The Milhous collection



2015-06-26 10:52:43

The Milhous collection is a famous collection of items amassed by the brothers Milhous over 50 years. It includes a wide range of vintage items including classic cars, rare mechanical musical instruments, antique furniture, Americana and vintage advertising, among many other weird and wonderful collectibles.

Background and History

The Milhous collection was built up over the course of 50 years, very carefully, privately, almost secretly, by two brothers. Bob and Paul Milhous represent the archetypal collectors, beginning with one item each which turned into passion and obsession: Paul buying a piano in 1959, shortly followed by Bob purchasing a 1934 Packard Eight Convertible Victoria motorcar. These sparks of interest were the start of what would become one of the most vast and eclectic collections the world has ever seen. They combined their soon large collections and built up a museum, accumulating not just musical instruments and cars but an incredible array of whatever took their fancy.

The museum was a visual feast, described by Matt Sedensky of the New York Times as ‘part carnival, part sparkling car showroom. It has both Vegas glitz and the restrained elegance of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. You find yourself in a room of thick red drapes, a massive crystal chandelier and a variety of musical instruments that line the walls then, moments later, in the glow of neon, surrounded by the chrome and steel of collector cars.’

As their combined collection expanded, the brothers outgrew four large locations which housed it, and finally, in 1990, built an enormous 39,500 square foot building in Florida. Here they displayed their collected museum, and while it was not open to the public, it held charity events that raised millions of pounds.

When the time came for the brothers to liquidate their assets, the collection was divided into 550 lots and sold in its entirety at auction on February 24th and 25th 2012, held by RM Auctions, in association with Sothebys, for a $38.3million total price.

Items within the collection

Highlights included:

  • Over thirty classic motorcars were presented, most notably a 1912 Oldsmobile Limited Five-Passenger Touring car which sold for the record price of $3,300,000, making it the most expensive Oldsmobile ever sold at auction, a 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Five-Passenger Phaeton which sold for $1,210,000, a 1934 Cadillac Sixteen Custom Roadster sold for $1,001,000 and a 1939 Lagonda V-12 Rapide Sports Roadster which brought $990,000. There were also six motorcycles sold, the 1949 Indian Scout most notably, fetching $19,550.
  • The mechanical musical instruments section housed the largest array of major Orchestrion pieces ever sold, and some of the rarest pieces in the world. In particular, three lots brought over $1million each. These were a 1903 Ruth Style 38-B Fair Organ sold for $1,265,000, Gaudin 125-Key Dance Organ for $1,150,000, and a 1913 Welte Wotan Brass Band Orchestrion for $1,092,500.
  • Custom made 46ft carousel with 42 animals, 2 chariots and a Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ. The piece, built for the brothers in 1998 and taking four years to construct, is a visually spectacular, functioning piece of bespoke art. It formed the centrepiece of their collection at the auction, and sold for $1,207,500.
  • A 1941 Ryan PT-22 Trainer Airplane, sold for $241,500
  • Extensive selection of 19th Century firearms, including several decorated Colt revolvers, one of which, the Colt Dragoon Third Model, sold for $27,600. A Colt Single Action Engraved Army Revolver sold for $17,825.

Other interesting items included:

  • Vintage Barber’s chairs, one of which sold for $25,875, and several other assorted antique barber shop collectibles
  • An entire Route 66 Gas Station replica, sold for $69,000, along with many gas pumps and other petroliana reaching up to $39,100 (for the Shell Showcase Computing Gas Pump).
  • A selection of chandeliers, including a Victor S. Pearlman Co. Rococo Revival Multi-Light Chandelier, sold for $46,000
  • Two Wurlitzer Jukeboxes, the 1015 “Bubbler” and the 1080 Colonial, each of which fetched $20,125
  • A model miniature of the engine of the pre-war aircraft, the Curtiss OX-5 Jenny sold for $10,350
  • A bronze cash register c1903 for $4,025
  • A wide selection of vintage slot machines, the Mills “Dewey” Musical Nickel Slot Machine achieving $27,600
  • Extensive selection of vintage advertising collectibles including many neon and porcelain signs , of which the Chevrolet Dealership Sign with Clock reached the highest price of $82,800.
  • Wide variety of model cars and boats, the highest priced of which was a 1932 Delphine IV Gold Cup Race Boat at $41,400
  • Huge number of clocks including many grandfather clocks, street clocks and half clocks, and a rare town square cast iron post clock with four dials that sold for $106,375.


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