Explorer Ernest Shackleton and His Crew Printed “Aurora Australis”, the First Book Made in Antarctica. Bonhams Might Sell a Copy for $100,000.


What you see: A copy of Aurora Australis, created by members of the 1908-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton. It is the first book to be written and produced on the continent of Antarctica. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.


The expert: Ian Ehling, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York.


So, how much of a pain in the ass was it for Shackleton and his crew to haul a printing press down to east Antarctica along with all the other stuff they needed for the 1908-1909 polar expedition? It was a small printing press, described as being the size of an oven–picture the size of a four-burner gas oven. It was a very heavy piece of equipment. And take into consideration that they brought the type and the paper and a special printing press to do etchings.


They brought two printing presses? Yes. You can’t do the printing and the etchings on the same press. The thing about Antarctic winters is they’re very dark and very cold. If you have a bunch of guys sitting in close quarters all winter, it’s great to have a project to occupy them. Shackleton, having been on previous expeditions, thought ahead and came up with an interesting project.


What challenges did the explorers face when making this book? That was really one of the most difficult things. They were in very small quarters in extreme temperatures and dealing with poor lighting–it’s dark all winter long. They had to be incredibly careful when going about printing the thing. The type was metal, which freezes to your fingertips, and the ink congeals because of the cold. They used candles to heat up the ink, and they had to move the candle around to get the ink to the right temperature. They had to limit the number of types they brought with them, so the printer could only print two pages at a time. In addition to that, the floors were filthy and it was damp everywhere. They needed to keep the pages dry. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to produce a fair number of copies under those conditions.


The lot notes say there’s a blind-stamped penguin motif on the spine. What is blind-stamping, and how did the explorers apply the motif? Blind-stamping means there isn’t any color used. It’s just the impression of the stamp. They must have brought a hand tool with them to decorate the binding. Shackleton sent two or three crew members to a London print shop to apprentice for two or three weeks before the expedition. They probably arrived at a penguin as a printer’s device, which would have been metal on a wooden handle. They would have pressed it against the spine to bang it into the spine’s leather before it was bound.


How often have copies of Aurora Australis come up at auction? It’s an incredibly rare book that doesn’t come up often. The initial idea was they would print 100 copies of the book, but in a letter Shackleton wrote to Pierpont Morgan he says they bound 80 copies. A good third of them are in institutions. The others are very likely in private collections. I checked the auction records and seven copies have been offered in the U.S. and Europe in the last 20 years. This is the third copy that we have handled.


To make the covers of the copies, the explorers scavenged wood from their own expedition supply crates. The covers of this book have the word ‘OATMEAL’ stenciled on one side and ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’ on another. How does the presence of those words and partial words affect the book’s value? That is to be determined, but this copy in particular is great because it has the full word ‘OATMEAL’ on it and the truncated ‘ISH ANTARCT … EDITION 190’. It’s incredibly beautiful and makes it attractive to have. Others just say ‘BUTTER’ or ‘BAKED BEANS’. Having the ‘OATMEAL’ and the extra bits on the back is very attractive. As a collector I’d definitely be drawn to a copy because of its stenciling and wording.


I take it more than one group of collectors will be interested in this copy of Aurora Australis. How many different constituencies will be in the hunt? Anyone who collects travel and exploration is interested. Then there are people who collect books on the Arctic and Antarctic. And I would say this is considered a high-spot publication because it was the first book printed on Antarctica. It’s a very cool book. There are collectors who go for the best of the best, and this book appeals to those collectors. People collecting limited editions would go after this as well. It’s not just the first book printed in Antarctica–the explorers looked after the aesthetic beauty of the book. If you look at the colophon page, the typography is beautiful, and it’s printed in two colors, red and black. It indicates the book was published as a fine press book.


What condition is this copy in? It’s in good condition. There’s some slight rubbing to the leather spine, which is kind of inevitable. The boards are perfect.


