Sky-high prices for Concorde bits

Now the Dreambird has been grounded, fans can flock to buy the souvenirs of sonic flight

On Monday, you can buy your own piece of Concorde, in what will be one of the most unusual memorabilia auctions of the year, and potentially one of the most profitable for those prepared to wait.

Last month, thousands thronged to Heathrow to salute Concorde on its final touchdown, and many more clustered round televisions to witness the end of 27 years of supersonic flight. But the rasping roar of those engines is about to be replaced by the more genteel sound of a gavel being banged as lots are sold.

The planes have been donated to aviation museums, so the auction will consist mostly of spare parts and replacement items. But most of the lots going under the hammer will have had active service in flight. "You need a huge number of spare parts for a fleet of aircraft," says Jon Baddeley, head of the collectables department at the auctioneer Bonhams, "because things get taken off, repaired and put back in the spares depot." Considering each Concorde comprises 850,000 components, that must be some depot.

This month, there have already been Concorde memorabilia auctions generating astonishing interest from enthusiasts keen to snap up a little piece of aviation history. At the official Air France event run by Christie's in Paris on 15 November, the 219 lots, all sold, generated almost £2.3m, which will go to the charitable Air France Foundation. About the same time, the extensive private collection of a former Fleet Air Arm pilot turned entrepreneur was auctioned online over 10 days.

Now it is the turn of British Airways to sell off selected highlights through Bonhams at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in west London on Monday. Here, as in Paris, proceeds will go to charity. Mr Baddeley has been very picky in his choice for the BA auction, making his selection on the grounds of aesthetics as well as novelty value.

There will be 128 lots, including the flown nose-cone, described as the rarest item in the auction with an estimated price of £50,000. Other pieces of technical wizardry include the radome housing the radar scanner at the end of the plane's nose (estimated £25,000 to £30,000), a high-pressure compressor disc with blades (£1,000 to £1,500), and various pilot display dials (£100 to £200). Souvenirs more likely to appeal to the technologically challenged include a double cabin trolley emblazoned with "British Airways Concorde" (£700 to £900), the captain's seat (£600 to £1,000) and a merino lambswool passenger blanket (£40 to £60).

Mr Baddeley says: "There are some things I love, such as the visor/nose-lever for lowering the nose-cone, which has an estimated £400 price tag, because it's tactile and unique." He also picks out the machmeter from the pilot's cockpit (£4,000 to £6,000) and the digital display unit from the passenger cabin (£800 to £1,200), instruments unique to Concorde.

There are no reserve prices on the items, so if you are the only bidder and you offer £50 for something estimated at £1,000, it is yours. Mr Baddeley believes most of the bidders will be among the 2.5 million passengers who have travelled on commercial Concorde flights.

But the appeal of the white bird extends far beyond them. Many more people were stirred by the achievements it represented, and others simply loved the way it looked. No doubt some will leap at the chance to own a little chunk of a great 20th-century dreambird.

In Paris, prices at the Christies' sale soared high, with more than 3,300 bidders. The nose-cone (estimated at £7,000 to £10,000) went for more than £325,000; two flown Olympus 593 engines (estimated £40,000 to £80,000), were £105,000 and £82,000 respectively, and a chassis door estimated at £150 to £200 made an extraordinary £70,000.

Emmanuelle Vidal, at Christie's, says: "We rejected a great deal of stuff, a lot of china, for example, because there is too much of it, though we did sell three dinner services. Each came with two little trinket trays inscribed specially for the last flight, which made them unique." The dinner sets, for 48, 24 and 12 people, were estimated to fetch £400 to £600, £300 to £400 and £150 to £200 respectively. Each achieved between £7,800 and £9,500.

The 10-day online sale run by Concorde Collectables was firmly focused on original flying parts. Most were used during early test flights, and acquired from British Airways by Commander Douglas Kingsford-Hale, now proprietor of the Flambards Village theme park in Cornwall. Wheels, cockpit instruments, service manuals, a half-sized engine model carved from hardwood (used for wind- tunnel testing in the 1960s) and even a black box flight recorder all came under the online hammer. Nick Bloomer, of Concorde Collectables, says there were more than 3,000 bidders, and all but two of the 123 items were sold. About 10 per cent of the lots went for four-figure sums, with the highest value, £4,700, achieved by a nose position lever.

Admission to the Bonhams auction is by catalogue only, and one catalogue admits two people: viewing at Olympia Exhibition Hall, London, is from 10am to 5pm today and tomorrow, and from 9am on Monday. The sale begins at 3pm.

WEBSITES

www.bonhams.com

www.christies.com

www.concorde/collectables.com

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