Thrift-score: mad, wonderful scrapbooks of 19th C Texas butcher who loved flying machines, secret societies

Robbo sez, "Charles Dellschau, a retired butcher in Texas in the late 1800's created a series of scrapbooks: '2,500 intricate drawings of flying machines alongside cryptic newspaper clippings filled the pages, crudely sewn together with shoelaces and thread' - it's an astonishing collection of mystery and whimsey with loads of drawings and plans for arcane flying machines, a secret society and coded messages strewn throughout. The books were found by a junk dealer in the 1960's and are now valued at $15,000 - per page."

These are astounding illustrations and amazing fantasies; they've been collected in a book called THE SECRETS OF DELLSCHAU: The Sonora Aero Club and the Airships of the 1800s, A True Story, which includes a lot of commentary on Dellschau's work and context.

He began with three books entitled Recollections which purported to describe a secret organization called the Sonora Aero Club. Dellschau described his duties in the club as that of the draftsman. Within his collaged watercolors were newspaper clippings (he called them “press blooms”) of early attempts at flight overlapped with his own fantastic drawings of airships of all kind. Powered by a secret formula he cryptically referred to as “NB Gas” or “Suppa” — the “aeros” (as Dellscahu called them) were steampunk like contraptions with multiple propellers, wheels, viewing decks and secret compartments. Though highly personal, autobiographical (perhaps!), and idiosyncratic, these artworks could cross-pollinate with the fiction of Jules Verne, Willy Wonka and the Wizard of Oz. The works were completed in a furiously creative period from 1899 to 1923, when air travel was still looked at by most people as almost magical. Newspapers of that period were full of stories about air travel feats and the acrobatic aerial dogfights of WWI were legend.

Dreams of the Sonora Aero Club [John Foster/Design Observer]

(Thanks, Robbo!)

Update: Here's an interesting, longer piece about Dellschau by Rebecca J. Rosen from the Atlantic


  1. Didn’t Elijah Snow and the Planetary team use these to set a trap for a member of the Four?

  2. I still have, somewhere, an actual piece of newspaper from back in the 1980’2 detailing this story and am delighted to see it on BB!! There was a huge swath of  mystery airship sightings back around the turn of the 20th century and I love to think of some of them being sightings of THESE ships… cool if it were true!

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