Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Carriages, Coaches, And Cars

( Orginally published 1962 )



Pedestrians watched breathlessly as the strange-looking vehicle came hurtling down the road like a juggernaut of fantastic speed. Missing the now screaming onlookers by inches, the vehicle hurtled toward a brick wall. Nothing could stop the inevitable. Unable to come to a halt, the vehicle plunged into the brick wall-and the wall tumbled down.

Police arrived on the scene and, as usual in these cases, argument and discussion ensued with voices raised loud and anger rampant. The man had been speeding-of this the police were certain. But they were not as sure of themselves and of their laws against speeding as policemen of today would be-for this was the year 1769.

The vehicle, which was probably the first one ever involved in the misdemeanor of speeding, is lost. It would be, if you could find it today, one of the greatest finds in the history of antique-car treasure hunting.

Made by Captain Cugnot in 1769, it would be an historic find in this field, similar in value, possibly, to the steam artillery-carriage made a year later in 1770 by this same Captain Cugnot, a man undaunted by his previous set-to with the law.

Today the steam artillery-carriage is in the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris, France, an historic relic of the world's automotive past. But Cugnot's other car? It is one of the most fabulous missing automobile treasures.Many early vehicles like Cugnot's steam artillery-carriage, however, are in museums and collections. In the United States National Museum is the first successful gasoline car built in America. Conceived by one brother and built by another, this vehicle is an American first. It was Charles E. Duryea who conceived the idea for the car, and his brother, J. Frank Duryea, who built it.,/p>

In the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, there is a vehicle which owed its existence to two men. It is a three-wheeler built in 1885 by Carl Benz with an engine by Gottlieb Daimler, the man who developed the high-speed gasoline power plant which Benz used in the three-wheeler.

One inventor in this category of extant cars had great hopes for his machine. He called it L'Obeissante which means, of course, the Obedient. This was the steam coach built in 1873 by Amedee Bollec. This coach is now in the Conservataire National, Paris.

In the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, is a steam buggy made during the Civil War period by Sylvester H. Roper.

There are many, many of these rare examples in museums today, but there are others, like the 1769 Cugnot vehicle, which have never been found. Coaches belonging to such men as Sir Charles Dance, Maceroni, Summers, J. Scott Russell, and Church, have disappeared. Other men, too, made vehicles which today have gone the way of so many things of the past. The coaches, for example, of both Squire and Ogle have completely disappeared. Not one of these vehicles is known to exist, and they are among the lost treasures of the antique-car field. Find just one of them, and you are on the road to fortune.

Also missing are the coaches of Goldsworthy Gurney; the coaches of Walter Hancock, the man who first made use of the hand brake; and the coaches of W. H. James, famous for his introduction of the variable-ratio transmission. Any of the coaches made by these men would be worth money in your pocket if you could find them.

These missing coaches were English, built between 1820 and 1840. They were steam stagecoaches, on their way to becoming numerous when opposition was raised to them mainly by owners of railroads and conventional stagecoach lines. They simply could not stand the competition from the better steam stagecoaches.

A law was passed-the so-called red-flag law-which insisted, not only that the steam stagecoaches be preceded by a man walking with a red flag in his hand, but that the speed of the coaches be limited to four miles an hour.

So the steam stagecoaches passed from England's roads, but today, if you spot one, hang on to it, for these vehicles are among the most sought-after collectors' items in this field.

But do not stop there. Watch for any old car. The one you thought was junk might turn out to be priceless. It is of course hard to place a definite market value on any specific car. The value would depend on age, rarity, condition, and how badly the collectors want it.,/p>

Antique-car collecting has become a craze in America in recent years. Our automotive civilization likes to remember its past. There are already some fabulous collections-like the Long Island Automobile Museum, the exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, and the famous Harrah's Collection. The collections grow, and the craze continues.,/p>

So take another look at that old car which you saw the other day in your neighborhood junkyard. Maybe it was not just another old car-maybe it was really a collector's item worth a fortune!

How much is that old car you saw in the junkyard really worth? It might be worth $5. It might be worth $50. It might be worth $5,000-depending, again, on condition, rarity, make and age.

At least one old car was evaluated at $10,000 by the insurance appraisers. Unhappily for the insurance company who set this evaluation, the car was burnt in a fire that destroyed it while it was on display as an exhibit in the 1929 Los Angeles Auto Show.

This was a 1901 Packard, one of five models which were made that year, models which were all two-passenger cars and had one-cylinder engines and wheel bases of seventy-five inches.

That there were five of these models made we know from the records of the Studebaker-Packard Corporation in South Bend, Indiana. What we do not know is where all of these cars are today. One of them, of course, was the one destroyed in the Auto Show. We also know that several years ago Mr. Henry Joy of Detroit, Michigan, purchased a second 1901 Packard. This leaves three 1901 Packards not accounted for.

They could, of course, already be in the hands of the collectors. It would be impossible, however, to ascertain this without writing to every museum, every collector, and every old-car enthusiast in the world. Obviously, this would be impossible.The logical thing would be to simply remember the 1901 Packard and watch for it. That old car which you thought was junk might turn out to be a $10,000 horseless carriage that collectors would give their eye teeth to have.

Any car from the early 1900's is worth checking, and, strangely enough, these cars are not as scarce as most people think. In 1901, the same year as the 1901 Packard, there were 14,800 passenger cars registered in the United States, and each one is a potential missing treasure varying in value from $10 to $10,000, depending of course on rarity and condition.

Not only cars from the early 1900's can be of value-any make of early car can be worth something. There have been so many kinds of cars made in America, over 2,600 kinds, that chances of finding a collector's item are good.

Sometimes these early cars are destroyed and a treasure is lost forever. Sometimes the loss of the car is accidental, as with the 1901 Packard destroyed in the Auto Show.

Sometimes, however, the loss of the car is just plain thoughtlessness-like the car which was used, in the first American automobile race, by Frank Duryea. Duryea made racing history when he won the race, but years later treasure history was also made when the car was junked-a loss to treasure hunters and collectors that can never be replaced.

Sometimes a car may even be destroyed for patriotic reasons. When World War II broke out, the grandson of Alexander Winton, one of our first automobile builders, gave his grandfather's first automobile to the scrap drive-and it was lost forever.

The treasure hunter must never destroy a car or junk it until he knows what it is. What you think is junk might be considered a treasure by the collectors.

Things are being destroyed today which may be of value some day in the future-if they could be preserved. Antique fire engines have been scrapped in countless numbers, because fire departments either sold them or used them for parts long before they reached the antique-car category. Their value would probably be small today, although there are many good specimens already in museums. What they would be worth in the future if they could be preserved, no one knows, but probably a great deal-if you find one and preserve it.

The transportation of the pioneers has also suffered from this thoughtlessness. Conestoga wagons wore out or were left to rot. And on the rivers the early steamboats of the waterway pioneers were left to rot, sold for lumber, or destroyed by unthinking Tom Sawyerish juveniles.

These objects are rapidly disappearing from the scene, to be forgotten forever unless the treasure hunter does something about it. For, if he can stop the destruction, he is on his way to placing examples of an almost forgotten way of life in the hands of the collectors-and money in his pocket.