Over the years I’ve heard a lot about Aurora Australis as a book first and as symbol of Shackleton and polar exploration, but I haven’t heard much about its actual contents. Is Aurora Australis a good book? [Laughs] Well, I haven’t read through it. It’s fun. Many people who were on the expedition were published authors. There is some talent there, but there aren’t earth-shattering, amazing stories.


What’s the world auction record for a copy of Aurora Australis? It’s £122,500, ($185,894), set at the Franklin Brooke-Hitching sale at Sotheby’s in 2015. That collection was incredibly beautiful. Brooke-Hitching was one of those collectors who collected the absolute best copies he could get. Everything in that sale achieved enormous prices. Our copy is estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 and I would expect it to go in that range.


Why will this book stick in your memory? It’s about the whole discussion we had about producing something blindfolded, essentially. It’s incredible to have it bound on these boards. You feel like you’re close to the event. To have an object that was produced there, with materials there, the shipping crates–that’s one of a kind. I’ll never forget that.


How to bid: The copy of Aurora Australis is lot 55 in Bonhams‘s Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana sale scheduled for September 25, 2018.


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Ian Ehling spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo that ultimately sold for $17,500.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.


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Play Time: Bertoia Has an Exquisite Piano-playing Automaton That Could Sell for $25,000


What you see: A piano-playing automaton, created by Gustave Vichy between 1890 and 1910. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.


What is an automaton? It’s a form of robot or proto-computer that’s designed to entertain. The machine executes a series of movements or acts in a specific order, such as performing a magic trick or riding a bicycle. Clock- and watchmakers naturally gravitate to building automata because many of them run on clockwork. If you have a cuckoo clock in your house, you own an automaton.


The expert: Jeanne Bertoia, proprietor of Bertoia Auctions.


This is described as a “Vichy” automaton because it was made by Gustave Vichy, a French designer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But why is it called a “Vichy Piano Watteau Automaton”? Is the “Watteau” a reference to the painter? The company catalog [which is in French] calls it “piano Watteau.” I suspect it probably has to do with the pastoral type of paintings Watteau was known for. If you look at the painting on the piano, the gold, it has a very Watteau feel.


And the figure kind of looks like a woman from a Watteau painting Yes, exactly. She’s very elaborate, with silk and lace and pearl jewelry. She has heeled shoes and stockings on. [Unfortunately, none of the photos of the lot show this.] She’s very elegant.


To when does the automaton date? Probably 1890 to 1910, the turn of the last century. It was probably the later part of the 19th century. The peak of automata production was the mid-1800s into the 1900s. Automata were luxurious items. They had moving parts that were powered by clockwork, and they played only for about a minute.


How rarely do you find automata that have porcelain parts? It’s rarer, though it was done. There are others with porcelain parts, but most of them were papier-mâché. Some automata makers used parts from doll companies. You actually get a doll. This has a Jumeau porcelain head. Jumeau usually made French fashion dolls. The doll head is the most important part of the doll. The hands and the head are made of bisque porcelain.


Do we know how many other Vichy Watteau piano automatons survive? Unfortunately, we don’t know. This is the first we’ve had the opportunity to handle, and we go back to 1986. There may be a few in some of the grander collections.


Does the automaton have all the details and fittings it had when it was new? Can we know? We believe it’s all-original. It’s very well-taken-care-of and in generally excellent condition. It still works beautifully. The mechanism and the music functions well. In the [Vichy] catalog, it’s just a drawing. It looks the same. It has a different costume, but that doesn’t mean it was dressed differently. There was no mass-production clothing line then. A dress as elaborate as this would have been individually handmade.


Who would have been the audience for this automaton? I’m guessing it wasn’t intended as a toy. It was probably for the newly rich. Again, it’s an elaborate, luxurious piece to own. It was not treated as a toy. It was treated as a piece of moving art.


What instrument is the figure playing? It’s a piano harp. I don’t know if it’s a real instrument. It looks pretty fanciful to me. I think those are original harp strings.


