The recent discovery that a motorcycle made by a gun manufacturer has held the outright world record for the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction for the last 12 months raises some interesting contrasts between the different genres in the collectibles market. The bike has an instantly recognizable name, but it’s a name that even the most learned of motorcycle historians would struggle to associate with a motorcycle. PLEASE NOTE: On October 18, 2014, a new auction record was set.

As reported in the The Star newspaper of DaKalb County, Indiana, on Saturday evening, August 31, 2013, a 1910 Winchester motorcycle sold at Worldwide Auctions for US$580,000. Though the story has been in plain view for more than 12 months, the world has remained oblivious until now.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company holds a very special place in American history for producing "the gun that won the West," but not many people are aware the company commissioned Edwin F. Merry Company of San Francisco to build 200 motorcycles bearing its name between 1909 and 1911.

Only two examples of the 200 Winchester motorcycles are still known to exist, and they both crossed the auction block at Worldwide Auctioneers’ Auburn sale last August (2013), with the 1910 model setting a world record price of US$580,000 and the 1909 model (below) attracting a bid of $520,000 but failing to reach reserve.

Had the US$520,000 bid been accepted, it would have given Winchester first and third place on the all-time most expensive motorcycles list – to a brand most motorcycle enthusiasts are unaware even existed.

The sale appears to have been deliberately kept low key. When we approached Worldwide Auctioneers, we were informed that the new owner wished to remain anonymous and avoid all publicity.

Fortunately, the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming came to the rescue with images and information as the bike had previously been on display there during 2012, on loan from the previous owner, Ray Gibson of Turlock, California. Our thanks to the museum for its assistance.

The Winchester Model 1910 motorcycle which now holds the record is powered by a single cylinder, six hp engine, has a total-loss battery ignition system and a direct belt-drive. Engineering-wise, it is has no particularly unique aspect and like many other marques of the period it is primarily constructed of parts sourced from other manufacturers, including an engine manufactured by Marsh-Metz, one of the pioneering companies of the American Motorcycle Industry. It is unremarkable in every respect other than its name.

Almost certainly, it is the firearm-related provenance of the Winchester rather than any of its attributes as a motorcycle that has influenced the record price this motorcycle fetched at auction.

The discovery of this sale offers a rare glimpse of the collectible gun and motorcycle markets, and highlights the different perception of value from the participants in each marketplace.

There are more high-net worth-individuals (HNWI) in the United States than any other country, and HNWI traditionally spend a percentage of their wealth on investments of passion – from art through cars, yachts, planes, guns, motorcycles, watches, ad infinitum. Passion is almost never rational, and knows no monetary bounds, so when whole lifestyles and communities have been built around both motorcycles and guns, and both are woven into the fabric of American society, the value those different communities have placed on the same object is food for thought.

That’s why the 1910 Winchester motorcycle has raised some interesting questions. The anonymous buyer of the Winchester is believed to be a gun enthusiast and has asked for anonymity.

His (we're presuming it's a male) preparedness to pay more than anyone else has ever paid for a motorcycle at auction, is not motivated by passion for the motorcycle, but for the Winchester Brand. When he looks at the object he paid US$580,000 for, he perceives a gun, not a motorcycle.

The American Gun Marketplace is huge

The gun is a symbol of freedom to many nations with the AK47 appearing on the flag of Mozambique as well as coats of arms of Zimbabwe and East Timor. Whilst a gun doesn't quite appear on the United States' flag, the Great Seal of the United States leaves little doubt as to its relevance as a tool of "might" and the Second Amendment of the US Constitution specifically grants the right to bear arms.

Americans love their guns, and the right to defend your home and liberty is a central theme in American history. Hence it’s not surprising that America has more guns legally held per person than any other developed nation – 47 percent of homes in America contain one or more registered weapons, which total 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.

The American gun industry is enormous. There are 51,000 gun shops in America, roughly the same number as all the Subway (25,000), Starbucks (11,100) and McDonalds outlets (14,000) in the United States added together.

