Wernher von Braun's Hardhat

On January 14th at noon EST, Blackwell Auctions will hold its monthly Exceptional Estates event. Among the highlights of this sale are several items from the estate of a NASA employee, including a hardhat owned by Dr. Wernher von Braun.

 
sometimes I wish I owned a museum so I didn't have to sell the cool stuff

sometimes I wish I owned a museum so I didn't have to sell the cool stuff

Background & Provenance

I obtained the hardhat, along with a large box of other NASA-related material, from the family of Brian Montgomery, a Marshall Space Flight Center employee who worked with von Braun on several projects, including Apollo 15 and 16. Montgomery’s family shared that von Braun gave the hardhat to him upon his retirement.

My personal background is in business journalism – specifically research – which has made me almost compulsively skeptical. So when I’m presented with an item like this, something of such astonishing rarity, my initial reaction is inevitably doubt. I always set out to disprove – rather than to prove – authenticity. (It makes no sense to me initially to assume authenticity, as the temptation will be to interpret research in such a way as to support a conclusion already reached.)

I have rock-solid family provenance, including a large box of NASA books, correspondence and other items proving Montgomery’s working relationship with von Braun. I also have a photo signed by von Braun, inscribed to “Monty,” von Braun’s nickname for Montgomery. But one thing still gave me pause: The hardhat is marked “V BRAUN,” rather than “VON BRAUN” or “W VON BRAUN”.

I discussed the matter with a museum curator familiar with von Braun, and he suggested that, for many reasons, it would not have been unusual for “V. Braun” to have been used as an abbreviation for von Braun’s last name. And even if it were, the person in charge of affixing lettering to hardhats needn’t have been – in the normal performance of his job duties – much of a linguist. But I still wished I had something a little more concrete.

Then I located a video clip on gettyimages -- http://www.gettyimages.com/license/502230296. It’s a newsreel from the “Greatest Headlines of the Century” series, clipping together old 1940s footage of the V2 rocket with early 1950s footage of von Braun. (You can tell that the von Braun footage is later, as his face filled out quite a bit between 1946 and the 1950s.) At about the 11-second mark, after replaying dozens of times, I realized that indeed I had von Braun’s hardhat ... and video of him wearing it.

 
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Lot 200 :: Dr. Wernher von Braun's Hardhat

A black-painted Willson Style No. 6 STC hardhat, circa early 1950s. Red-on-black letter decals on front, "V BRAUN." Owned by von Braun in the 1950s while he worked at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

Unconditionally guaranteed to be authentic.

The link below will take you to the LiveAuctioneers.com listing. We offer online bidding through Invaluable.com, also. You may also leave an absentee bid, request a phone bid, or live bid at our gallery in Clearwater, Fla.

 
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Lot 199 :: von Braun Signed Photo

An 8x10 black-and-white photograph of Dr. Wernher von Braun and two associates, signed and inscribed by von Braun, "To Monty with best wishes, Wernher von Braun." Obtained from the family of Brian Montgomery ("Monty"), a member of NASA's Lunar Roving Vehicle Group who worked with von Braun during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Unconditionally guaranteed to be authentic.

The link below will take you to the LiveAuctioneers.com listing. We offer online bidding through Invaluable.com, also. You may also leave an absentee bid, request a phone bid, or live bid at our gallery in Clearwater, Fla.


Other items of interest in this auction