The lot notes for the automaton describe its condition as “excellent to pristine”. What does that mean in this context? It means that it’s all-original, the mechanism works, the music plays fine. Maybe there’s a little restoration to the clothing, which is very accepted.


Has it been restored, beyond touching up the dress? Not that we saw, no.


Will you post audio and video of the automaton playing the piano? Good question. We’ve been discussing it. We probably will put something on the website. We have at least a dozen different automata in the sale that are so unique.


The lot notes say that the music that the automaton plays “consists of four different ‘airs’,” which repeat. What are ‘airs’? And are any of the four pieces of music familiar to modern listeners? It’s a song, a tune, a piece of music. It’s French, it’s what they call it in the [Vichy] catalog. I don’t recognize the music. I can’t put a name to any of them.


How does the automaton move? Oh! The mechanism is fabulous! She has multiple movements. The hands gracefully move across the piano keys. Her chest breathes. The papier-mâché shoulder plate allows her to look like she’s breathing. She plays the piano, turns her head, puts her head up, and breathes in as if she’s breathing in beauty. Then she puts her head down and continues to play. That is her movement.


Have you seen other automata that simulate breathing? I haven’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others. We haven’t had such an elegant doll figure as the main part of an automaton. We have had automata with lots of movement–this is just a different style. It almost falls into the doll world. It’s a beautiful doll, gracefully playing the piano.


Was this automaton intended for girls and women? I don’t think so. It’s just an elegant piece for the times. In today’s marketplace, doll collectors are very excited to get an automaton that has such a great doll. It stands on its own as an elegant, beautiful piece. If you had a daughter who plays the piano, it’d be a fabulous gift.


How to bid: The Vichy piano Watteau automaton is lot 272 in Bertoia Auctions’s Signature Sale on September 22, 2018.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.


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RECORD! Doyle Sells the 1953 Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr, Owner of Native Dancer, for $100,000


What you see: A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.


The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.


How often do Triple Crown trophies come to auction? Infrequently, and for the Preakness, it’s even less frequently. What you normally see are Kentucky Derby Trophies. They’re highly prized by the families who win them. Kentucky Derby Trophies tend to be valuable. The race has name recognition and the trophy is made out of high-karat gold. The Preakness Trophy is made of silver. A Preakness trophy sold at Christie’s on January 17, 2008, won in 1970 by Personality, which was owned by Ethel D.Jacobs, a very notable horse owner, sort of on a par with Vanderbilt. [He later provided a link to a story that mentioned a third sale of a Preakness Trophy at SCP Auctions in November 2017. Scroll down for the mention.]


How much is this trophy worth simply as a Preakness Trophy, without factoring in the names of Vanderbilt and Native Dancer? Any winner of the Preakness would be a notable horse, bred and raised and trained by notable owners. You’ve got to go back a ways to find a no-name. The Preakness trophy was not available before 1953. The original trophy was the Woodlawn Vase, a pre-Civil War trophy made by Tiffany & Co. for a racecourse in Kentucky called Woodlawn. Not until the late 19th or the early 20th century did Pimlico host the Preakness–the vase was not made for Pimlico. It passed to the next winner until 1953, when Native Dancer won. Vanderbilt decided that the original trophy was too valuable, and should be safely held in the Baltimore Art Museum. 1953 was the first time a replica trophy was issued, and that’s what we sold. It’s notable in that it was the first one you could get. I think that helped its price in the end.


How did the Vanderbilt name affect the value of the trophy? Lots of people collect things related to prominent Vanderbilts. The cross-current of competition [with collectors of horse-racing memorabilia] helped drive the price up. This trophy belonged to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., and was sold [consigned] by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III. Vanderbilt Jr., was very influential in the history of American racing and particularly in Maryland.


And how did the Native Dancer name affect the value of the trophy? Native Dancer is one of a small group of horses that lost the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness. That’s the only mar on his record. He was a big favorite going into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. In 1953, the Preakness was shown on live television and got huge national attention. The country fell in love with Native Dancer.


