Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

7th Annual Space Auction includes MacBean Scottish connection

While reviewing the list of items on offer in the 7th Bonhams Space History Sale (and coming to the conclusion that I would not be bidding – even a washer that made it into space was not going to meet my budget, at an estimated £470-610), I was intrigued to see that Scottish heritage was being claimed by one of the astronauts, with an artefact from the Apollo 11 mission:

FLOWN Cloth, woolen MacBean tartan, 8 x 5 inches. With an Autograph Letter Signed by ALAN BEAN on his personal illustrated letterhead.

INSCRIBED and SIGNED “ALAN L. BEAN / Flown to the Moon / Nov ’69“.

ALAN BEAN’s handwritten provenance letter reads: “I hereby certify that the accompanying MacBean tartan cloth travelled with me to the moon in our command module, Yankee Clipper. I then transferred the tartan to our lunar module Intrepid for descent to the lunar surface. The tartan remained in the lunar module during our 33 hour stay on the Ocean of Storms and was then returned to Earth.

The Macbeans are a 700 year old clan. According to family lore, one of Alan Bean’s ancestors, John MacBean, was exiled to New England in 1652 following his support for the Scottish King Charles II against Cromwell.

My apologies in advance for any spelling errors in the clan name, but I have, as always, quoted the source material as given, and it includes two variants, so I cannot tell which one is the intended correct version in this instance.

I would assume MacBean, but cannot be sure.

Clan MacBean Tartan

Credit: Bonhams – Clan MacBean Tartan


April 15, 2015 Posted by | Aviation | , , , , , | Leave a comment

(Some) Meteorites auctioned in Edinburgh

I’d been hoping the BBC would follow up on a story about meteorites being auctioned in Edinburgh, on August 20, 2013:

Part of a meteorite that looks “a bit like a fruit cake” and is thought to be the UK’s most expensive rock from outer space is to be sold at auction.

The Hambleton meteorite is a rare pallasite, a stony-iron meteorite, and the only one to be found in the UK.

A 2,900g slice of the Hambleton rock has been valued between £7,000 and £10,000 ahead of its sale at Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh later.

But I didn’t notice any later stories, on what was sold, or for how much. I was curious, since the concluded by noting, “According to the auctioneers, if the Hambleton meteorite part reaches the price of £10,000 it will become the most expensive meteorite sold by Lyon and Turnbull, the only auctioneers known to specialise in meteorite sales.”

Via Hambleton meteorite auctioned in Edinburgh

As it happened, the meteorite featured failed to sell as it did not meet its reserve, and I had to go digging around to find a report on the auction elsewhere.

Shards of rock from outer space fetched 11,460 pounds ($18,000) at an auction as a British meteorite collector raised money for his next hunt.

The pieces included a 27.1 gram (0.96 ounce) nugget of the Russian meteor that landed in Chelyabinsk in February this year, which sold for 700 pounds, according to the results on auctioneer Lyon & Turnbull’s website. The sale in Edinburgh, the third by Robert Elliott since 2009, made less than forecast as some of the most highly estimated meteorites didn’t lure buyers.

The auction was forecast to reap between 50,000 pounds and 100,000 pounds, Strang said yesterday. A 2.9 kilogram (6.4 pound) piece of Hambleton meteorite was among the lots bidders passed up. It had a guide range of 7,000 to 10,000 pounds.

Via Meteorites Fetch $18,000 as Collector Funds New Hunt – Bloomberg

Interesting to note that while the meteorites alone didn’t do as well as expected, jewellery made from them exceeded exceptions, “Among the 32 of 85 lots that did sell were rings with mounted pieces of meteorite and an astronaut’s mission patch, according to Lyon & Turnbull. The most expensive was a chunk of Seymchan pallasite from Russia found originally in 1967, which sold for a hammer price of 3,200 pounds compared with a guide range of 1,200 to 1,800 pounds, the results showed“, which may tell us something about who was buying.

Allan Hill Meteorite

Allan Hill Meteorite Antarctica – NOT at the auction – but a handy public domain image of a fairly large meteorite, said to have come from Mars


August 25, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Genuine ‘Whisky Galore’ bottles are going to auction

Whisky bottles

There’s not many around, and in terms of authentication, only 8 bottle survive from a total of some 28,000 cases of malt whisky where were on board the 8000-ton cargo ship SS Politician, sailing from Liverpool to the Jamaican capital of Kingston and New Orleans, struck rocks and sank off the shores of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides in 1941, spawning the book and the  film Whisky Galore.

