Re: [CR] Data Elements of an Ideal Provenance ?

(Example: Framebuilding:Tubing)

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Date: Mon, 8 Feb 2010 08:16:45 -0800
To: r cielec <>, Classic Rendezvous <>
From: "Jan Heine" <>
Subject: Re: [CR] Data Elements of an Ideal Provenance ?

At 7:24 PM -0800 2/7/10, r cielec wrote:
>Ahoy !
>The purpose of my inquiry is to compile a definitive "best of all
>possible worlds" list of items should be in a bicycles provenance.

It depends what you want to establish. If it is whether a bike was made by a certain builder - as in company - that usually is easy. Sure, there are fakes, but it's reasonably certain that the Witcomb another poster mentioned was indeed made by Witcomb USA. If it was relabeled later, it's not difficult to tell. (I have seen a number of Herse bikes relabeled as Alex Singer, but once you know what to look for, they are easy to spot.)

If you are trying to establish whether Peter Weigle or Richard Sachs built it, I'd say you may as well give up. Perhaps both worked on it. Does it matter? I'd say not, because the bike is a Witcomb. Made at Witcomb to Witcomb standards from Witcomb parts, labeled as a Witcomb and sold as a Witcomb.

(A borderline case is the Weigle in "The Competition Bicycle," which was built by Peter for himself while working at Witcomb. It now is decaled as a J. P. Weigle, and I'd argue that is what it's always been, as it wasn't a bike made in the normal production channels at Witcomb to be sold as a Witcomb, but it was made by Peter Weigle to be ridden as a J P Weigle.)

More difficult is establishing a previous owner. It gets worse when you try to establish the use in a certain event. We obviously ran into that problem with our book "The Competition Bicycle," which shows many famous bikes. Is the Bianchi really Fausto Coppi's bike? And was it really used to win the 1949 Tour de France?

In these cases, it's useful if you know the history of the bike. If Coppi himself donated to a museum in 1959, when nobody much cared about this kind of stuff, I am willing to believe Coppi's claim - IF the bike matches the historic photos. (A bike claimed to be Bartali's 1948 Tour-winning bike in the same museum turned out to be his 1949 bike, but since he won in 1948, it was relabeled at some point to be the more famous machine.) After all, why would Coppi or Bartali donate a fake to the museum, when they had real bikes cluttering their basement? (Of course, they may have embellished the history of some bikes, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than one bike that won the 1949 Tour de France...)

Most of those claims can be checked based on historic photos and information. Coppi used Simplex derailleurs in 1949, so if the bike has a Simplex dropout, and is set up for Simplex derailleurs, that lends credence to the claim that it was a 1949 bike. Bartali rode on Legnanos in 1948, yet the bike in the museum is labeled Bartali - not just the frame, but also the components (more difficult to change the engraving on a crankarm than replace a sticker) - so it's unlikely that he rode that bike in 1948. It matches the 1949 photos and descriptions perfectly, so we concluded it was his 1949 bike. (The bike was given to the museum by Bartali in the late 1940s, so there is little doubt that it was Bartali's machine.)

If you have factory records establishing the bike's "customer" with the serial number, that is very helpful - there are an awful lot of 59 cm Bianchis from the late 1940s/early 1950s that purport to have been ridden by Coppi. However, the factory records will not tell you whether the bike was ridden in the Tour or not. In fact, even the riders themselves may not remember. Their job is winning races, not keeping records of which equipment they used.

In the end, for Coppi's bike in "The Competition Bicycle," all I can say that experts have assured me that it was ridden by Coppi. It matches the photos from the 1949 Tour, so I have decided to believe the museum's claims.

I doubt there is ideal provenance... so you collect as much as you can. More than just proving the bike's provenance, these items complete its history:

- company records, as mentioned before. Original order sheets, invoices, correspondence. (Those also are interesting because they show prices, sometimes available options and more.) - Letter from the original owner confirming _their belief_ that the bike is what you think it is. (Useful, but memories often are hazy.) - Photos of the bike in action.

Perhaps the best provenance in our book is Genevieve Gambillon's Rene Herse, which she used to win the world championships in 1972 and 1974. The serial number is listed in the company records with the name "Gambillon." Ms. Gambillon had two bikes when I visited her: a blue one she considered her backup, and a red one that she used for her important races. Photos from the time show her on a dark bike (black & white) and on a red bike (studio photos taken after the race and printed on a postcard). So you have factory records, the owner's recollection, and a match with historic photos.

Raymond Henry in France has a file folder for every bike he owns, which includes all pertinent information, including all the things the original owner told him, all the modifications/restorations performed, even maintenance. I think that is useful, because you lose track after a while. When did I buy that bike? Is the grease in the headset still good, or should I repack it before I ride the bike next? Didn't the owner tell me the bike cost $ xxxx when new in 1962?

Jan Heine
Bicycle Quarterly
2116 Western Ave.
Seattle WA 98121