How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $30,000? We matched the estimate on the trophy sold at Christie’s in 2008. That sold for $32,200. Ours really took off.


What is the trophy like in person? It wasn’t huge, but it was imposing, though. It had a very nice look to it, and it was in good condition. I think it was two-thirds the size of the original Woodlawn Vase. It’s a good, presentable size.


What was your role in the auction? Were you in the room? I acted as a specialist. I wrote the essay about the horse and its owner. The silver specialist cataloged it. And I was there, watching it sell. The whole thing took maybe two minutes. There was a pretty big pool of bidders that dropped down to two once it was over $60,000.


How long do you think the record will stand? I think this Preakness record should stand for a while. Probably none of the owners of horses that won the Preakness have the name recognition of the Vanderbilt family. It would probably have to belong to a horse that won the Triple Crown.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a major sports collectible, probably the highest-ranking sports collectible I’ve ever sold. It’s a case of a fantastic owner, Vanderbilt, with a fantastic horse, Native Dancer, and the Preakness. It’s hard to get trophies for major horses. That’s why it’s special. The trophy clearly spoke to a lot of people.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Doyle.


Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.



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RECORD! Stack’s Bowers Galleries Sold Louis Eliasberg’s 1913 Liberty Head Nickel for $4.5 Million

Copyright StacksBowers Galleries

Update: The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.5 million, a world auction record for a coin made from a non-precious metal.


What you see: A 1913 Liberty Head nickel, one of five produced. Stack’s Bowers Galleries estimates it at $3 million to $5 million.


The expert: Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.


I see here that five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were made–not that five survive. What do we know about how the nickels came to be? The history of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is a little murky and there’s a lot of lore to it. That’s one of the intriguing aspects of this coin. There’s no confirmed story, and there’s no U.S. Mint records surrounding the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. But there are a couple of theories. One is they were struck and exchanged with collectors for coins that were missing from the Mint’s collection. Another is they were privately struck at the Mint and they found their way onto the market, or they were struck for wealthy collectors. 1913 was the first year of the buffalo nickel. Because the buffalo design was not approved until late February of 1913, there was a two-month period in 1913 when the nickels could have been made.


And the Liberty Head design on the 1913 nickel is the same design that was on the nickel from 1883 to 1912? Yes, it’s the same. In 1913, the Mint switched to the buffalo nickel that everyone is so familiar with.


How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are in private hands? Two are permanently housed in museums–one is in the Smithsonian, and the other is in the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That leaves three in private hands.


When was the last time a 1913 Liberty Head nickel went to auction? Two nickels were offered in 2014. They were two different specimens, and one of the two was previously offered in 2010. Prior to that, the last auction appearance was our coin in 1996. They do not come around very often.


When was this nickel graded? Was it encapsulated? It is encapsulated, and I do not have the date when it was graded. Our collector acquired it in 2007. I’m guessing it was around then.


Are the other two in private hands graded and encapsulated? And is it a tough call to seal the coin in plastic? You bring up a good point. There are a lot of benefits to certification and getting it sealed in a plastic holder. One, the coin is guaranteed to be authentic. If you’re spending a couple of million on something, an authenticity guarantee is important. Two, it’s protected. And most important of all, having it third party-graded and encapsulated is really the way the market accepts rare coins today. Everything we sell is encapsulated. It does feel a little more bit more distant because it’s in a plastic holder, but it’s really not a hard decision to have them graded.


How does this nickel stand out from its four siblings? It’s pretty universally recognized that this is the finest of the five pieces. Ours is mirror-like, and very sharply struck. All the design shows up in the coin. It’s a 66 on a scale of 70. It’s nearly flawless. The other two in private hands have grades of 63 and 64. The others have more of a satiny finish, and other coins do show some signs of handling. The one in the ANA museum was owned by someone who carried it in his pocket, unprotected, with keys and change, and it shows significant signs of wear.


