Original U.S. WWI Army Balloon Officer Named Grouping - AEF Army Air Service

Item Description

Original Items: One-of-a-kind Set. Spectacular archive comprising the World War I uniform and documents belonging to 2nd Lt. Lawrence C. Schaper, US Army Balloon Observer and Instructor. The group originated from the Bob Ford collection, with Mr. Ford having acquired the group directly from Lt. Schaper.

The set includes a private purchase officer's tunic with stand collar, and four pocket front, with a very rare original Army Balloon Observer badge; a pair of regulation riding breeches. The tunic was tailored by Hart, Schaffer & Marx (for Brandeis Stores in Omaha, according to the still present breast label), whose embroidered tag is still present at the neck, and is made from olive drab gabardine, with darkened metal front and pocket buttons, and has a dark brown lining. Two metal "U.S." insignia are present on the collar, as well as two winged propeller Army Air Corps insignia. A very rare silver Army Balloon Observer badge is present above the left breast pocket (large "0" with single bird's wing in imitation of the British badge), silver Balloon Instructor wings are present on the right cuff, three service chevrons are present on the left, and a city-issued medal for returning Doughboys presented by Park City, UT, is pinned just below the Observer badge. The tunic is in excellent shape with very little evident wear, and only some negligible staining of the cloth and lining, and the silver badges have tarnished to a pleasant blue patina. The breeches are matching gabardine with some wear at the knees, and Schaper's name and unit written in ink on the interior of the waistband: Lt. L.C. Schaper 93rd Baloon Co.

The uniform items are accompanied by Schaper's office nameplate, and two folios of photographs and documents, most of which pertain to the operation of the Type R Balloon (Caquot Dirigible), and various items of clerical material (leave requests, orders, invoices, etc.). Several original photographs of Schaper, and a long distance photo of the US Army Balloon School at Ross Field in Arcadia, CA (now the Santa Anita Golf Course) are also included, as well as a nearly unused Army Field Note Book, and Schaper's assembled binder of Army Regulations and Procedures.

According to the information in the folios, Lawrence Schaper owned an "automobile business" in Park City, UT, when he entered the US Army as a reserve officer with the intent of becoming a pilot in the fledgeling US Army Air Corps. In an included affidavit made by Schaper, he states that he, along with 299 other prospective pilots who weighed 172 lbs. or more, were separated out and told that they were now in the Balloon Corps. Displeased by that, Schaper and three others promptly deserted, but were soon apprehended and were simply sent on their way to the Balloon School in Omaha. Training continued when the school was moved to Camp John Wise in Texas, and Schaper was then transferred to Ross Field as an instructor when the school there became operational.

One interesting anecdote documented in the accompanying papers relates an orienteering flight he made at Camp Wise with a new cadet (Sgt. Stieh) in bad weather. The balloon broke loose from its moorings at 700 ft. and shot up into the sky, reaching an altitude of 12,500 ft. before Schaper's venting checked their ascent. They tried to land in a cotton field, but a faulty rip cord on the gas bag caused the balloon to have too much buoyancy, and it rose again once the hapless Sgt. Stieh climbed out of the gondola. Schaper, still pulling on the vent cord, was pulled out of the basket and hung suspended in the air for a few moments before falling about 25 ft. to the ground without injury. The balloon, no longer encumbered by a crew, continued in "a north easterly direction." A copy of the Army claim invoice is included, listing a monetary value of $8,000, with the loss described as "Worn out thru fair wear and tear in the public service." Underneath is a handwritten note: "Balloon breaking away with Sgt Stieh." Schaper does not appear to have enjoyed being a balloon operator, and requested transfer to an "aeroplane" unit, but his request was turned down, and he ended the war at Ross Field, resigning from the service at the end of hostilities.

US Army Balloon insignia are among the rarest badges from WWI, and this set is in excellent, original condition. That, coupled with the treasure trove of information on the Type R balloon, makes this a fabulous lot of WWI aviation history, and would make a splendid addition to any collection.
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