How close you are to one of those stores? Chances are, you're just as close to a gun seller. This near ubiquitous presence of guns has helped create the American gun culture, fueling massive marketplace activity and a buoyant auction marketplace which has seen the American gun collectibles marketplace reach extraordinary heights.

Comparing the Collectible Motorcycle and Car Markets

Motorcycles appear to have long been the poor cousin of collectibles. The most desirable motorcars regularly fetch fifty times the price of the most desirable motorcycles at auction and as the collectible car market has matured over recent years, the difference in prices fetched between the top motorcycles and the top cars is now approaching two orders of magnitude – 100 times more.

At a cursory glance in assessing value, it's understandable that a rare car should cost more than a rare motorcycle – they’re bigger and hence require more materials, they have more working parts, cost more to manufacture and command much higher prices when they sold new.

The most anyone anywhere has ever paid for a motorcycle at auction is US$580,000 (the Winchester) while the automotive equivalent is the Ferrari GTO, which sold a few weeks back at Pebble Beach for US$38,115,000. Dividing US$38,115,000 by US$580,000 gives us a car-to-bike price ratio of 65.7:1.

While auction results are in the public domain, verifying private sales is difficult, but a better example of the GTO changed hands privately this time last year (2013) for US$52 million. The GTO Owners club is now one of the world's most exclusive, with the defacto entry fee (the price of a GTO) rising from $10 million a few years ago, to $30 million plus today. That's Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason in his Ferrari GTO above.

The most expensive motorcycle to ever change hands was a 1948 Vincent Black Lightning famously ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville Salt Flats to a then record speed of a 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h) over the "flying mile" on September 13, 1948.

Free's first attempt saw him set a new world record of 148 mph (238 km/h), but wishing to break the 150 mph barrier, Free borrowed swimming trunks and cap and rode prone, just as he had done in setting records of 111.55 mph on a 45 ci (750cc) Indian Sport Scout and 109.65 mph on a 74 ci (1200cc) Indian Chief at Daytona Beach on March 17, 1938.

With the slightly better aerodynamics afforded by riding prone and the infinitesimally lower drag coefficient of skin compared to looser-fitting leathers, Free edged past the 150 mph barrier and made global news, partially for the record, and partially for risking the unthinkable on the highly-abrasive salt flats. The famous image of Free on THAT BIKE contains the purest distillation of the essence of motorcycling, a spirit recognized only by those who dare to ride.

The “Bathing Suit Bike” was sold by elite Texan rare motorcycle agency and restoration service Harris Vincent Gallery to well-known collector Chip Connor in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.

Hence, the car-to-bike ratio for the most expensive private sales of each is 52:1.

For those who like more data to get a clearer picture of the relationship between two variables (who doesn't?), the average price of our list of the Top 100 Automobiles ever sold at auction is US$8,192,461, while the average price of our Top 100 Motorcycles ever sold at auction is US$175,994. Hence the car-to-bike ratio for the 100 most expensive auction sales is (US$8,192,461 divided by US$175,994) to give us 46.5:1.

Those three figures (65.7:1, 52:1 and 46.5:1) indicate the vast disparity between the markets for rare car and rare motorcycles and historical comparisons suggest motorcycle prices are lagging well behind the appreciation of automobile prices.

That the automotive enthusiast market values cars more than the motorcycle enthusiast market values motorcycles is an understatement – the total price of the entire top 100 motorcycles is US$22,616,078. Four cars have sold at auction for more than that figure.

Thousands of new cars are sold new each year for more than US$580,000 – Bugatti, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, SSC, ad infinitum. Indeed, hundreds of rare cars changed hands at auction for more than that amount last year.

The collectibles market has many facets though, so we thought we'd take a look at the top selling items in each collectibles market to see how they stacked up against each other.