This nickel once belonged to Louis Eliasberg, a prominent American coin collector. Why was he such a big deal in the numismatic world? He was probably the most accomplished numismatist ever. Not only did he get examples of every [American] coin ever created, he got great pieces. Today, everything with an Eliasberg provenance trades at a premium.


How many of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels has Stack’s Bowers Galleries handled? We’ve handled four of the five. The one in the ANA museum never made it through our hands at any point.


What’s the world auction record for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel? What’s the likelihood that this nickel will meet or beat that sum? In 2010, the nickel with the 64 grade sold for $3.7 million. It’s pretty likely to meet or beat the record. I’ll take the over if we’re betting. (Laughs.)


What has changed in the numismatic market between 2010 and now? The market is very strong right now. Given the fact that the coin has not been offered publicly since 1996 and may not be offered again in our lifetime, depending on who buys it, we expect a lot of competition for the coin and we expect it to do well.


Why will this coin stick in your memory? It’s far and away the finest example of one of the greatest American rarities. It’s a piece of American history. It’s museum-worthy.


How to bid: The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is lot 1096 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries‘s official auction at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money, taking place from August 14 through August 18, 2018.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Stack’s Bowers.


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RECORD! Prop Store Sold a Wooden Clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws for More Than $109,000


What you see: A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Prop Store sold it in September 2016 for £84,000, or $109,000–a record for any filmset-used clapperboard at auction.


The expert: Stephen Lane, CEO and founder of Prop Store.


When did major film productions stop using wooden clapperboards and start using digital ones? That’s tough to answer. Probably in the early 1990s it started to happen. There are still productions today that use analog acrylic clapperboards. There’s still a crossover going on.


How often do set-used wooden clapperboards from legendary films come to auction? I don’t know of any clapperboards sold at this level previously.


What was the previous auction record for a set-used clapperboard? Probably a second unit Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clapperboard, which sold for £27,500 a few years ago. Clapperboards are something that collectors locked onto within the last five years. The collectors we speak with aspire to collect objects that were used before the camera.


It strikes me that even before the collecting mentality became ingrained, clapperboards were likely to have been saved because they say, ‘Hey! We made a film!’ Is that a fair assumption? It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of clapperboards come directly from crew members who worked on the films. A lot bring them home from every film they’ve ever worked on, and hang them on the wall and will never part with them. With some clapperboards, the information was taken off to rewrite it for the next film. I’ve seen clapperboards from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I’ve never seen one for Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. They probably finished the film, got the paint off it, and got the clapperboard ready for the next film. There was a huge amount of recycling.


Have you handled any other clapperboards from Steven Spielberg films? We had a Raiders of the Lost Ark clapperboard in 2014, a small insert clapperboard. They make them in a variety of different sizes. For a shot on the top of a mountain in Lord of the Rings, they [the LOTR crew] made one that was 8 feet wide. I’ve seen other Indiana Jones ones but clapperboards are tough to pin down. There’s not a huge volume of those around and they don’t pop up very often.


What details on this clapperboard, aside from the obvious, prove that it is a genuine set-used clapperboard from the filming of Jaws? It’s incredibly distinctive. It’s very specific, with the cut teeth, which was hugely endearing to a number of collectors. And there’s a photo of Steven Spielberg holding the clapperboard on the set. It was not only used in Jaws and made for Jaws, Steven Spielberg held it on the set. That’s part of the huge appeal of this particular piece.


How big a deal is it to have this period photo of Spielberg holding the clapperboard? Would the clapperboard be worth less if the photo did not exist? Yes, I would say so. Because they were wiped and redetailed with chalk, it’s very unusual for final shot info to be retained on an individual clapperboard. A lot of these slates originated as rental items that productions used to hire. To get one with all the info on it and match it against a photo, it’s very tough.


Is it unique? No, I’ve had a couple of screen-matched boards in the past. But it’s rare, especially for a significant film.


Do we know how many clapperboards were made for Jaws and used on the set? There’s no record whatsoever. I can say quite comfortably that the only Jaws clapperboard that’s ever come to market.


