The shear joy of Aussie icons

Icon might be one of the most over-used words in the English language, but that seems an appropriate description for several objects that have appeared at auction in the past month or so.

Icon might be one of the most over-used words in the English language, but that seems an appropriate description for several objects that have appeared at auction in the past month or so.

Their link to a significant moment in Australian history gives them an added value, both in social and monetary terms. Most sold for well above estimates.

For example, the set of mechanical shears listed by Sotheby's Australia at their fine Asian, Australian and European arts and design sale in Melbourne on October 29.

The iconic status comes from the inscription, "presented to Jack Howe by the Wolseley S.S.M.Co January 1893". They were given to legendary shearer Jacky Howe after he recorded the highest tally of sheep shorn in a working day in 1892. The record - 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes - stood until 1950.

The shears sold for $46,360 (including buyer's premium), well above pre-sale estimates of $15,000 to $25,000.

Howe is a famous figure because of his reputation as a gun shearer, but also, as Sotheby's chairman Geoffrey Smith pointed out in a television interview the morning after the auction, through his involvement with the union movement. This might explain why the winning bidder was the National Museum of Australia.

Another icon was put up for sale at the Theodore Bruce auction of classic cars on October 26, part of the RACV Motorclassica festival in Melbourne. This was the first Holden to be made in Australia, a 1947 prototype for what is now referred to as the FX or "Humpy Holden". The vendor, Peter Briggs, was looking for a cool million, but in the end, auctioneer James Nicholls accepted a bid of $662,000 (IBP), which he believes is a world record for a Holden at auction.

Briggs must have been reasonably happy with the result, as he picked up the Holden from a used-car yard in 1980.

The National Museum might have been interested in it if it didn't already have something similar in its collection. Theirs is one of three even earlier prototypes built for testing in the United States.

On October 27, Leonard Joel included a collection of thoroughbred-racing memorabilia in its classic furniture, objects and collectables sale. The feature was a set of faded purple, black and yellow silks believed to have been worn by Jack Purtell to win the 1954 Melbourne Cup on Rising Fast. That spring, Rising Fast won the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate Grand Slam, the only horse to do so. The silks sold for $9000 (IBP). A miniature cup, presented to the trainer, Ivan Walker, was sold along with the winning horseshoes for $4200 (IBP).

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an icon, so any letters posted on the bridge on opening day - bearing the official postmark dated March 19, 1932 - are also desirable. Three envelopes carrying Harbour Bridge stamps sold for $7572 at the Phoenix Auctions sale on October 26. This was more than double the estimate of $3500.

It might be a stretch to describe Geraldine Gee as an icon but she, her brother Gerry Gee, and their human partner Ron Blaskett were stars of early Melbourne TV and have since achieved a cult following. At the time, replica dolls were sold commercially and these make regular appearances at Leonard Joel's monthly toys and collectables sales. The latest Geraldine sold on September 26 for $504 (IBP), although limited editions, such as the Gerry series wearing VFL team jumpers, can fetch up to $1000. The most expensive sold by Joel is a Geraldine Gee astronaut doll with box for $3400 (IBP).

Finally, one icon that didn't sell. Appearing at the Leski sale of sporting and historical memorabilia in September was the jumper worn by fast bowler Harold Larwood during the 1932-1933 Bodyline tour of Australia. Unfortunately, Larwood was an English player - although he later settled in Australia - so his MCC jumper, formerly part of the Windsor Hotel collection, failed to sell for estimates of $6000 to $8000.

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