The islander efforts to salvage the cargo, and keep the whisky, are now legend, as are the lengths the revenue men went to in order to get it back, since the export had not paid any tax.

The last time such bottles of whisky were sold was in 1987, when eight bottles recovered then by a diver were sold at Christie’s for £4,000.

Two went to a gentleman in Fraserburgh, who has since died:

He died recently and his widow decided to sell them along with the neck tags from Christie’s and letters of authentication.

The official documents from Christie’s state: “Two bottles bottled by W & A Gilbey with original cork and wax sealed by Christie’s in plain glass with shoulder embossing stating, ‘Federal law forbids sale or re-use of this bottle’.”

Via Bottles from Whisky Galore wreck SS Politician to go under hammer | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

Also Bottles from wreck that inspired Whisky Galore auctioned

The auction house estimates the value of the two bottles to be around £2,000, but I have a suspicion the hammer will fall on a larger number (hopefully not to near the bottles!)

A number of small collectible and rare items have been in auctions recently, and if the right people are there on the day, and one really wants the lot, then the number have been getting silly in some cases.

We’ll see – the result should make the news, and I will add the final figure to complete the story.

(Before anyone gripes – No, the bottles shown above are just illustrative stock imagery.)


The auction has taken place and the numbers are in. And it seems that two determined bidders were after this lot, so the original estimate of £2,ooo was left far behind. Perhaps not silly money, but I was right for once.

The bottles made £12,050.

Although it’s unlikely anyone would ever have opened the bottle to have a wee dram, it’s now being suggested that it’s very likely the seals would not have prevented sea water getting into the bottle, and rendering the contents unfit for human consumption.

It seems the auction has led to the news of some more bottles from the wreck, but as has been pointed out, before anyone gets interested, or thinks of another sale, the provenance of these bottles would need to be verified.

Via Whisky bottles from SS Politician fetch more than £12,000 at auction | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Maritime | , , , , | Leave a comment

Churchill’s Morris Oxford sold for £51,000

Churchill Morris Oxford – image from Morris Leslie online catalogue

Churchill Morris Oxford

Although news of the forthcoming auction of Winston Churchill’s last car, a Morris Oxford, was spread fairly liberally, the sale itself seemed to generate little interest in the media.

So far, I’ve failed to dig up any linkable mention of the sale of the 1964 car, registered in Churchill’s name from new, and the last private car he ever owned.

Trusting the info I have received is correct, bidding for the classic car started at £35,000, and ended at £51,00 when the hammer fell on the final bid by a Yorkshire businessman, who will add the car to his existing collection.

Compare this to the of £129,000 made by Churchill’s Land Rover last year.


Mentioning the lack if info helped, and we soon learned that the Perthshire Advertiser had covered the story on March 15, 2013.

Churchill’s car bought for £51,000 at auction – Perthshire Advertiser

They report the car went to a mystery buyer, and will be kept out of public sight behind the closed doors of his private collection.

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Churchill’s Morris Oxford features in Errol Auction on March 9

If you are near Errol Airfield on Saturday, March 9, 2013, it might be interesting to drop in and see how much a Morris Oxford which was owned by Winston Churchill goes for. It was registered in his name in May 1964 and was the last private car he owned. Churchill had been MP for Dundee from 1908 to 1922, and died in 1965.

The car was in a collection, and the light coloured car, which has covered only 7,802 miles (as declared by the auctioneers), still has the registration number it carried when Churchill owned it, 6000 KP. It comes with the original log book, signed by Churchill.

There’s no estimate on the lot, but if you missed the sale of Churchill’s Land Rover a few months ago, it went for £129,000 last year.

You can find out more details about the auction on the official site:

Current Auctions| Perth | Scotland | UK | Morris Leslie Group

This link shows (at the time of writing) the details of the car including a number of photogrpahs:

Morris Leslie Sales Catalogue –  Lot No 460

Churchill Morris Oxford

Churchill Morris Oxford – image from Morris Leslie online catalogue

As with all auctions, lots may change at the last moment, so CHECK the details for yourself before travelling!