As you mentioned before, the clapperboard is decorated with a line of shark teeth. If it lacked that cool little flourish, would it still have made a record price? Again it’s tough for me to speculate. I hadn’t seen a Jaws clapperboard before. I think it [the lack of the teeth detail] would have definitely impacted it, but I can’t say it’d be 20 percent less valuable. It is one of the most endearing features of the board.


How often do you see decorative flourishes like that on a clapperboard? Almost never. The most elaborate thing you get these days is the film logo laser etched on an acrylic clapperboard. You don’t see ones that are nearly as entertaining as this.


What was your role in the auction? I was in the room. I went and sat with the consigner. He wanted to be part of the experience of it selling. Because of the level of interest prior to the auction, we knew it was going to be an exciting moment. It got a massive amount of publicity. People loved it and the press ran with it. It was such an exciting moment for him and for me. He was over the moon, and I was over the moon with him.


Can you talk about how the consigner reacted? He got more and more excited. He looked at the screen, he looked at me, then back at the screen, and his jaw dropped a bit more. After it finished he had to leave the room, he was so excited. He had to have a drink to calm his nerves.


When did you know you had a new world auction record? By the time it got to £30,000. At that point, we were there.


How long do you think this record will stand? I haven’t seen anything that comes remotely close to this. Maybe if a Star Wars: A New Hope clapperboard came up, but it’s unlikely any survive. If a Wizard of Oz or a Gone With the Wind clapperboard came up, they’d be worth tens of thousands. This really was the perfect storm. An interesting-looking clapperboard, the most interesting film in Spielberg’s back catalog, brilliantly documented, and a huge amount of production use. It ticked all the boxes you want to tick.


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Prop Store’s September 20, 2018 auction will include Harrison Ford’s screen-worn Han Solo jacket from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Rose’s farewell note from Titanic, and also a Jaws lot with 40 storyboard pages and a crew t-shirt.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.


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RECORD! Henry Aldridge & Son Sold a Deck Chair from the Titanic for Almost $150,000


What you see: A deck chair recovered from the ocean debris field of the Titanic after it sank in 1912. Henry Aldridge & Son sold it in April 2015 for just over £100,000, or about $150,000, setting a world auction record for a Titanic deck chair, and presumably any deck chair.


The expert: Andrew Aldridge, auctioneer.


I’m surprised that any deck chairs survived the wreck of the Titanic. How did it happen? It’s very straightforward. When any ship sinks, especially one that’s 46,000 tons and 883 feet long, there’s a lot of debris. The two main recovery ships were cable-layers that were redirected to pick up bodies. They also picked up a lot of flotsam and jetsam, not for souvenirs, but for recycling. The ship carpenter on the Mackay-Bennett would fashion something out of it [salvaged wood]. The Titanic would have had thousands of deck chairs, and they washed off the deck. They [the rescue ships] probably picked up 20 to 30 deck chairs. That small number narrows down to a handful today.


The Titanic did not have its own specific, distinctive deck chair. How do we know that this particular one was used on the Titanic and not another White Star Line vessel? They are generic deck chairs. What makes it is the provenance. [Period records show that the chair originally belonged to a French cable ship captain who was on board the Mackay-Bennett when it was diverted.] That’s one reason this chair is so desirable. To give you an example, the provenance package for this deck chair included a folder that stood an inch and a half high. You’re talking no more than a few deck chairs that could pass muster, in our opinion.


How many Titanic deck chairs have you handled? One. That shows you how rare they are.


Does it show evidence of having been in the water? There was some discoloration of the wood and oxidation of the fittings. Things like the fittings going green–you want to keep that. You don’t want to polish them to new. The conservator walked a tight line between keeping the patination and the age of it, but preserving it as well.