Top 10 – Rare Car Marketplace

This is a list of the ten most expensive cars sold at auction:

1 – US$38,115,000 – 1962-63 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta (above)

2 – US$29,600,000 – 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Silver Arrow
3 – US$27,700,000 – 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 S NART Spider
4 – US$26,400,000 – 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale
5 – US$16,390,000 – 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
6 – US$16,380,895 – 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus Spider Competizione
7 – US$15,180,000 – 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider
8 – US$14,300,000 – 1964 Ferrari 250 LM
9 – US$12,745,707 – 1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM 'Competizione'
10 – US$12,187,280 – 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

Top 10 – Rare Gun Marketplace

This is a list of the ten most expensive guns sold at auction:

1 – US$1,986,000 - Pair of Pistols owned by George Washington (above)

3 – US$1,142,500 - Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver

4 – US$977,500 - 1836 Colt Revolver

With nine of the top ten auctioned firearms, handguns are the most prized items amongst gun collectors, with one shotgun rounding out the top tier and the first rifle, a Finest Iron Frame Henry Rifle Extant (the first rifle) barely scraping into the top 20 at US$603,750.

An honorable mention must go to a gun which wouldn't make the top 30 guns sold at auction with the price it fetched at a Christie's auction in 2010, but perfectly illustrates that it's all about the sizzle, not the sausage..

Bond aficionados will know that 007's weapon of choice is the Walther PPK 7.65mm but when Sean Connery arrived for a publicity photo shoot prior to the filming of the film From Russia with Love, provision of a suitable PPK had been overlooked.

The decision was made to shoot Sean Connery with the photographer's Walther LP-53 AIR PISTOL and airbrush the long barrel out of the images before publication. The airbrushing never happened and the same gun continued, in one form or another, to be used in the promotional materials of Bond movies until The Man with the Golden Gun, a decade and seven films later. The air pistol sold for an astounding £277,250 (US$437,501).

Top 10 – Rare Motorcycle Marketplace

Now compare those prices with the top prices ever fetched by motorcycles at auction and you'll see that the gun market completely eclipses the motorcycle marketplace and perhaps understand why I think the motorcycle marketplace is undervalued by comparison.

1 - US$580,000 - 1910 Winchester

3 - US$480,000 - 1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor

4 - US$463,847 - 1922 Brough Superior SS80

6 - US$450,000 - 1958 Ariel 650 Cyclone

The market for guns is clearly far more robust than that of motorcycles, and that in part explains why an otherwise ordinary motorcycle with no technologically distinguishing features (the Winchester), would command such a high price from a gun collector.

Motorcycles and guns have a lot in common. Just as many early bicycle manufacturers went on to produce motorcycles, one of the other industries which diversified into motorcycle manufacture at the turn of the nineteenth century was the firearms industry.

Notable motorcycle manufacturers which originated producing guns include England's BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) and Royal Enfield, Germany's Simson, Belgium's FN (which produced the world's first shaft-drive motorcycle), Sweden's Husqvarna and the Czech CZ ("Česká Zbrojovka" translates as "Czech Armament Works") marques.

The American Iver Johnson brand is best known for its guns, most notably used to assassinate US President William McKinley and US Senator Robert F. Kennedy. While Iver Johnson Motorcycles are now among the most sought-after collector motorcycles and will be found regularly on the list, the name does not have the same place in the American psyche as Winchester firearms.

Where cars command more labor and materials and cost more to purchase new, it's hard to argue that the relationship between guns and motorcycles follows the same rule. Indeed, compare any other collectible genre and any attempt to relate labor, materials and original value to the auction value becomes pointless, as the following set of marketplace lists so clearly illustrates.

Provenance and historic and cultural significance are undoubtedly key to the equation but the significance of these factors is again a very personal thing.

Top sellers – Rare Sword Marketplace

Moving one step further into the collectible armaments area, before there were firearms, there were swords, and the world's most expensive swords have fetched even greater sums at auction. That's General Grant's sword above which fetched US$1.6 million at Heritage Auctions and the Mughal emperor's gold dagger which fetched US$3.3 million at Bonhams (below).

Top 10 – Baseball Card Marketplace

One of the first contemporary collectibles were the cigarette cards which were used to market tobacco in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. The world's most expensive baseball card is the T206 Honus Wagner. The Honus Wagner card has been the rarest and most expensive baseball card in the world since it was listed in Jefferson Burdick's The American Card Catalog (1933) at a value of US$50 during the great depression.