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Glamis hosts huge vintage car auction

Old car 1950

I was a little surprised to read of a huge car auction that took place near the village of Glamis recently, when more than 50 vintage cars that had been collected by one enthusiast were sold off. The sale came about after the collector, 84-year old Mr William Cunningham, known as Freddie, passed away last year.

The sale was organised by the Strathmore Vintage Vehicle Club, and took place at its new premises on the outskirts of the village.

Top earner was reported as a Hotchkiss roadster, which had been offered at a price in excess of £14,000, but was sold for £42,000 by an unnamed bidder from the southern England. A 1939 McEvoy Steyr was bought by a foreign collector for £32,500, and a 1957 Deutsch & Bonnet Panhard fixed head coupe made £10,000.

SVVC chairman Alan Burt said this was one of the biggest sales in Scotland from one collection over the past 40 years.

I’m surprised I didn’t even have a clue this was coming about. Even though I’m no longer active in the hobby, I still keep an eye on upcoming events, and receive alerts of events. Still, I wouldn’t have been buying anything – no more room and not more spare cash.

BBC News – Glamis vintage car sale hailed a success

(For anyone that wants to nit-pick, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have a public domain vintage car on file, hence the 1950s example used.)

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

Vintage tech auction may fetch up to £1 million

Philips projection television c. 1960

Philips projection television c. 1960

I’m looking at my own small collection of what now appears to be classed as vintage technology with renewed interest this morning, after reading of an auction to be held in Edinburgh by Bonhams next week.

A collection of some 758 items representing technology covering several hundred years of development, currently the property of Michael Bennett-Levy, from Edinburgh, and amassed over a period of  30 years is expected to sell for up to £1 million.

Included are 26 pre-war television sets, of which the auctioneers say only about 500 examples have survived. Although I could have had no say in the matter at the time, it makes me wonder what our postwar projection television (pictured) which originated in the 1950s would be worth – dismantled for parts when it expired.

Included in the auction will be LED calculators from 1971, estimated at £200 to £300. Some of these I do have, complete with advertising literature from the day, and recall that even the cheapest –  only 4-function devices (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division,with a constant key if you were lucky) – were priced at £79.95.

The collection also includes scientific instruments from the 1800s, early computers, and even the producer’s working papers for the opening of the BBC television service on November 2, 1936.

I think it may be time to move my collection of early PCs and original software into a safer storage area, and dig them out again after another 20 years has passed. At the moment, about 25 of them are serving as supports for shelves to store the rest on!

Even being careful with the old collection can be thwarted by disasters that happen nearby though, as I learned when a small shelf unit decided to fail and collapse. Although there was little weight involved, the resulting fallout still managed to throw small items a fair distance, and one early Galileo thermometer suffered a cracked base, leading to the loss of the liquid contents some days later as the crack spread and opened, and I’m currently having carry out a very tricky resetting operation on an aneroid barometer. This is not the typical wood and glass item seen adorning walls, but a proper scientific measuring device capable of reading atmospheric pressure to parts of a millibar. Despite being both robust and transportable, and in a heavy metal case for transport, whatever struck the casing did so in such a way as to cause the internal gearing to jump out of synchronisation, which will require complete disassembly to restore – an operation not made any easier by the need to fabricate suitable tools to match the special screws used to assemble the device.

The exercise will ultimately be worth the effort though, as the same barometer is still available from its original Swiss manufacturer today, to the same design, for a mere £5,000 list price!

September 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bugatti Type 57S Atalante sells for 3 million

At the start if the year, we spotted an item which showed that there may yet be some discoveries to made in our old area of interest, Classic cars, when a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, one of 17, was found by relatives of a reclusive Newcastle doctor in the lockup garage which contained the contents he left to them, and also included an Aston Martin and a Jaguar E-type.

At the time, the car was estimated to worth up to £3 million at auction, and went on to prove its worth by realising its £3 million estimate at auction in Paris this month, which corresponds to something like 3.4 million euros at this time.