You’ve sold this deck chair twice, in 2001 and again in 2015. How do the two sales show how things have changed over time? In 2001 it sold for £33,500, which was then a record for a Titanic deck chair. It illustrates the difference in the market between 2001 and 2015. The one percent, the best of the best, the blue chip pieces have gone up.


When did the phrase ‘Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic‘ enter pop culture? Certainly not right after the sinking? Possibly in the 1950s. She sank in 1912 and by 1913, 1914, she was old news. People were not interested in her for decades and decades. Only in the 1950s, with A Night to Remember, did people get interested in her again. I guess it entered pop culture after that.


Did you sit on it? No. I’m 16 stone [224 pounds]. It’s not sensible. But if you’re lighter than me, yes, you could. If I was 8 stone [112 pounds] I’d happily sit on it.


What do you remember of the auction? It was 25,000 lots ago, but there was a hell of a lot of interest in it. It got to £50,000 to £60,000 quick. We opened bidding with a new record for a Titanic deck chair.


Why does it stick in your memory? We were talking before about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic–that’s your answer, really. You don’t see an object like that every day.


There were so many spectacular ocean liners, but material from the Titanic is far and away the most collectible. Why are we still fascinated with that ship? Most people don’t care how long the Titanic was or how many tons she weighed. People care about people. There were 2,200 people on that ship and every man, woman, and child had a story to tell. That’s why we still talk about it.


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Henry Aldridge & Son is on Instagram.


Henry Aldridge & Son‘s October 22, 2018 auction will include a Titanic travel poster that touts a return voyage that never had a chance to happen.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son.


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RECORD! Bonhams Sold a 1951 Vincent Black Lightning In January 2018 for $929,000–a Record for Any Motorcycle at Auction

Vincent Lightning Profile 1_3308

What you see: A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, one of 19 with full matching numbers [same numbers on both the frame and the engine]. Bonhams sold it in Las Vegas in January 2018 for $929,000–a record for any motorcycle at auction. (Also, scroll all the way down for news of another Vincent Black Lightning, estimated at $400,000 to $500,000, which Bonhams will offer in early October in Birmingham, Alabama.)


The expert: Ben Walker, international department director for collectors’ motorcycles at Bonhams.


Vincent Black Lightnings are rare–fewer than three dozen exist. How often do they come to auction? Before this, one came up in October 2008, a supercharged example, which was also at Bonhams. [It sold for £221,500, or about $294,149.]


Was that an auction record for a motorcycle? It was an auction record for a Vincent Black Lightning. Not overall.


The lot notes say that when this bike’s first owner offered it for sale for £500 in 1951, the sum would have bought “a couple of nice houses in Sydney at the time.” What did the buyer get for his money? He got the ultimate, the best that money could buy. If you look at the bike, this was based on the Vincent Black Shadow, which was the quickest thing you could buy. It must have been like something out of space. A sedan averaged 45 mph. The bike was capable of 150 mph. It’s phenomenal. The bike had ingenuity, it’s a beautiful object to look at, and it was extremely expensive. He got an incredible luxury product.


What did luxury mean in the context of buying the best motorcycle that 1951 had to offer? Power. Comfort. He got something that had suspension. The majority of bikes that got you to work were two-stroke things, very utilitarian. They were not designed with the ability to cover big distances at great speeds in comfort.


What makes the Vincent Black Lightning a holy grail for motorcycle collectors? Rarity, speed, and the fact that this was the fastest thing you could buy on two wheels. It was a competitive motorcycle, and people want to win. They don’t want to be at the back of the grid–they want to be at the front of the grid. This is a bike you could do that on.


The bike is described as being in “original condition.” Can you point to a specific detail on the bike that shows how original it is? The paint, the paint. I don’t want to see something that’s perfect. I want to see something that has a patina. That look is so exciting when you can find it, and so exciting when you see it. It’s as good as you can possibly get. There are Vincent Black Lightnings, and then there’s this bike. It’s high up purely on the basis of its condition. It’s not messed-with.