The original card was withdrawn prior to circulation because Wagner, a non-smoker, threatened legal action against the tobacco company which had planned to use his image on a cigarette card without his permission. With such an active marketplace of card collectors, and just 57 Honus Wagner cards known to still exist, the laws of supply and demand have driven the card to astonishing prices.

The Honus Wagner card has a long history of setting jaw-dropping price records, with the record-setting card's sales history well known. In 1985 it sold for US$25,000, in 1987 for US$110,000, in 1991 for US$451,000, in 1995 for US$500,000, 1996 for US$641,500 and in 2000 it finally passed the million dollar mark with a sale of US$1,265,000.

The card gained world attention in 2007 when it sold for US$2,350,000 then later the same year the same card fetched US$2,800,000. Another T206 Honus Wagner card has sold for more than $2 million since.

1 - US$2.8 million - Honus Wagner 1909
2 - US$2,350,000 - Honus Wagner 1909
3 - US$1,265,000- - Honus Wagner 1909
4 - US$641,500 - Honus Wagner 1909
5 - US$517,000 - Babe Ruth
6 - US$500,000 - Honus Wagner 1909
7 - US$451,000 - Honus Wagner 1909
8 - US$329,000 - Joe Doyle, 1909
9 - US$282,000 - Mickey Mantle 1952
10 - US$275,000 - Lou Gehrig 1933

Look at the Top 100 list of motorcycles at auction and you'll see a sprinkling of Crocker motorcycles. The American Superbike of the late thirties is regarded as one of the finest of rare motorcycles. They sell for more than US$200,000 whenever they come up at auction, the last three selling for close to $300,000 each at Pebble Beach in 2012.

Scarcity is an acknowledged key variable in this high price (for a motorcycle) as only 72 Crockers are known to exist. Why then is a baseball card worth more than a motorcycle of the same scarcity? Are there more baseball card collectors than motorcyclists?

Top 10 – Comic Book Marketplace

Superheroes dominate the cinema these days, but prior to their introduction in the comic book phenomenon of the 1930s, they didn't exist.

Detective Comics began in 1937, and the company's Action Comics series began in June, 1938, introducing the mild-mannered Clark Kent and his alter-ego Superman to the world in the first issue (pictured above top left). So successful was Superman, that he earned his own comic book series (above second from right) and a new superhero named Batman appeared in Detective Comics Issue 27, dated May 1939 (above second from left).

Batman too captured the imagination of the public, and Robin the Wonder Boy made his first appearance in Issue 38, dated April, 1940. Batman's success spawned a comic book series of the same name in Spring 1940 (above right).

Detective Comics (now DC Comics) is still publishing, and along the way has given us a battalion of superheroes including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, Hawkman, and Green Arrow.

Just how much the public has embraced Superman, Batman et. al. is evidenced by the prices their comic books now command – there are a lot of high-net-worth individuals from the baby boomer generation with money to invest and a childhood to be cherished. Heritage Auctions regularly sells well-thumbed copies of DC #1 (Superman's first public appearance) and DC #27 (Batman's first public appearance) for more than US$500,000.

1 - US$2.89 million - 1938 Action Comics #1
2 - US$2.57 million - Detective Comics #27
3 - US$715,000 - Superman #1
4 - US$535,000 - Detective Comics #1
5 - US$499,000 - Marvel Comics #1
6 - US$478,000 - All-American Comics #16
7 - US$440,000 - Batman #1
8 - US$407,000 - Amazing Fantasy #15
9 - US$404,000 - Action Comics #7
10 - US$279,000 - Fantastic Four #1

Top 10 – Rare Stamp Marketplace

Baseball cards and comics are now beginning to rival the original collectors' treasure, the postage stamp, and although email has largely replaced snail mail, that marketplace has not slowed.

