FROM THE ARCHIVES
By Geoff Courtney
Top international auction house Bonhams is remaining tight-lipped as to why it withdrew an original Flying Scotsman nameplate from sale just days before it was due to go under
The plate from the preserved LNER Pacific was to star in a prestigious ‘gentleman’s library’ auction in London on February 9, but in a sensational development was removed from sale just five days before, as reported exclusively in last month’s Heritage Railway.
The shock decision followed an intervention by Sir William McAlpine, one of the locomotive’s former owners, who after learning that the privately-owned plate was coming up for sale told Bonhams that he believed that rather than being auctioned it should be returned to the locomotive, which since 1999 has carried replica nameplates after the originals were removed by Tony Marchington, who owned the Pacific at the time.
More investigative work
Immediately after the plate’s withdrawal from the auction Bonhams issued a brief statement saying more investigative work needed to be done on the plate, which may take some time. “The prudent thing is to withdraw it,” said
It is understood there is no doubt about the plate’s authenticity or that the vendor is its legal owner, but Bonhams declined to expand on its initial statement when asked subsequently for clarification about the reasons for pulling it from the sale.
Andrew Currie, the auction house’s deputy press and PR director, merely confirmed that the vendor was involved with the decision.
“We don’t know how long the work will take and I can’t say anything more about it at the moment, nor what will happen in the future,” he said.
Sir William said he was “very pleased” the plate had been withdrawn from the auction, saying of his role: “I simply alerted people,” adding that he wanted to see the plate back on No. 60103. He accepted that this would mean the Pacific would carry one original nameplate and one replica, but believed “only half” was better than none at all.
“I do not know what the situation is, and the matter is between Bonhams and the plate’s lady owner,” he said.
“Perhaps there could be an appeal to buy the plate, or maybe the NRM would be interested. They may say they have no money, but they have just spent £4.2 million restoring the loco, so perhaps they could manage a bit more for the plate. Whatever happens, it should not be impossible to reunite the plate with the engine.”
After removing the two nameplates, Marchington, who died in 2011, sold them to a railwayana dealer, and he sold them on within the railwayana movement. The dealer told Heritage Railway he disagreed with the decision to withdraw the plate from the auction. “The plates were originally sold to me by Tony when he was the owner of the locomotive in his own name.
“When Flying Scotsman plc took over the loco and subsequently sold it to the NRM it had replica nameplates, and the originals were therefore never part of the National Collection. If people are making a fuss, an easy way would be for the owner of the plate to offer it to the NRM at, say, £25,000 as a private deal.”
The decision by Bonhams to withdraw the plate has split members of Marchington’s inner circle who were part of the team operating the Pacific from 1999 until its sale to the NRM in 2004. David Ward, who was operations director for Flying Scotsman during its Marchington era, said: “It is clearly a difficult situation, but in my view both of the original plates that have been on Scotsman for most of its life should be returned to the loco, as they are part of its historical importance.
“I support Bonhams in withdrawing the plate from auction, and hopefully it can be restored to the locomotive.”
However, another former insider said: “I have the greatest respect for
Sir William, especially for him rescuing the loco from the United States in 1973. It is natural and understandable that he feels strongly and passionately about the engine, but the plate is known to be genuine and it was bought from Tony in good faith when he owned it. Unless Bonhams knows otherwise, auctioning it would be a perfectly legitimate thing to do.”
One high-profile member of the railwayana movement who has been following the unfolding saga with interest said he felt sympathy for both the nameplate’s owner and Bonhams. “It must be frustrating for the owner to see it catalogued at a prestigious auction only for it to be withdrawn through no fault of hers, but it is also difficult not to feel sympathy for Bonhams.
“Once Sir William made his views known, they were between a rock and a hard place, damned if they took it out of the auction and damned if they didn’t. Let us hope there will be some transparency about what has happened.
“It is astonishing how Flying Scotsman continues to stir so many emotions. It is a preservation jewel, but the heartache it has caused over many years is quite extraordinary, and it is surely the only loco that would end up having one of its nameplates mired in controversy.”
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