An airship fanatic’s incredible 15-tonne collection of wartime memorabilia – including a rare bottle of beer saved from the wreckage of the Hindenburg disaster, is expected to sell for £1 million.

David Kirch’s enormous collection of Zeppelin artefacts is being sold at Wallis and Wallis auctioneers in Lewes.

Mr Kirch, 75, is selling nearly 600 items, including a passenger list from the Hindenburg disaster and letters from the first woman ever to fly around the world in an airship – Lady Grace Drummond-Hay.

The bottle of Lowenbrau lager saved from the Hindenburg is expected to reach £6,000 and is one of only six surviving in the world.

It has a scorched label and the top foil has been burnt off during the Hindenburg crash in 1937 but it remains sealed and full of beer.

Thirty-five people died when the 97-passenger German airship crashed in New Jersey, USA.

The beer was saved by a fireman called Leroy Smith, who discovered six unopened bottles at the scene which he secretly buried and returned later to retrieve. He gave five to friends and kept one bottle of beer for himself.

Wallis and Wallis head auctioneer Glenn Butler said: “We have 596 lots to sell this time around.

“There are a few star items that could sell for big money.

“The bottle of beer has a fantastic story and I think a lot of collectors will be interested in the Lady Drummond-Hay memorabilia.

“It is a fascinating collection and we have been lucky to have it here.

“We have all learned a lot more about airships by working through and cataloguing the collection.”

Biggest collection

Mr Kirch, from Jersey, is believed to own the world’s biggest personal collection of airship memorabilia which he has collected over 35 years.

He said: “For the past 35 years I have been an avid collection of all things airship.

“In the early days I would do the searching on my own, but gradually I built up a small network of people who would look out for Zeppelin and airship items for me.

“The advent of eBay brought even more items to my attention and it meant that I built up a vast collection, which in all honesty became too large to be held at my property in Jersey.

“I own Shed No.2 at Cardington and had grand ideas of opening a museum there with airship flights over London, but unfortunately I have come to realise that these sort of enterprises are no longer viable at my time of life.”

He said all the money from the sale will be donated to charity.

The most expensive lot is a silver-gilt commemorative model of an airship hallmarked Goldsmith’s and Silversmith’s Co, London 1910. It is a realistically detailed 64cm model and is expected to reach between £15,000 and £20,000.

Other highlights from the collection include a rare Hindenburg passenger list, which was handed out to all 56 passengers on board, including boxer Max Schmeling, who was returning to Germany after beating Joe Louis The auction will feature 22 lots relating to Lady Drummond-Hay, a British journalist who became the first woman to travel round the world by airship.

These include an original A4 soft covered book written by herself and Karl H. Von Wiegaud called ‘The First Oceanic Voyage Of An Airliner’, as well as her ticket for a 1930 pan-America flight.

There are also letters from Lady Drummond-Hay to her mother in London Mrs Lethbridge and letters from Capt Christiansen and Hugo Eckener to Lady Drummond-Hay.

Each lot is expected to reach between £100 and £200.

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