The Story of... The supersonic collectibles of Concorde
Concorde's retirement in 2003 wasn't the end - far from it, thanks to the efforts of collectors
When Air France Flight 4590, flying from Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, crashed on July 25, 2000, killing all 100 passengers and crew on board, it was the beginning of the end for Concorde.
Today, Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde is remembered as an aviation icon, described by leading Concorde collector Simon Jones in his recent exclusive interview with Paul Fraser Collectibles as "the UK's equivalent to the man on the Moon."
Like the technology behind Apollo's Moon landings, Concorde is all the more impressive when you remember that it first flew back in 1969. Back then, passengers sat on seats decorated with psychedelic patterns of the era as they cruised through the skies at a breaktaking Mach 2.04 or 1,350 mph.
Over the years, Concorde became perceived as a privilege for the rich (although more moderately well-off passengers could book one-way flights) whose lounges contained a who's-who of the wealthy and famous.
Citing slumping passenger figures, in the wake of the Flight 4590 crash and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saw Air France and British Airways simultaneously announce that they would retire Concorde. Both companies made the announcement on April 10, 2003.
Despite a rejected offer by Richard Branson, aviation enthusiast and Virgin impresario, to buy the entire Concorde fleet for "more than £5m", the supersonic jet's end was nigh.
Said Lisa Perez of memorabilia specialists Concorde Collectables at the time of its demise: "Aesthetically, the aircraft is beautiful... There is also an aspirational jet-set, aspect to Concorde. Most people would like to have flown on it if they could."
Concorde was not only an icon of the skies and of British ingenuity, it was also exceptionally rare with just 20 aircraft - 14 production models and six development models - ever built.
Unique pieces are most coveted
It was therefore only a matter of time until Concorde's parts became coveted and super-exclusive collectibles. And that time would come before even the last commercial Concorde flight had taken place on October 24, 2003...
Christie's blazed the trail with the first Concorde memorabilia sale in Paris, organised with Air France. Key sale items included the original flightsuit worn by test pilot Brian Trubshaw when he took to the air in the prototype Concorde on April 9, 1969.
Meanwhile, as British Airways was inundated with requests for pieces of Concorde memorabilia from enthusiasts, it was only a matter of time before it followed suit...
In December 2003, Bonhams held an auction of British Airways Concorde artefacts at Kensington Olympia in London. Overall, the sale raised around £0.75m with the majority of the proceeds going to charity.
With a prospective turnout of 3,500, Bonhams put spare parts and decommissioned items under the hammer, from cabin seating to tail lights. Pride of place in the mammoth Concorde collection was a nose cone from the jet, estimated at £35,000.
Legendary BA Concorde pilot Mike Bannister was in also attendance at the sale, which featured a number of pieces unique to the jet including the machmeter which measured the plane's 1,350mph speeds (estimated at £3,000-5,000).
By this point, the decommissioned jet which had flown alongside the Red Arrows at Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee was already established as a bona fide aviation icon. Collectors and enthusiasts at the event confirmed this with their bidding paddles.
Not surprisingly, unique Concorde artefacts proved to be the most popular among bidders. In the end the machmeter, with its range of mach numbers still clearly visible, shot way past its £5,000 to sell for £32,900.
Nose cones from Concorde have
But the nose cone would offer even more of a surprise. The first aircraft nose of its kind, whose angle could be moved by gears controlled by the pilots to enable Concorde to safely land and take-off, far exceeded its £35,000.
In the end, it brought more than 325,000.
Simon Jones remembers of the sale: "It was the first time that I'd participated in an auction and, to be honest, I was trembling. You hold the placard up, and when bids are starting to go - one thousand, two thousand all that sort of stuff - your hands are shaking."
Simon placed the £2,350 (including buyer's premium) winning bid on a Rosemount Outboard Water Drain Mast, used to eject water from Concorde's washbasins and galley.
That day, he and his fellow bidders became early pioneers of the one of the world's most unique collecting niches.
"It is the sort of thing that serious collectors and museums will be looking to snap up," said Roland Arkell of Antiques Trade Gazette back in 2003.
Arkell wasn't wrong: Concorde collectors snapped up the pieces so enthusiastically that today it is something of a closed shop. Today, Concorde's most exclusive pieces will only come to market if when collectors choose to sell them.
Recent sale examples include a Concorde nosecone which appeared in the recent Channel 4 collectibles series, Four Rooms. The nose was sold by British Airways museum curator Paul Jarvis for £55,000 to dealer Andrew Lamberty.
Lamberty immediately resold the nose for £100,000 - an incredible profit. But, give the £325,000-plus sales total achieved by the Concorde nosecone at Bonhams in 2003, this value seemed rather low.
Nevertheless, the Four Rooms sale illustrated perfectly that Concorde still continues to capture the nation's hearts and minds nearly a decade after its retirement.
Thanks to devoted collectors, this legacy is likely to continue thriving for future generations to enjoy.
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