An Austro-Hungarian Imperial Presentation Balloon Flight Cigarette Case, 1904
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Measurements: Height: 8.8cm (3.5in)
Silver, enamels and rock crystal cabochon. The front cover set with a reverse glass intaglio, painted with a hot air balloon in flight, encircled by the black and yellow livery colours of the Dual Monarchy. The interior inscribed ‘Wien - Deutsch Brodersdorf / 12. 3. 1904’ commemorating a balloon flight from the Vienna Arsenal piloted by Archduke Leopold Salvator, Prince of Tuscany. The reverse enamelled with cyphers and coronet of the passengers of the day, Prince Carl of Isenburg-Birstein and his glamorous American born wife, the former Bertha Lewis of New Orleans. Cased.
At the turn of the 20th century mastery of the air by balloon was hotly contested by French and Austrian aristocrats in an atmosphere of sporting rivalry that thinly masked military purpose. Moreover the experience of a balloon flight was a rare privilege open to a select few. The Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi was moved to compose a piano piece after a trip with one of the Archduke’s underlings, pilot von Korwin. The long lived composer recalled ‘On an airplane I never had really the sensation that I was flying in the way I felt it when we ascended in that balloon. I had a splendid view of the earth below in a mystical, faraway manner.’
Archduke Leopold Salvator, Prince of Tuscany (1863-1931) was a member of the Tuscan branch of the House of Habsburg and a cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph. A soldier by profession and the commander of the ‘Austrian corps of aeronauts’, he was the veteran of 83 hot air balloon flights by 1903 mainly from Vienna, twenty-one of which he piloted himself. He made his debut ascent in a 50 kilometre race at the invitation of a French count, from Vincennes in 1900 in the balloon ‘Aero Club’. Thereafter he became the leading proponent of the sport in Austria, and a celebrated member of the Aero-Club of France. In 1901 he commissioned his own balloon, a 27-foot high India rubber ‘Meteor’ of 3,900 cubic feet, from August Reidinger of Augsburg who later supplied the blau gas fuel used by the ill-fated LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. In May 1901 Leopold Salvator piloted Meteor on her maiden flight from Augsburg over the Tyrolean Alps, carrying as passengers his Spanish wife, the Archduchess Blanca, their seven year-old daughter Meg, and Princess Therese of Bavaria who was a distinguished scientist and travel writer. Such events were noteworthy occasions. On 16 April 1902 Leopold Salvator made a second trans-Alpine flight. This time taking off from Salzburg and commemorating the event by erecting a stone monument at the landing site.
The present cigarette case commemorates a demonstration flight from the Vienna Arsenal. On this occasion the Archduke was assisted by Oberleutnant von Korwin of the air corp, who piloted the composer Dohnanyi. There were three passengers Prince Carl and Princess Bertha of Isenburg-Birstein, and Princess Antoinette of Isenburg-Birstein. The flight was perhaps a prelude to the military exercise that took place a month later when the Archduke lifting off from Vienna successfully tasked himself with evading thirty-seven pursuing motorcyclists by landing on an island in the Danube.
The uncomplicated and somewhat Ruritanian existence of balloon flights and seasonal moves between the archducal residences which included the Palais Toskana in Vienna and the Schloss Wilhelminenberg as their country state, came to an end in 1914. Leopold Salvator was given the task of provisioning the Austrian Army in the field and was inspector general of artillery until 1918. His eldest sons served on the Italian front while his elder daughters worked for the Austrian Red Cross. After the war and proclamation of the Republic, Wilheminenberg was confiscated and sold to a Swiss banker. With the loss of his rank and wealth, Leopold Salvator and his large family were forced into exile. The Archduke died during a visit to Austria to reclaim family property. The Archduchess and her children were given permission to live in Barcelona by Alfonso XIII of Spain on the condition that they did not support the claims to the Spanish throne of Blanca's brother Jaime, Duke of Madrid.