|By Eric C. Rodenberg
PORTLAND, Mich. – One of the country’s most unique and diversified collections of antique and vintage cars, complemented by a terrific group of signage and a broad collection of model and scale-size engines, will be one of those auctions that will be talked about for some time.
The auction of the lifelong collection of Welland “Walt” Sprague of Portland, Mich., conducted by Stanton’s Auctioneers of Vermontville, Mich., brought out between 400 and 500 bidders on the first day of the sale on Aug. 10.
And, those bidders weren’t just sitting on their hands. They came to buy. Auctioneers Steven E. Stanton and Michael Bleisch sold nearly 500 cataloged lots during the Aug. 10-11 sale, and an estimated 700 lots of uncataloged items. In addition to a good crowd, computer bids and phone bids were coming in from across the country. Several bidders also left bids before the auction, Stanton said.
Stanton said the consignors were happy with the sale, which grossed nearly $1 million. The results of the sale were “considerably more” than what the collection had been appraised for about two years ago, Stanton said. “All the cars sold exceptionally well.”
Sprague died in March 2016 at the age of 91. Born in Detroit, he attended the Edison Institute of Technology during the war years and Michigan State University after the war. In between, he served in the U.S. Army 104th Infantry Division during World War II. He was captured in late October of 1944 and escaped a German Prisoner of War camp six months later.
Upon returning home from the war, he started Danby Manufacturing with his father. The company began in a two-car garage on the family farm, making products for Holley Carburetor, Ford and General Motors. The business doubled in size by 1955 and moved into a larger facility within the town of Portland. The business subsequently changed its name to Portland Products, Inc. and is still in business.
While successfully charting the company’s future, Sprague became interested in classic cars. His collection was a highly esteemed accomplishment among his peers and fellow automotive collectors. Renowned as a savvy collector, Sprague enjoyed boating, estate sales and bargain-hunting throughout his life.
His collection, as displayed by Stanton Auctioneers, made an impressive statement. Not only were the cars some of the finest in the country, but they shined like newly-minted gold. Sprague’s collection of Petroliana items only embellished the rich display of classic cars.
“It was quite a sale,” according to fellow car enthusiast Al Sorenson. “The condition of the signs and thermometers in particular was excellent. There were many tin signs that showed no chipping, no abrasions, and little or no wear. Advertising clocks were particularly popular.”
Nearly $50,000 in signs were sold. But, the real money was bid on the cars.
One of the rarest cars in the auction was a 1940 Cadillac with a V-16 engine. Only 60 of these cars were ever produced, Stanton said. The formal sedan had only 45,231 miles on the odometer and was in excellent condition, bringing the handsome sum of $77,000.
Another rarity was a very fine 1936 Ford two-door Cabriolet club car with only 829 miles on the odometer sold for $57,750. Another “stand-out” was a 1906 Reo Roadster, which Stanton Auctioneers had sold to Sprague at a Lansing estate sale 33 years earlier, which brought $34,100.
Further attesting to the unique offerings from Sprague’s collection was not one, but two, rarely-seen amphibious cars. The Amphicars, designed to drive on the road and/or “weigh anchor” in a lake, brought $49,500 and $46,750.
Other great old cars brought good money, including a 1946 Lincoln Continental two-door convertible brought $33,000; a 1930 Ford Model A “Phaeton,” $44,000; a 1937 Packard 12 Series Sedan, $45,100; and a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud 1 Sedan sold for $28,600.
A 1955 Ford Thunderbird “T-Bird,” red with white interior, sold for a classic bid of $44,000.
Pre-sale interest from across the country was keen on a 1903 Holley Motorette Runabout, an early example in excellent condition, sold for $46,750. Another seldom-seen classic was the tiny BMW “Isetta” 300, with front door access, brought $19,800.
A 1966 Glen Pray Cord 8/10 Sportsman convertible sold for $22,000; a 1953 MG “TD” two-door roadster convertible brought $19,800; a replica of a 1903 Olds delivery wagon sold for $3,300; a 1951 Crosley “SS” Roadster sold for $7,150; a 1926 Ford Model T Roadster in very good condition sold for $20,900; a 1978 Cadillac Eldorado Coupe, Biarritz model, $9,900; and a 1968 Cadillac also brought $9,900.
Sprague’s collection also included several engines and scale-models of various powered devices. The greatest interest was over a General Electric Arnold gas engine that was produced in Ionia, Mich., selling for $19,800. A scale model of a Reeves steam tractor sold for $6,050 to a Kansas buyer.
The powered engines were popular with bidders, including an Olds miniature gas engine model, $1,320; a Marklin steam engine, $715; a United 5-horsepower gas engine, $1,265; a German Marklin steam engine with gear-driven dynamo, $1,870; a Cushman gas engine, $550; a Smith Motor Works engine for a bicycle, $880; a Clarke trolling motor, $825; a modern miniature wooden boat with an antique Neptune single cylinder outboard motor, $825; an Empire double fly wheel steam engine, $980; and two Winchester cannons, $1,980.
Among the $50,000 worth of signs that sold included a neon Minneapolis Moline Farm Implement dealer’s sign, $7,150; Delco Heat (Product of General Motors) neon sign, $5,160; a Used Cars and Trucks outdoor neon sign, $4,400; an Atlantic porcelain oil sign, $1,320; a 1936 Socony Mobil Oil Shield sign, $2,310; a Victor Welding porcelain and neon sign, $4,950; a Town and Country Motor Sales neon sign, $2,750; and a Cities Service cloverleaf porcelain sign, $1,375.
Stanton’s Auctioneers will have 25 sales – featuring antiques, firearms and other “treasures” – during the next two months, Steven E. Stanton said.
Contact: (517) 726-0181