Early 20th-Century Steam Car & Racing Memorabilia

Value (2009) | $8,000 Insurance

APPRAISER:
Tell me about your great-grandfather, the great Walter Grothe.

GUEST:
Well, he was a racecar driver. He raced steam engine cars for the White Steam Car Company, which originally was a sewing machine company. And apparently he was pretty good because he won a lot of trophies. (laughing)

APPRAISER:
Well, in particular this one. It says Walter Grothe here, November 7, 1903. What happened here?

GUEST:
Well, that was the trophy that he won for beating...I believe it's the picture right there.

APPRAISER:
That is the picture.

GUEST:
Barney Oldfield, right?

APPRAISER:
Barney Oldfield, who was the great racer of the time. And, in fact, of you look at the trophy, it says "first prize." So he had quite the career. This is his automobile permit and I love this because they have his height, his weight. They have him as "clean shaven." And they've given restrictions on when he can be in the park with the car, and no frightening the horses. Another thing about your great-grandfather, which you may not know--he raced at Ingleside Park, which was a short-lived racetrack, 1895 to 1906. It was destroyed by the earthquake. They originally were a horseracing track, but he did the first automobile race there in 1900.

GUEST:
Really? Huh.

APPRAISER:
And he won; he was the only car to finish. He did it out of eight cars, a minute and 22 seconds.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
But three years later, this was his crowning glory, was beating Barney Oldfield because Barney Oldfield was the preeminent racer of the early 1900s. He was discovered by Henry Ford. He also raced for Winton, and he was the first racer to hit 60 miles an hour. Can you imagine 60 miles an hour? That's the slow lane today on the highway. And yet your great-grandfather beat him.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
In the early 1900s, gas cars, steam cars and electric cars were all vying for the market. And everyone's heard of StanleySteamer, but White Steam Car, which had these great catalogs, also promoted itself very heavily and produced, 9,122 steam cars. But what happened to the WhiteSteam Company was in 1908, Henry Ford came out with the Model T. These cars-- you can see here this touring car-- this originally sold between $2,500 and $3,700 in an era where people were lucky to make $5 or $10 a week. That's a lot of money. We have this great archive. You have a lot more other pieces that we're not showing here, including White brochures. We have a lot of different memorabilia that we haven't even brought in here. So I'm going to give you what I think an insurance value would be on all of this, because I don't think you have any intention of selling it.

GUEST:
No.

APPRAISER:
The trophy, of course, is the most valuable. I would put $2,000 on the trophy alone, maybe even $2,500.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
For the entire grouping, I'd probably insure it--with everything else that you brought with you--for about $8,000.

GUEST:
Wow, that's nice.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Leila Dunbar Appraisals & Consulting, LLC
Washington, DC
Appraised value (2009)
$8,000 Insurance
Event
San Jose, CA (August 15, 2009)
Period
20th Century
Material
Metal, Paper

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