The Collections of Paul Allen

Paul Gardner Allen grew up in Seattle and went to Lakeside school, where he learned to program on a computer terminal using a block of computer time which had been purchased for the school using a jumble sale.

Intrigued by the possibilities Allen and his friends, including Bill Gates, exploited loopholes in the computer company's system to gain more free time and proved so good at this that they were hired by the company to check for security weaknesses. This experience helped inspire Allen to co-found Microsoft.

Allen went on to found other companies. Despite difficulties in the recent credit crunch, Allen retains a fortune of $10.5bn.

Along with co-founder Gates, Paul Allen and a few other technology gurus in Seattle have been referred to as The New Medicis for their enthusiasm for and dominance of the art market.

The two do not collect art in the same way at all, however, as Bill Gates concentrates on American art from relatively recent times whilst Allen collects more classical European art, especially Old Masters and Impressionists.

Likewise, whilst Gates is relatively open about which works he has collected, Allen is extremely secretive. So much so that several people who work for him have signed confidentially agreements about which pieces he has collected.

Possibly this is a security issue, or possibly like fellow billionaire, rare stamp collector Bill Gross he wants to avoid having the owners predict that he's going to want their art and price it accordingly.

Works which Allen is believed to have collected however include Renoir's 1877 piece La Liseuse, apparently purchased for $13.2m in 2001, and Monet's 1874 work Rouen Cathedral: Afternoon Effect. He also owns a few modern pieces, including some by Roy Liechtenstein.

Fortunately, Allen is much less secretive about another of his collections: The Flying Heritage Collection, which is a group of vintage airplanes maintained in airworthy condition. Allen's private collection is treated almost as openly as a museum and includes pieces from all round the world.

Flying Heritage at a 2008 exhibition

Some of the many highlights include a Polikarpov U-2/PO-2, Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk (recovered from its WW2 crash site in Russia), Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 Emil, Grumman F6F Hellcat and a Focke Wulf Fw 190D-13 Dora.

This is not to mention the best Curtiss JN-4 'Jenny' still in existence. The Jenny, used for military training and entertainment, will be familiar to collectors beyond the realm of aviation - an IMAGE_of the plane was used for America's most famous stamp: the Inverted Jenny.

As if this wasn't enough, Allen has an impressive memorabilia collection, including a number of Jimi Hendrix guitars. (One of Hendrix's guitars made a Top Ten list of celebrity collectibles after it sold for $480,000 in 2007.)

Allen is a philanthropist and technophile, and he makes large contributions to scientific projects through the Paul G Allen foundation. In 2008 he donated $41m to a project for researching the spinal cord, in the hope of finding treatments for those paralysed through injury.

Sometimes his technophilia combines with his collecting, most notably in the Experience Music Project, presents the musical history of the Northwest Rock scene. The project showcases classic instruments, but also technology which visitors can jump into and recreate music.

Allen also funds SETI - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It seems that even his vintage planes can't quite fly high enough for him.


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