There's only one "1856 British Guiana 1c Magenta," but clearly there's still quite a strong market for philately as the famous stamp from the former British colony (since 1966 the independent nation of Guyana) sold for US$9,480,000 in June (2014), making it the world's most valuable object by weight.

In the 1920s, the only known 1856 British Guiana 1c Magenta, pictured above, was owned by US industrialist Arthur Hind. When a second example surfaced, Hind paid a vast sum to buy the second stamp, then set fire to it with his cigar, famously exclaiming: "I still own the world’s rarest stamp!"

Chemicals fortune heir and well known collector John du Pont (the subject of the movie Foxcatcher due for release in November, 2014) paid US$935,000 for this stamp in 1980 and it had been locked in a humidified bank vault for the last third of a century prior to its Sotheby's auction in June (2014).

1 - US $9.48 million - 1856 British Guiana 1c Magenta
2 - US$2.3 million - 1855 Sweden "Treskilling Yellow"
3 - US$1.6 million - 1847 Mauritius 2d Blue
4 - US$1.1 million - 1968 China 8 fen "The Whole Country is Red"
5 - US$1.0 million - 1847 Mauritius 1d Red Post Office
6 - US$977,500 - 1918 United States 24c "Inverted Jenny"
7 - US $930,000 - 1868 United States Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill 1c blue
8 - US $889,832 - 1897 China Red Revenue small "1 dollar"
9 - US $428,654 - 1953 China "Military Post" blue
10 - US$345,131 -1840 Great Britain 1d "Penny Black"

Top 10 – Rare Coin Marketplace

Coins have been around for thousands of years and probably offer the greatest bank per collector buck, in that it's not hard to put together a fascinating coin collection taking into account most of the great civilizations for a still accessible sum. This marketplace has been growing quietly for many decades, providing the most predictable returns of all the collectibles markets.

The world record for a rare coin sold at auction was set on January 28, 2013 when Stacks Bowers Galleries sold the Amon Carter 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar for US$10,016,875.

2 - US$7.59m - 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
3 - US$7.4 million - 1787 Brasher Doubloon
4 - US$6.8 million - 1343 Edward III Florin
5 - US$4.58 million - 1787 Brasher Doubloon
6 - US$4.14 million - 1804 Bust Dollar
7 - US$3.74 million - 1804 Bust Dollar
8 - US$3.74 million -1913 Liberty Head Nickel
9 - US$2.99 million - 1907 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
10 - US$2.41 million - 1787 Brasher Doubloon

Top 10 - Rare Guitar Marketplace

The rise of popular music in the last century can largely be attributed to the accessibility of music, with first recording and playback devices, then radio and television, then the MP3 and the internet and now that many people on the planet having an audio player inside their phone, music is more influential than ever in our lives. The electric guitar is the foremost musical instrument of the era, so it's not surprising that guitars with exceptional provenance sell particularly well at auction. In the world of guitars, provenance is key, and the tools of the trade of the most prominent guitar heroes have also risen to the top in the auction marketplace – so far the score is Eric 4, Jimi 2.

1 - US$2.7 million - Fender Stratocaster for “Reach Out to Asia”
2 - US$2.0 million - Jimi Hendrix “Woodstock” Guitar
3 - US $1.2 million - Bob Marley’s Customized Washburn 22 Series Hawk
4 - US$959,500 - Eric Clapton’s Stratocaster Hybrid
5 - US$847,500 - Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson ES0335 TDC
6 - US$791,500 - Eric Clapton’s CF Martin & Co
7 - US$623,500 - Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1965 Fender Stratocaster
8 - US$567,500 - George Harrison/John Lennon 1964 Gibson SG
9 - US$480,000 - Jimi Hendrix 1966 red Fender Mustang
10 - US$455,550 - Eric Clapton’s Gold Leaf Stratocaster

Of course, the guitar still has a long way to go to catch up with the violin on the auction block. A few years back, London banker Ian Stoutzker paid US$18,000,000+ for the legendary 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu (above), sometimes referred to as “the Mona Lisa of violins.” In a truly extraordinary act, instead of putting it in museum or locking it in a bank vault, Stoutzker then awarded "lifetime use" of the instrument to violin prodigy Anne Akiko Meyers. The world has subsequently been able to witness the exquisite sound of the instrument in concert.

