Sylvester Roper steam motorbike - his second - auctions for $425,000 in Las Vegas

We've previously reported on how 2012 could be the 'year of the collectible classic motorcycle'. The year's markets have already witnessed the success of this steam-powered rarity: an 1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle which auctioned for $425,000 in Las Vegas, US, on January 14.

This motorbike is often overlooked by historians quick to attribute the birth of motor excursions to the Duryea brothers and, later, Henry Ford's mass production. But motor travel actually has its roots much earlier in the 19th century.

Historians often forget pioneer Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Roper mated a steam engine, boiler and bicycle together in 1867. The result was a steam powered velocipede which may be the world's earliest known motorcycle.

Roper's inventions never enjoyed commercial success. But they did inspire future generations of inventors, encouraging them to explore the possibilities of gas powered motorbikes in the early-20th century.


Sylvester Roper motorcycle
Sylvester Roper's second motorcycle from 1894

Of the 10 different vehicles constructed by Roper, two of them were motorcycles. One of his steam powered carriages is preserved at the Henry Ford Museum, while Roper's earlier steam powered motorbike can be viewed at the Smithsonian Institution.

This model auctioned in Las Vegas is Roper's second 1894 effort, and also his last vehicle. This historic motorcycle was developed more than two decades after Roper's first, boasting a then-state-of-the-art Columbia model 36 bicycle frame among its features.

Roper reportedly used the motorcycle on a regular basis for pleasure and to demonstrate its potential. According to the Boston Globe newspaper's records, the inventor suffered a fatal heart attack while riding this very machine.

This pioneering and historic vehicle was previously sold by one of Roper's heirs to the Coney Island Museum in New York City. It has resided in at least three museums since. The seller in this auction had owned the bike since 1996.

Offered for the first time in public, this motorcycle's historical significance, provenance and one-of-a-kind rarity contributed to its $425,000 final value.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock