A Brief History Of The Zeppelin Airship & Its Sought After Memorabilia

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Welcome to another instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.

This week I purchased another rather fascinating piece.  I have in fact owned a few connected pieces over the years and it's a subject matter that I always tend to keep an eye out for, don't ask me why...  But, as I do with most of my fascinating finds, I had to write about it.  This week's post is about Zeppelin memorabilia and the collectability of pieces connected to these fascinating air ships and the terror they brought to World War 1.

So, as always, get that kettle on and strap yourselves in as we go up up and away to explore the history of Zeppelins and the reasons why its memorabilia is just so collectable...



Before the outbreak of World War One, airships were used for luxury travel. To everyone's surprise, these airships went from transporting wealthy travellers to bringing death and destruction to Britain.

On 19th January 1915 the German Zeppelin L3 struck Great Yarmouth, resulting in the death of two civilians. The same night, there was another attack, this time in Kings Lynn, where two more civilians were killed.

German airships were known as Zeppelins after the creator of these beasts, Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin. These airships were built from a rigid shell filled with hydrogen gas, and engines with propellers were used to drive them them forward. They were fitted with five machine guns and carried a deadly load of bombs.



On 31st May 1915, there was a further attack, this time on London, where 5 civilians were killed and another 35 were injured.  Then, on 2nd / 3rd of April 1916, it was Edinburgh that felt the horror and destruction of the Zeppelin.

For a long time these airships seemed almost invincible, with their relentless attacks, without loss, and defences against them seemingly insufficient.  These airships flew too high and any planes that attempted to pursue them were instantly downed by the airships' banks of machine guns.  Consequently, people became increasingly terrified of these raids.



In fact, York, my City of residence, experienced it's own attacks, as detailed in this fascinating account on the 'History Works' website which you can read below:

"There were numerous Zeppelin airship attacks on the north of England during the war, and the German Naval Airship Division targeted York on three occasions. ‘Rain and mist’ was the weather forecast on 2nd May 1916 as the distinctive shadow of the Zeppelin appeared in the skies of the city. The airship dropped sixteen bombs, inflicting terror on the citizens of York. It passed over Nunthorpe Avenue where according to George Benson, a well known local historian of the time, “it dropped a bomb which blew off a lady’s arm, killed one of her daughters outright and injured another daughter in the spine”. It then continued its deadly course towards the city centre causing damage to Upper Price Street, Caroline Street and Peasholme Green. The latter was the scene of the most casualties, with six people killed and one injured. Overall, the May raid saw nine people killed, twenty-seven injured and substantial destruction to many homes."



"On 25th September 1916, eight airships left their North German sheds to raid England once again. L-14, commanded by Hauptmann von Manger, headed towards York. However, the German aircrew were caught by surprise when they encountered the city’s newly prepared defences. The powerful anti-aircraft gun and searchlight at Acomb picked out the Zeppelin as it flew across the city. After performing a number of manoeuvres to try and avoid the ceaseless firing of the gun, the airship then managed to continue its course and dropped bombs to the east of the city centre. The next bomb caused the most serious damage of the September raid, falling between Holy Trinity church in Heworth and a house occupied by a Dr. Lyth. All the windows in the church including a stained glass memorial were smashed, and part of Dr .Lyth’s house was partly demolished. Fortunately Dr. Lyth himself been warned of the raid and he and his family had already evacuated their home. The airship subsequently flew away in a North Easterly direction. There were no casualties, although a woman did die of shock."



"The final Zeppelin visited York on 27th November 1916. Lights which would have provided the Zeppelin a valuable guide were quickly extinguished by the police and the city was plunged into darkness. The searchlight hastily picked out the airship and the anti aircraft gun peppered the Zeppelin with bullets. In its swift retreat, the Zeppelin dropped twelve bombs on Haxby Road, Fountayne Street and Wigginton road. On this occasion the only casualty was a single injured person.

George Benson wrote that the November raid on the city “provided the citizens with a thrilling spectacle and enthusiasm ran high when the marksmen proved the victors”. This triumphant atmosphere gave the citizens of York a brief respite from the countless stories of loss and bereavement from the Western Front. York’s resistance to the Zeppelin attacks united the people of the city and established a new belief that Britain could end this war victorious."



It wasn't until the middle of 1916, when the Brock firework family invented the explosive tracer bullet, designed to not only pierce the inflated shell of the zeppelins, but to ignite the hydrogen gas held within.  The Germans countered this by inventing airships that were capable of flying at 20,000ft.  Although, these new designs encountered many problems, with many destroyed by jet-stream winds or containing crews too frozen and de-oxygenated to man the controls.  By the end of 1916, any plans to use Zeppelins to destroy London had diminished.



Nevertheless, the Zeppelin went from strength to strength after World War I.  In fact, in 1919, the first transatlantic crossing by a Zeppelin, flying from Edinburgh to New York against prevailing winds, was achieved in a time of 108 hours.  Returning six days later, in 75 hours, subsequently paving the way for international airship travel.

As such, the construction of the enormous Graf Zeppelin followed in 1928. It carried both passengers and cargo for one million miles, and was seen as the future of long-distance travel.  However, just like the Concorde after it, the Zeppelin's reputation was destroyed by a tragic accident.  The Hidenburg disaster ensured that these airships would always be synonymous with disaster.



And just like Concorde memorabilia, Zeppelin related pieces continue to hold quite the following.  Certainly, the pieces that I've had in the past (pictured throughout) have sold rapidly and they've all gone to collectors, mainly in Germany.

In fact, a fine example of a Zeppelin collector is one David Kirch, who assembled a collection of almost 600 pieces rumoured to be worth £1million...!  And, he has some quite incredible pieces!  You can read more about David and his collection here

Meanwhile, my latest Zeppelin acquisition is currently available to buy here



Well, that's it for this week folks.  I hope you've enjoyed this little look into the world of the iconic Zeppelin and its avid collectors.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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  • Haitham on

    I have old 35mm film On the return of the bodies of those who perished in the Hindenburg disaster and a photograph from the funeral ceremony

  • Mike Fonfe on

    A Zeppelin also attacked the airfield at RAF Waddington outside Lincoln. The bombs missed the airfield and one went through the village church roof and the ship was shot down at night by RAF fighter and the bits are in the RAF base Heritage Centre.

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