection of the frame pieces and at the bottom of the vertical spar. Speaking of the spars, one of the frames is completely whole: a horizontal spar with brace, and vertical with both end-fittings (spine 72”, cross-spar 72”, eyelet still in place, for spine and cross-spar connection is 15.5” from top). The second has only half the spine and the complete horizontal with brace. In both frames, a wire bow line is still attached to one end of the cross spar. (I pulled the bow- wire taut, and the end of its ring is 1” from the end of the slightly bowed cross-spar.)
These kites look to be “production” models, probably to compete with the likes of the United States Conyne and Perkins kites of the early 20th century. They are made economically with thin metal fittings, everyday wire, and basic wooden spars.
Comparing the finish and fittings of the fine German Eddy kite kits done by Holm Stuck (view on the Drachen Foundation website at http://www.drachen.org/collections/eddy-kite-ft-worden-workshop-manual-holm-struck) to these originals is like comparing a Mercedes to a Yugo. The metal fittings here are thin and flimsy, as if they were made from scrap tin and a good pair of tin-snips. The exception is the fine sail-cloth of polished cotton. It is of comparable quality to any I’ve seen in turn-of-the-century kites. It is, however, simply folded over the guy- wire and sewn in place without being hemmed.
Of course there is a frustrating aspect to this story. That is, the real history of the kites.
Carsyn, the eBay seller, was kind enough to share information with me after the sale, but it proved a dead end. The woman who sold the kites to Carsyn only knew that the kites had come from her husband’s brother, who is now deceased. They were in southern Indiana, close to Louisville, Kentucky. The dreaded curse of research is always to know more.
As a postscript, I must add that I felt I had to at least try to fully assemble one of the kites. I chose to try the orange one and found that putting the cross spar in created no adverse affect on the sail. Then, in connecting the spine to the sail, I found that sufficient tension could not be put on the sail to fully erect the kite. With a rubber-band, I attached the top of the sail to the spine, allowing me to take a photograph of the assembled kite.
Both Eddys will be on view for study at the next Historical Kite Conference 2012 at Gut Ankelohe in Bad Bederkesa, Germany.
See Bob White’s citation on Eddy kites on the Drachen website:
Historical Kite Conference Information:
Historical Kite Conference Contact: email@example.com