The old saying "they don't make them like they used to" applies more to violins than any other collectible because although almost any level of craftsmanship can be replicated, albeit with great cost, the wood with which the most famous violins were produced is no longer available.

If you have any doubt that the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu is something very special indeed, watch this Youtube video of Anne Akiko Meyers playing the 'Vieuxtemps' in its Carnegie Hall debut with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

As an aside for our technophile-rich audience, the "Lady Blunt" violin is named after its first known owner, Lady Anne Blunt. Anne was the granddaughter of poet Lord Byron, and the daughter of Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer (quite some family of high achievers).

Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace (1815-1842) was perhaps the only person who understood the work of Charles Babbage at a detailed level. Babbage invented and partially built the world's first computer, long before we had microchips or transistors or valves or even electricity.

For those interested in finding out more about the relentlessly appreciating values of rare and important violins, see Violin Adviser.

Top 10 – Film Memorabilia

Items which have appeared in cinema command immense prices at auction and the strength of the film memorabilia genre speaks for itself with the prices listed below.

Number one on this listing goes to a Marilyn Monroe dress worn while standing over a street grate during the feature film, The Seven Year Itch (pictured top left) which sold for an astonishing US$5.52 million at auction.

There's something about Marilyn's dresses. The one she wore singing "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend" in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes fetched US$310,000 at auction but that wasn't nearly enough to qualify for this list, and the dress she wore while singing "Happy Birthday" to (her lover) President John F. Kennedy on television on May 19, 1962, sold for US$1,267,500 in 1999 but didn’t qualify for this list because it wasn’t in a movie. The flesh-colored, jewel-encrusted gown was apparently sewn on to Marilyn prior to her performance and rumor has it she wore the gown “au naturel” which may have been an additional factor in the price.

There's some legitimacy about the "little black dress"Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s appearing on this list, as it is a fashion landmark.

Designed by Hubert de Givenchy, the dress has become iconic in the fashion world and although US$923,187 is a lot of money, the influence of THAT dress has been immense. Hepburn scored a second top 10 spot with the dress she wore to the races at Ascot during the film My Fair Lady (top right) – that sold for US$3.7 million.

Perhaps the greatest irony of celluloid-induced illusion was the price someone paid for the Maltese Falcon. In the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, the Maltese Falcon was a priceless statuette, while the prop (which was made of lead) sold for US$4,000,000 (pictured center above).

In putting together these lists, it's hard to know what to leave in and what constitutes a new category, but the red leather jacket Michael Jackson wore in the "Thriller" music video sold for US$1.8 million.

Top 10 – Star Wars Memorabilia Marketplace

The strength of the movie collectibles marketplace is evidenced by the depth of the market for memorabilia featured in just one movie series such as Star Wars.

1 - US$625,000 - Movie Camera used to film Star Wars (above)
2 - US$385,000 - Miniature TIE Fighter model
3 - US$240,000 - Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber
4 - US$220,000 - Han Solo’s Blaster
5 - US$126,500 - Darth Vader’s helmet
6 - US$100,000 - Darth Vader’s Lightsaber
7 - US$100,000 - Chewbacca’s Head
8 - US$95,900 - Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Cloak
9 - US$70,000 - Darth Vader's Helmet, Mask and Shoulder Armour
10 - US$60,000 - Luke Skywalker’s Flight Suit

All unlinked sales by Profiles in History

Sci-fi movie props appear to do extra well at auction – a trekkie recently paid US$576,000 for a model of the USS Enterprise which was used in the filming of Star Trek: The Next Generation, another fan paid US$488,000 for a full-scale T-800 terminator endoskeleton from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the Blaster Gun used by Deckard (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner fetched US$270,000 at auction.

