Monday, January 18, 2010


Among the many lots of Automobilia offered at the Bonhams auction at Retromobile in Paris (Jan 27th), are these two limited-edition, very rare photographs of early motorcycling competitors. Each of these photographs has been reprinted from an original glass negative onto high quality, archival stock, and is strictly limited to an edition of 7 per photograph. (Sold for 115Euros)

Most unusual is the 1902 photo of 'Madame Jolivet' (above), competing in Deauville that year on a 2 1/2hp G.Pecourt motorcycle (which used a Zedel aiv motor in a modified racing bicycle frame). Her race average over the flying kilo was 62 km/h! She and her husband were on the Pecourt racing team; they appeared in 1902 also at the Gaillon and Chateau-Thierry hillclimbs, and the Dourdan speed trials. Photographs of women competitors at road trials such as Deauville are exceedingly rare, and this image represents one of the very first photographs of a woman motorcycle racer.
A good look at her outfit tells a tale; women with an inclination towards sports were creating a new category of clothing, necessary to break out of the high collars, corseted waists, and heavy skirting which was the fashion of the day. Ms. Jolivet is wearing a combination of a worker's smock and balloon trousers (overgrown knickers with a 'skirtish' profile to fool the eye), with stockings and what look like an early example of white trainers! She certainly looks comfortable with her machine - but look at that saddle height!

The second print depicts a Mr. Wilfred aboard a Léon Bollée tricar, at an unknown event in France, sporting his race number '21' and wearing a competitor's armband. Tricars at this early point in the century were competing with two-wheelers at events and sales floors around the world, as they vied for primacy as the 'best' solution to a powered lightweight vehicle on the road. The configuration of both the Pecourt and Bollée formed branches on an evolutionary tree of motorcycles which have since died off, their brief flowering having whithered away by the late 'teens. The Pecourt has an engine hanging below and outside the front downtube of the bicycle frame, a vulnerable position certainly but one which kept the weight low and forward - which would keep skids ('the dreaded side-slip') and top-heaviness as bay. The arrangement of the Bolée has perhaps a longer lineage, or at least more cousins, with rear-drive three-wheelers still available from the likes of Triking, although they and earlier Morgan, B.S.A., etc, all leaned more towards automotive appearance, with shapely steel bodies and car-type seats. (sold for 345 Euros)

The Bonhams Retromobile Auction site is worth a gander; the sale includes a myriad of drool-worthy cars, and one 1925 Bugatti Type 22, recently recovered from the bottom of Lago Maggiore in Italy, where it lay since 1929! Ready for restoration, I would say... but what a fantastic photograph!! (sold for 260,500 Euros!)