1912 Henderson Four. Photo courtesy Mecum Auctions.
January is typically a good time of the year to visit Las Vegas, Nevada, particularly if one is shopping for vintage motorcycles. Auction firms Bonhams and Mecum both host expansive sales, and last week, American motorcycles from the pre-World War I years (often referred to as the Golden Age of American Motorcycling) topped both events.
The Mecum sale saw a 1912 Henderson Four, described as wearing its original paint and tires, sell for a hammer price of $490,000, sufficient to place it at number five on the list of most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction. Described in the listing as “believed to be the only unrestored 1912 Henderson known in America,” the bike represented a rare opportunity for the serious two-wheel collector to acquire a Henderson from the brand’s very early production.
William Henderson’s first motorcycle prototype was constructed in 1911, and by the end of the year the Henderson Motorcycle Company of Detroit was producing its 1912 Henderson Four model. Equipped with a 57-cu.in. inline four-cylinder engine, mounted longitudinally in the frame, the Henderson Four produced seven horsepower and used a single-speed chain final drive. The long frame was designed to improve rider comfort, as was the leading-link suspension on the front fork, but such amenities came at a price; with an advertised price of $325, it was one of the more expensive motorcycles of its day.
The Henderson Four’s speed soon won it favor with police departments, while its reliability and smoothness drew the attention of long-distance riders. In October of 2012, Carl Stearns Clancy began a journey aboard a Henderson Four that would eventually cover four continents and 18,000 miles, ultimately making him the first to circumnavigate the globe by motorcycle.
1914 Feilbach 10HP Limited. Photos courtesy Bonhams.
Over at Bonhams, the top seller was a 1914 Feilbach 10HP Limited, built by the Feilbach Motor Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which achieved a fee-inclusive price of $195,000. Assembled of left over spare parts after the factory shut its doors in late 1914, this example was used by the company founder, Arthur Feilbach, and remained with the Feilbach family until the 1980s, when it was purchased by Joe Koller and subsequently returned to operating condition.
In 1913, the Feilbach Motor Company was very optimistic about its future. After securing fresh capital to expand its business, the firm introduced a V-twin motorcycle that sold reasonably well, at least in the local market. By 1914, the company was producing three motorcycles, including a single-cylinder and a pair of V-twins, including one with a two-speed transmission and shaft drive.
Regardless of model, each was hand-crafted in limited volumes (hence the Limited name), though the days when a boutique manufacturer could compete against giants like Harley-Davidson (also located in Milwaukee) and Indian were coming to an end. Unable to secure additional funding for 1915, the Feilbach Motor Company closed its doors in late 1914.
1955 Vincent 998cc Series D Black Knight. Photo courtesy Bonhams.
Other lots in the top-10 at Bonhams included a 1955 Vincent 998cc Series D Black Knight, which sold for $150,000; a 1952 Vincent 998cc Series C Black Shadow, which sold for $135,000; a 1949 Vincent 998cc Series B Black Shadow, which sold for $112,125; a 1916 Henderson Four, which sold for $112,125; a 1974 Ducati 750 SS, which sold for $109,250; a 1955 Vincent 998cc Black Prince, which sold for $103,500; a 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E, once owned by Steve McQueen, which sold for $82,800; a 1937 Harley-Davidson EL, which sold for $82,800; and a 1937 Indian Sport Four, which sold for $69,000.
1914 Flanders Model D Twin.
Across town, at the Mecum sale, the top-10 was rounded out by a 1913 Henderson Four, which sold for $150,000; a 1913 Henderson 4-Cylinder Deluxe, which sold for $127,500; a 1928 Excelsior “Big Bertha” hillclimber, which sold for $117,500; a 1949 Vincent Black Shadow, which sold for $110,000; a 1923 Indian Chief with a Princess side car, formerly owned by Steve McQueen, which sold for $100,000; a 1914 Flanders Model D Twin, which sold for $95,000; a 1931 Henderson Four, which sold for $95,000; a 1929 Cleveland Tornado, which sold for $91,000; and a 1941 Indian Four, which sold for $90,000.