Original BBC report predicting value

BBC video report of auction

Given the supposed recession which the world is endlessly reported to in at the moment, it’s interesting to see that the original value was made at auction, and reflect on how the £/euro, or euro/£ conversion, would not have had the almost 1:1 conversion factor that it has at this particular time.

It’s an interesting story not for it’s core content, but for the fact that it doesn’t even bother to mention the Aston Martin or Jaguar E-Type. Back in the days of (yet another?) financial crash as we entered the 1980s, these cars featured heavily in disasters suffered by those who had speculated on their value. While they were never cheap, these cars represented well known icons to Classic car enthusiasts, and those with pockets that lay on the deeper side of deep could afford to run and restore them – until the speculators saw them as potential investments.

Instead of counting the cost of ownership of these cars in terms of tens of thousands, they spiralled up to six figures, and out of the hands of ordinary enthusiasts.

Come the (financial) crash, their six figure values evaporated overnight as the bottom fell out the market as the investors concerned lost their shirts, and no-0ne was interested in paying the values that had formerly been associated with these cars.

Surprisingly, the end of this story was positive. As a result of the desperate measures adopted some investors to get hold of and own one of these cars, any old scrapper was being dug out of storage, garages, barns, fields, or wherever, and restorers were given wads of cash to restore them as “better than new condition” and cars that had little more than scrap value, and which would in reality have been worth only £30,000 had they been perfect, were have £50,000 and more spent on them, as the finished item could be worth twice that, or more, at auction.

The flaw being that auction prices are fickle, and reach only what the buyers will, or can afford to pay.

So, the good news nowadays is that there are many such cars which have survived, and are in superb condition, but are no longer attached to telephone number values. While they may not be cheap, £30,000 today is nothing like what £30,000 was in 1980. In fact, it’s now only the cost of a well specified quality, up-market model from any ordinary family car maker, and well below the cost of many SUVs or 4x4s that are taking up vast amounts of road space today.

How times have changed, even as we drown in a sea of propaganda that says we are in recession.

Perhaps shake-up or re-organisation would be a better description?

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Bugatti Type 57S Atalante found in Tyneside

While this did take place south of the border, and would probably be unlikely to happen up here (but you never know what’s been hidden away and forgotten), this does qualify as something of a secret that was discovered.

While you never expect to find one, those of us that have a finger in the hobby dream of making a Barn Find one day – the discovery of a long-lost and forgotten car stuffed at the back of a barn, a victim of circumstances that meant that the owner never got back to it in their lifetime, or mentioned it to anyone.

Many rust away from neglect, while others are ordinary classic, veteran, or vintage cars, and too far gone to be of value, but for the odd recoverable spare part if its not too decayed and rotten.

Then there are the gems, lucky enough to have been stored in such a way as to be largely preserved, and to be something rare. These can be worth millions, and the one announced on January 1 was one of those.

A 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, one of 17, which was found by relatives of a reclusive Newcastle doctor in the lockup garage which contained the contents he left to them, which also included an Aston Martin and a Jaguar E-type.

The car, originally owned by Earl Howe – first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club – is due to be sold by Bonhams in Paris next month, and is expected to fetch up to £3 million. Hopefully the sale will be featured in the news, and we can see how the current recession affect the prediction.

Driven by the doctor from 1955 to 1960, then garaged, the car has recorded 26,284 miles.

The Bugatti 57S is highly coveted, with at least four thought to belong to the Musee Nationale de L’Automobile in Mulhouse, France, while the remaining examples are in the hands of private collectors.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | 2 Comments

Historic S1 registration number for sale

Originating in Edinburgh, the historic registration number S 1 is due to be sold by Bonhams auction house at the Goodwood Revival Sale on September 19.

The registration mark S 1 was originally bought by Sir John H A MacDonald, a Law Lord and Lord Justice-Clerk of Scotland between 1888 and 1919. Being one of the first registrations ever, it would have been bought to meet the requirements of the Motor Car Act of 1903, which required every motor car to be assigned a registration mark from January 1, 1904, onward.

Sir John was also known as Lord Kingsburgh,  a motoring pioneer, one of Scotland’s first car owners, and first president of the Scottish RAC (founded in 1899) who foresaw the rapid development of the car and the need for a proper road system. He was a founding member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland.

