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Fake WWI Dogfight Images Sold At Auction

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photo credit: Petapixel.com/Noble Numismatics

photo credit: Petapixel.com/Noble Numismatics

Wesley David Archer in the 1930s produced pictures of WWI aircraft engaged in aerial combat that became a popular sensation in their day, but decades later were discovered to be falsified, and Wednesday in Australia they went up for auction. In 1933, the photos gained publicity through their use in the book Death In The Air: The War Diary And Photographs Of A Flying Corps Pilot. The publisher paid $20,000 for images that included midair collisions and a flaming aircraft with its pilot falling from the cockpit. But in 1984, when Archer's effects were donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., original images gave away the truth. Wednesday, the fakes were expected to fetch more than $1000 from bidders.

A woman claimed at the time that her husband had flown with a camera mounted on his plane and was later killed in battle. She disappeared from public view after payment for the images. Decades later, in 1984, workers at the Smithsonian discovered among Archer's still images photos similar to those that had been published, but with one major difference. Wires could be seen holding up the aircraft, giving them away as miniature planes. Archer, who was an American pilot and later (after his images were published) became a movie special effects creator, had airbrushed images he'd taken of the model aircraft to remove evidence of the wires. And the woman who had given credence to the origins of the purchased photographs was later discovered to be Archer's wife, according to Petapixel.com. The collection of images up for auction included 34 of Archer's "aerial" photographs sold through Noble Numismatics.

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