I have a friend in Paris – Yves – with a lovely Jean Prouvé dining table he found cheap at the flea market (les Puces!) years ago, when Prouvé was iconic to connoisseurs, but not especially valuable. That changed; Prouvé is dead, his work is brilliant, and greed-panic is symptomatic of our 21st Century consciousness, so Yves’ dining table is worth well north of a Million, in whatever currency you care to calculate.  Yet he still uses that table, every day.

Not Yves’ house, but an example of a Jean Prouvé table being used as the maker intended… [Vintagent Archive]
Susan has an unusual old chest (slap your wayward mind!), painted with a strange mashup of 18th Century American folk art collided with 60s Pop Art patterns. The piece is insanely cool, and when it was appraised for insurance recently, it too rung the carnival bell above 7 figures. Susan is no fool, and knew the thing was rare, but she likes it where it sits, holding the guest linens, and has sensibly decided to carry on using a family heirloom, which she’ll pass on to her children. Her attitude is completely at odds with the ‘Roadshow/Pickers’ mindset, the modern game shows where ‘Box #3’ is your own damn garage. Susan is a responsible steward of the antique in question, just as were the past 15 generations of its owners.

A Hadley chest, named for the small town in Massachusetts where they were built, in shockingly modernist motifs. [Christies]
‘Stewardship’ is a word tossed around Christian think-tanks and techno-hippie chat rooms, but rarely mentioned over the oil-stained concrete on which our old motorbikes typically rest. But the term is cropping up at bike shows, in specialist media (Classic Bike Guide, Oily Rag, The Vintagent), and even at auctions, as motorcycle collecting – for many decades the purview of eccentric obsessives – slouches inexorably toward the Mainstream. A very uncomfortable shift for some, especially the Volunteers, who created a network of old bike enthusiasts, and obsessively searched the countryside for motorbikes, hoarding parts and machines beyond the point of rationality, at a time when bikes were worth sod-all.

The 1935 Koehler-Escoffier ‘Monneret’ pictured at the Vintage Revival Montlhéry event in Apr.2013; a unique machine with incredible history, owned by the Musée Mallartre in Lyon, France, the machine is kept in running condition and taken regularly to events. Stewardship at its best. [Paul d’Orleans]
They may have had larcenous hearts, greedily selling an SS100 for £15 back in 1949, but we laugh at their naivéte, just as our kids will laugh at us in 20 years when that same Brough tops £1M. Let us praise the Volunteers, whether their pants are secured by rope or alligator belts – I’ve met them all, and they share a common heart of gold, at least for motorcycles; they may well dislike You, as competition! While an imperfect lot, they’ve done their best to keep motorcycles out of the scrap-merchant’s destroying clutches, when they were basically worthless.

A 1929 Brough Superior SS100 at an English rally in the late 1970s, when such a machine could be purchased for £1500. People complained of the high and rising prices for old bikes even then! [Brough Superior Club]
Rising values, a dearth of really good unrestored machines, and a growing consciousness of the beauty of an ‘Oily Rag’ original finish, have all fertilized the understanding of Stewardship in the bike world. For whatever reason, the Magpies – hoarders of shiny things – still dominate the Automotive collecting world, which has everything to do with the Car’s social function as self-perceived penis enlarger. Strange, given that a passing Ferrari is more likely to elicit sins of covetousness and avarice, but not envy of the owner, in whom we see said member, actual size.

Looking at 1960s private adverts can be a painful experience! [Paul d’Orleans]
Motorbikes can make us feel superhuman (a necessary illusion perhaps, given their danger), and we feel pride while riding, yet we’re also aware the general population greets us with open indifference, or at worst, complete invisibility. With motorcycles Out as a symbol of social status, what’s left is a cadre of enthusiasts willing – to put it bluntly – to risk life and limb for the sheer pleasure of two-wheeling. That’s a different sort of passion than the standard Collector’s obsessions; those motivations are present too, but it’s a richer mix with bikers, who were generally seen as cranks until the ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. That’s probably why we’re far ahead of our four-wheeled brethren in the Stewardship stakes.

A dirty old motorcycle is rarely the answer to a midlife crisis…[Top Gear]
The trend at auction houses is clear; we are increasingly demanding machines bearing their original manufacturer’s paint job. A case in point; two identical ca.1910 Pierce single-cylinder motorcycles went for auction in Las Vegas last January, one dans son jus, the other restored, which failed to meet its $42,000 reserve. The heavily patinated Pierce, by contrast, fetched over $110,000. What Susan and Yves and the new 1910 Pierce owner understand is that the real treasure is not from the restorer’s hands, but from the maker’s workshop, unmolested. In this, they are in accord with art and furniture collectors, who are a century or two ahead of us in this game.

A tale of two Pierces; unrestored at left (sold for over $110k), restored at right (did not meet $42k reserve). [Paul d’Orleans]
The reluctance of some motorcyclists to actually Use their treasures, as our examples above continue to do, is, one hopes, merely a symptom of a sudden rise in prices. We haven’t gained proper ennui at all this money talk, which is horrifically boring. After all, we’re in this game to Ride; if we wanted to throw money around, we’d have become bankers or rappers. But you can’t ride a pile of cash down the road, and a MacEvoy Anzani 8-valve shares the greatest thing with a Honda CB72 – they’re both really fun.

Paul d’Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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