The mark has spent most of life with the MacDonald family, having been allowed to lapse for a period about the time of World War II, but was revived by Sir John’s great-grandson, Norman MacDonald, and is now being offered for sale by the family.

Despite the BBC’s claim that S 1was the capital’s first registration, this is not quite right, and the true story is more interesting…

S 3 was the first registration number to be taken out in Edinburgh, by James Ivory. According to his son, Eric J Ivory, his father decined to accept S 1, suggesting instead that it be reserved for the President of the Scottish Motor Club. As Mrs Ivory did not favour the next number, S 2, the first number that was actually taken in Edinburgh was S 3.

Edinburgh has a number of interesting registration in the S series. For example:

S 0 (S-zero) is the main registration for Edinburgh, and the number signifies the first citizen of the capital city, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Whether or not this is still the case, we’re unsure, but many years ago, it was noted that this was the only illuminated front number. Maybe someone with local knowledge can add a comment about the current status of the number.

S 10 This has also been recorded as the registration of an official car of the City of Edinburgh.

S 1314 A well known date for Scotland, equivalent to 1066 somewhere else.

(Yes, I know the legal S 1 plate requires a space between the S and the 1. Unfortunately, the brains that put together the software that renders a nice UK registration plate don’t seem to have considered the possibility of somene rendering such a short number in 2008, so you just have to take what you can get within a reasonable time. I’m sure there’s one that would do it, and give me proper silver on black too).

September 6, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Tourism opportunity missed

Back in November of 2007 the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee launched an inquiry into tourism, intended to find out if the target of increasing tourism revenues by 50 per cent by 2015 is realistic. In its written response to the inquiry, the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce claimed the target was set as a result of political ambition rather than a factual analysis. Since then, similar views have been expressed by those in the business.

One of the problems with the stated aim is that it is revenue based/driven, and reading further into the accompanying words, it is depressing to see references to increasing revenues by increasing the value of services offered to visitors, and providing them with premium services, with their matching premium rates and prices, so increasing the per-head return generated from each tourist.

Moat Brae

Moat Brae © Copyright Darrin Antrobus

This is all well and good, and works to a point, but depends on not hitting the price ceiling for any given goods or services, over which the majority will not go, and of not driving customers away by being priced higher than the ‘same shop along the road’. And Scotland is already far from the cheapest, with premium prices already in abundance.

As far back as January 2003, Moat House in Dumfries was being attacked by vandals, who caused some £200,000 worth of damage – smashing windows and furniture, ripping out walls, and setting fires. The house is significant as it was instrumental in inspiring author JM Barrie while writing Peter Pan, as he moved there at age 13. In his memoirs, published in 1904, he wrote of Peter Pan: “Our escapades in a certain Dumfries garden which was an enchanted land to me was certainly the genesis of this work.”

Although there has been interest in turning the house into a tourist attraction dedicated to Barrie’s life and works, nothing has ever been followed through, including the owner’s thought of turning it into a fantasy hotel based on the work. Previously a nursing home, the B-listed four-storey house was auctioned in 2000 for £80,000.

Once again, the house is up for auction, with agents ReMax being instructed to sell the property. A Barrie House Action Group has been formed in Dumfries to campaign for the preservation of the property and its link with the author, and had hoped that the local council would have been able to place a compulsory purchase order on the property, and save it, but has now admitted that this is not going to happen.

Rather than bleeding the tourists (that do come to Scotland) dry, the Scottish Government’s tourism officials would do better to study the map and look for untapped resources, people, and places that could be turned into visitor attractions, and bring greater numbers of “bums on seats”. They may part with with less cash per head, but are more dependable, and less subject to seasonal variations.

One thing that business learn is that while it may be nice to have a few big clients filling the coffers, when only a few of them catch a cold and stay away, the coffers grow empty very very quickly. Have them by all means, but fill the spaces between them with lots of little ones, then losing a few means you don’t catch a cold too, and suffer the consequences.

Over the past few years, possibly since the turn of the decade, many small museums and attractions across Scotland have closed due to lack of funding, and without these, small towns and villages have no value for tourists, who simply pass through them on their way to the more well known venues. Over time, the lack of interesting spots between the the big name venues will make them look like desert islands, and they will eventually begin to lose their attraction too.

April 7, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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