So it’s the best of the Vincent Black Lightnings? I have to place the Rollie Free [Vincent Black Shadow] above this. I have to. I know it’s not a Vincent Black Lightning, but it does get bracketed into the Black Lightning numbers. It’s the top of the tree, something extraordinarily special. [Free made his Black Shadow famous when he set an American land speed record on it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1948. This photo of him attempting the record while dressed in a Speedo-like bathing suit is regarded as the most famous image in all of motorcycling.] That bike sold privately in 2012 to an American collector for $1.2 million. Whether or not the bike is still worth that price or a bit more, I don’t know, but the market has changed dramatically since 2012.


But if we’re talking strictly about unambiguously counted Vincent Black Lightnings, is this one number one? It’s got to be top three. I know of other bikes. I’m fortunate enough to go to a lot of collections and see a lot of motorbikes, a lot of Vincent Black Lightnings. I can’t talk about them without betraying confidences. But this one is definitely up there.


What markings do I see on the side of the tank? It’s the Australian land speed record, which Jack Ehret set on this bike. I don’t think he held it for very long, but he had to make the point about making the Australian land speed record. [Ehret reached 141.5 mph on the motorcycle in January 1953. The inscription on the tank is visible in one of the many shots Bonhams included with the lot. You may have to scroll down to find it.] It’s a really cool little touch. To paint that bike would be sacrilege. It would be taking value off it, because it would take off the notation.


Have you ridden this bike? Sadly not, but if you look online, on YouTube, for “Patrick Godett Vincent,” you can see a video of it being tested. It was ridden pretty extensively in the run-up to the auction.


This bike has had five owners over 66 years. Is that an exceptionally low number of owners, or is that about what you’d expect? Does it matter? Few owners, traceable history–it’s a big benefit. You can have a vehicle with nine or ten or maybe more owners, and that makes tracing things harder. For this one, we have every owner on record up to the point of sale. It’s unusual. Each owner held the bike in high esteem.


It has fewer than 9,000 miles on its odometer. Is that unusual for a 66-year-old elite motorcycle? It’s unusually low, but maybe not for a racing bike. Racing bikes have a shelf life. They’re not really built to last more than two or three seasons, after which they’re not that competitive anymore. They become obsolete. Jack Ehret [its third owner] campaigned it for a long time and got results with it. It is low mileage, but you’re going to have limited use in racing. It’s [the low number is] not that unusual.


What was your role in the January 2018 auction? I wasn’t watching. I was on the phone to the vendor [the consigner], who could not be there. I relayed what was going on. He relayed a lot of expletives to me, but not in a bad way. [Laughs.] I’m not going to imitate a French accent–he said “sacre bleu!” but not “sacre bleu”, it was something else. The auction was quite exciting. I kept my cool. Malcolm Barber [Bonhams’s co-chair and CEO of Bonhams Asia] sold the bike. In the YouTube video, I’m pacing around in the background. [Walker is behind the Bonhams desk to the left of the stage.]


When did you know you had a new world auction record for a motorcycle? Only afterwards. You’re so focused on what’s going on. I was telling the client what was happening with the motorcycle. I was not surprised, to be honest. It deserves to be the record-holder, and it deserves to be beaten. I think there are bikes out there with potential.


What motorcycles are out there that could challenge the record? The Rollie Free Vincent Black Shadow? If it came up at auction, yes, it would, but I don’t think it will come up at auction. Thinking rare bikes again, I think Mike Hailwood’s comeback bike for the 1978 Isle of Man TT. Maybe a Lawrence of Arabia-owned Brough Superior. Two, possibly three of those survive. Steve McQueen adds value–he had some exceptional bikes. An AJS Porcupine from the mid-1950s is a potential world record. Steve McQueen’s Triumph from The Great Escape, if it ever came up. What would be interesting about that is the Triumph was used by a fictional character, versus a bike ridden by Lawrence of Arabia, who was not a fictional character.


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On October 6, 2018, Bonhams will offer an early Vincent Black Lightning at an auction scheduled during the Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.


Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.