|A line of 1920s GP Bugattis in the original Schlumpf building|
Still no time for hobbies here, so again I’ve fallen back on the Hooptedoodle Theme to keep my blogging eye sharp. This morning my lady wife and I were pondering the general topic of collections, including the delicate grey area where enthusiasm crosses over into obsession and (whisper it) monomania.
I had been comforting myself recently, in the absence of any wargaming time, by having the occasional quick review of my troops – in The Cupboard and also in The Boxes. I enjoy them – I am pleased that I have them, they represent the fruits of a lengthy interest in military history and its supporting toys, and they mean a great deal to me, though – as we have discussed – their financial worth is miniscule, and in truth there are very few people who would cross the street to see them.
That’s all fine – that is probably what hobby collections amount to. The Contesse and I spoke of a theme which features in much crime fiction: the potential theft of (for example) the Mona Lisa. There are a number of good yarns around this – the fiendishly cunning plan to achieve the theft is obviously a key element in the story, but I always get distracted by just why someone would wish to steal it. What could he do with it? Where could he keep it? Whom could he tell about it, or show it to? What pleasure could he possibly gain from it? What would it be worth, in fact? Would this be a collection too far?
Maybe the answers to all of these are obvious and intuitive – I don’t know – for myself, I even get to worrying about how the thief could insure it…
I know of a man in the USA who has one of George Harrison's guitars - it is priceless - he keeps it in a bank vault. He rarely sees it. It may appreciate in value, but why does it have a value, anyway? What good is it? Is he simply depriving others of the chance of owning it? Hmmm.
This is all idle daydreaming, but I have always been fascinated, in particular, by the tale of the Schlumpf brothers – you may well be familiar with it, but it is remarkable in many ways. The Schlumpfs were Swiss by birth, they owned a textile manufacturing firm in Mulhouse, in Alsace, and they were extremely successful. Their story is told well and entertainingly in The Schlumpf Obsession, by Denis Jenkinson (a book which I once owned – the subject of obsessive book collecting is a completely separate theme, of course). In brief, the firm eventually went bust during the 1970s, and the brothers disappeared, owing money to everyone in sight – especially their own workers. There was a mysterious locked building on the factory site, and when it was opened it was found to contain the most astounding collection of veteran and vintage automobiles – mostly restored and in perfect working order.
|Fritz Schlumpf with his personal Bugatti Type 41 Royale "Coupe Napoleon"|
The lists are staggering – they had an unbelievable collection of Bugattis, but they also had classic vehicles from all the great marques. As a random, and unlikely, example…
In 1956 the Bugatti firm had one last go at re-entering Grand Prix racing – they commissioned a very advanced design for a rear-engined car, the Type 251, and were bullied (by the French government and the Automobile Club de France) into entering it for the French GP of that year, long before it was properly tested and sorted. The car was entered to be driven by Trintignant, ran very slowly and eventually retired with carburation problems. It was never seen again – it was scrapped when the Bugatti organisation was wound up.
Well, in fact it wasn’t – it was in the Schlumpf collection all the time, as was an additional, spare car which the team had built as a back-up.
|The mysterious Type 251 of 1956 - not dead at all - you can go and tap on the|
bodywork if you want - well, maybe best not to...
The locked garage was fitted out in sumptuous luxury – the cars were laid out in grand style, in a gravelled showroom setting, with super-expensive custom-built Belgian cast-iron lamps to show them off – the building also featured at least two restaurants. The Schlumpfs used to entertain ladies from time to time, apparently. Well, you know what they say about ladies and expensive cars. [What do they say, anyway? – I haven’t the faintest idea…]
It is an ambition of mine to visit the collection at some time, but I’ve never managed it. It was taken over by a workers’ co-operative and ultimately sold, and now forms part of the augmented and rehoused Cité de l’Automobile attraction in Mulhouse – I am less sure of the recent history. If anyone has visited it, I’d be delighted to hear about it.
So there you have it – the Schlumpf Collection – discuss. Were they truly happy with their priceless secret hoard of motoring exotica? Was it worth the investment, and the eventual, disastrous loss? Were they really so desperate to gain female companionship?
[In passing, I should add that it never occurred to me that ladies might be interested in my Napoleonic armies, so my conscience is completely clear on this count. I quite like the idea of a couple of restaurants in the games room, mind you.]