Top 10 Baseball Memorabilia Marketplace

1 - US$4,415,658 - Babe Ruth's 1920 Jersey (above)
2 - US$3.0 million - Mark McGwire's 70th Home Run Ball
3 - US$2.8 million - Honus Wagner's Baseball Card
4 - US$1.3 million - Babe Ruth's Bat
5 - US$996,000 - Babe Ruth's Contract
6 - US$940,000 - Babe Ruth's 1932 “Called Shot” Jersey
7 - US$805,000 - Babe Ruth All-Star Game signed Home Run Ball
8 - US$771,000 - Babe Ruth's World Tour Jersey
9 - US$752,467 - Barry Bonds' Home Run Ball
10 - US$657,250 - Babe Ruth's All-Star Game Jersey

A single item of sports memorabilia can represent the magic of an instant in sporting history, having been used by one of our greatest heroes in one of their greatest moments. The above represents JUST the market for baseball memorabilia, but every sport has its own marketplace and some sports seem to command higher prices than others.

Football (soccer) memorabilia seems very conservatively priced in comparison to baseball, but given that the round ball game is the only really global one, that is unlikely to last, particularly for World Cup memorabilia. Cricket is another sport likely to begin producing high-priced sports memorabilia at some point, particularly given the growth of wealth in India and that country's passion for the game.

Boxing is yet another sport where stellar prices have not yet been achieved with the most expensive memorabilia sold to date being the gloves worn by Cassius Clay to defeat Joe Frazier (he became Muhammad Ali a week later) which fetched US$836,500 at a Heritage Auctions Sports Collectibles sale earlier this year.

One of the key take-outs from all this research has been that the marketplace is fickle. In 2006, a baseball signed by Joe di Maggio and his celebrity wife Marilyn Monroe fetched US$192,000 at auction.

In 2011, another baseball signed by Joe di Maggio and Marilyn Monroe went to auction, except this one was also signed by the entire 1952 Yankee team (which included Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra), complete with Marilyn’s famous lipstick kiss clearly visible on the ball. It only fetched $59,750. Go figure! The undervaluing of the motorcycle marketplace is not related to one or two irrational events however. It is a long term trend. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but after months of trying to get a handle on why the motorcycle is so undervalued, we are none the wiser.

The irony is that most motorcycle enthusiasts will probably pay little heed to the escalation of pricing until their Knucklehead suddenly becomes worth more than the family home.

Scientific instruments – possibly the most undervalued collectibles of all?

Although motorcycles seem undervalued and hence worthy of investment as they can be expected to appreciate significantly when the marketplace corrects, there's one area of collectibles which seems more undervalued than any other – the scientific instruments marketplace.

Five years ago, Gizmag's Noel McKeegan and Mike Hanlon spent two days photographing the entire catalog of Bonhams' Michael Bennett-Levy Early Technology Sale in London. As they worked their way through the 750 lots, they were constantly looking at the estimates, (which proved to be accurate), and discussing the paltry prices beside such significant technological items.

The relentless progress of technology during the last century has often masked the true value of landmark specimens of mankind’s technological triumphs. Just as one of the world's now most valuable cars was left abandoned on the side of a Hollywood freeway thirty years ago (once a race-bred car is uncompetitive, it's hard for those involved in racing not to see it as worthless), countless first-of-a-kind scientific devices have been quickly superseded and hence soon regarded as useless in comparison to newer, better equipment. Look through the official auction page of that sale, and you'll see some landmark devices which sold for chump change.

Bonhams now has a dedicated department which specializes in this facet of the collectibles industry and some recent auctions ( here and here ) suggest the marketplace is now beginning to move. There's a forthcoming History of Science auction in New York which Nick Lavars recently previewed for Gizmag – it will be worth watching the prices fetched.

Accordingly, we believe the antique scientific instruments area represents one of the most undervalued areas of the collectibles marketplace, and hence one of the finest medium term investments available, with a likelihood of value increasing dramatically once historical perspective is restored.

And for the motorcyclists amongst our readership, make sure you point out this article to your beloved, because you might soon be able to rightfully claim that the Knucklehead in the garage is indeed the family heirloom you always knew it was.

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