The collector: Cameron Fleming, copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, NY, US.
The collection: Airline Junior Wings
The story behind the collection...
I’ve always been fascinated by airlines. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of the turtle painted on the back of a Cayman Airways 737. When I was a kid, I followed the airlines the way most kids follow sports teams. I think this early interest in airline brands is one of the reasons I went into advertising.
I started collecting wings when I was very young. My family would go to the airport early before a flight and I’d go to all the ticket counters and ask for wings, timetables, bag tags—anything they’d give me. But my collection wasn’t particularly massive. I think I collected ten different wings as a child, which wasn’t too bad, considering they were all airlines I actually flew on.
Then a couple years ago, I stumbled across the collection again and it hit me that, now that I make money and there’s a thing called eBay, I could probably find wings online.
I think an airline’s wings tell its story. It’s telling that some of the junior wings in my collection come from airlines that only existed a couple years, or even a few months. They could barely afford to fuel their planes but they still handed out wings, because that was, at one time, the sign of a real airline. It was a point of pride.
I also just like the way they look. Airlines have had some of the greatest logos in history. Think of Saul Bass’s logos for Continental, United, and Frontier, or Landor’s logo for Northwest Airlines, or the logos for Pan Am, Lufthansa, or National. They’re all classics.
And finally, it’s a pretty practical collection. Junior wings are usually pretty cheap - the real ones pilots wear are far more expensive - and they don’t take up much space, which is a bonus in New York.
I now have 378 wings from 150 different airlines, 46 different countries, and six different continents (I’ll get Antarctica someday!) The oldest is from around 1940, and the newest is from just this year. There are people with much larger collections, but once you hit 300 it becomes harder and harder to find new wings, either online or at airline collectible shows.
It’s a pretty esoteric interest, but I really am fascinated by airlines. I’m not very interested in airplanes, and I actually hate flying. But the business fascinates me. Collecting the wings gives me an excuse to learn more about it, and I love doing the research. Sixty percent of the airlines represented by my collection no longer exist, so sometimes that really means diving into aviation history.
Because it’s such an esoteric collection, I’m always surprised when people are interested in it. I always assume it’s a weird interest I only share with a few random people on the Internet. I’m actually deeply touched when friends give me new wings to add to my collection.
More fundamentally, I think that, like most collectors, I enjoy organizing things and, to a certain extent, imposing order on them. I’m not really a completist; if I don’t like a set of wings, then I don’t necessarily feel compelled to acquire them. But the ones I do have, I want to identify and sort and label and categorize.
When I was a kid, I kept my wings in an empty jam jar. When I started collecting in earnest again, I organized them in proper filing cabinets but eventually I ran out of space. So now I keep them in a cardboard box. It ain’t fancy, but it does the job. My whole collection is online anyway; I think that’s a better way to see it.
My favourite wings often seem to come from pre-deregulation regional U.S. airlines. Those airlines didn’t have extensive route networks, but they were scrappy. They wanted to be every bit as good as the mainline carriers, and it often showed in their wings. As a Canadian, I also have a soft spot for wings from Canadian carriers.
I also tend to like wings from the 1970s and 1980s best. By that point they were usually plastic but they still had pins. Later, airlines replaced the pins with stickers, I guess so kids wouldn’t poke their eyes out. Then they started to get really cheap - stock designs with a single ink colour, paper stickers instead of plastic, etc. So with a few exceptions, wings from the past 15 to 20 years tend not to be very nice.
I think that may change. Airlines seem to be realizing that junior wings are a pretty inexpensive way to recapture that Golden Age of Flying everyone’s always going on about. In the past year or so, both Delta and United have introduced new wings that are actually quite well made. The era of junior wings may not be over yet.
Fly the Branded Skies - Wings Images and information on all 378 wings in Cameron's collection.
Cameron's blog about airline branding - Fly the Branded Skies
Stan Wing - "For the past two years, Stan's website has been my bible. His collection is extraordinary." says Cameron.
All images © Cameron Fleming and used with kind permission.