Gas, steam and hot air engines'

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The Owl's Head article is the first of what we hope will be a series of stories on auctions in the fields covered by Iron-Men Album. We welcome auction news so long as authentication comes with it. In some cases, we may rewrite it or condense it.

Collectors paid close to $90,000 in winning bids at an auction at Owls Head, Maine, walking off with prize examples of gas, steam and hot air engines, models, toys and other pieces of mechanical Americana.

The auction also netted about $15,000 for the Owls Head Transportation Museum, which sponsored the sale. All items were on consignment; none was from the museum's own collection. The pieces were all displayed, and watched over, by museum staff members and associates.

This sale put its emphasis on pieces which could readily be carried off by buyers in their vans, station wagons or pickup trucks.

The sale indicated that collecting covers a broad range, and that a man who owns a full-size Case or Keck-Gonnerman may also well be interested in a model or a toy engine, or a brass whistle or an engineering drawing for a Corliss.

Charles Chiarchiaro, director of the museum who is also a registered auctioneer, presided at the July 25 auction, held under a striped tent outside the museum's main building.

We asked him for comments afterwards.

'The most important thing this auction indicated,' he said, 'is that there is definitely an increasing awareness of our mechanical past, and this is being demonstrated by people from all segments of society.

It is no longer a small regional type of hobby. It seems more international. People are collecting engines and regarding them almost as works of art which they are.'

The practical aspect is still there, however. Actual working engines were eagerly sought. Top price for the sale was $8,250 for a quardruple expansion marine steam engine, Kingdon type (#54A in the catalog).

The bid for the engine was made by a man in the Virgin Islands on an open telephone line, upping his figures as the competition rose. There were four absentee bids on the engine, which the catalog called 'very rare and very early'. Name of the buyer was not disclosed.

'He will put the engine in a small steamboat, and steam around in the steamboat, and steam around the world in it,' Chiarchiaro reported. 'He said he had been looking for an engine like this for years. He is very happy with the price; to get an engine built today would cost over $20,000.'

Another item which brought a good price was a Corliss horizontal steam engine model which the catalog classed as fine and well-scaled. It had 'mahogany-lagged, brass-bound cylinder, 1' bore x 3' stroke, the 10' flywheel surrounded by a brass railing, with Corliss-type governor, lubricators, and cylinder draincocks'. It was mounted on a base 23 inches long by 15 inches wide and 4 inches high, and was housed in a fine period display case. It sold for $2,900.

This was cited by Chiarchiaro as a model that its owner might bring to a show, or put also on a mantel and possibly fire it once a year or more often.

'And it appreciates in value,' he quipped. 'You can appreciate an engine like this while it appreciates in value.'

Going down the post-sale price key, you could see which pieces brought the biggest financial interest. Here are some examples:

Early American vertical steam engine model, $275.

Early steam mill engine model, $275.

Brass steam whistle, sidemount locomotive style, overall height 11 inches, $150.

Early American beam engine steam mill, about 1865, $1,800.

A 5-inch Ericson hot-air pumping engine, excellent restored condition, $3,250.

Live steam tug model, $1,500.

Avery 1913 8-16 gas tractor, $4,500.

Dake square piston steam engine, $400.

If you had come to the auction with only $15 in your jeans, and wanted to come home with a purchase, you might have gotten:

Two steam books, The Slide Value by N. P. Burgh, 1868, and Steam by W. Ripper, 1902, $15.

A Lambert gas engine catalog, $15.

A box lot of oilers, sparkplugs and miscellaneous parts, $10.

A Lunkenheimer No. 6 oiler, Fig. 1300, sight glass, 3' in diameter, $5.

Chiarchiaro, who kept stressing the industrial art quality, told the audience that some items would make good centerpieces for the Thanksgiving dinner table.

It was a good-natured crowd. And after the sale was over, they went their respective ways, in Rolls Royces and vans, in trucks and little cars, representative of the collectors who keep the hobbies of restoring and collecting alive a wonderful bunch!