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Ferrari, Elvis Mercedes, $3 Million Manuscript Sale

1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB
A 1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB that competed in the last of the original Mille Miglia round-Italy races in 1958. It failed to sell after being estimated to fetch as much as 1 million pounds at an auction held by Coys in London on Dec. 7. Source: Coys of Kensington via Bloomberg

Collectors looking for a special Christmas treat to buy this week can choose from a 1958 Ferrari 250 that raced in the last Mille Miglia, a 1970 Mercedes-Benz that was once owned by Elvis Presley -- or a 700-year-old illustrated manuscript valued at $3 million.

The Ferrari has an upper estimate of 1 million pounds ($1.6 million), and is the most valuable of 141 cars offered by the London-based auction houses Coys and Bonhams in pre-Christmas sales. The manuscript, telling the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, is being auctioned at Sotheby’s.

Risk-wary investors in Europe and North America are taking their time to return to auction markets after the crisis slashed values in some collecting areas by up to 50 percent.

“For cars, we’ve seen substantial price rises over the last 10 to 15 years,” Dietrich Hatlapa, founder and managing director of Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI), a London-based independent research company, said in an interview. “2010 will go down as the year the market took a breather.”

The HAGI index of exceptional classic-car prices declined 1.52 percent in October, said

The Coys Ferrari 250GT LWB “Tour de France” participated in the 1958 Mille Miglia, the last of the original races around Italy, before being damaged in a crash in 1961 and undergoing extensive restoration in the 1980s.

“It’s the original chassis with some original components,” Chris Routledge, managing director of Coys, said. “If it was a 5/5 Ferrari, it would be 3 million pounds. This is an excellent example of a car you can use.”

Surtees Mercedes

The 65-car auction, to be held tomorrow in London, is expected to raise as much as 8 million pounds.

A Ferrari-red 1956 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing that had been owned for 18 years by the former World Champion driver John Surtees carries an estimate of 360,000 pounds to 400,000 pounds.

Bonhams today sold another Gullwing with a similar estimate, this time in silver and dating from 1955, for 441,500 pounds at its auction of 76 cars at Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands, Surrey.

An altogether less sporty Mercedes 600 Saloon Limousine, one of two luxury models bought by the “King” in 1970 when he was re-launching his career, carried a price tag of 150,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds. It was finally sold for 80,700 pounds to an unidentified German collector, the auction house said.

The Bonhams event is estimated to fetch as much as 5.8 million pounds. In October in London, rival auction house RM saw four out of six vehicles expected to fetch as much as 1 million pounds sell for hammer prices below the low estimate. These included James Bond’s “Goldfinger” Aston Martin, bought by one of two bidders at 2.9 million pounds.

Arthur’s Manuscript

The manuscript for sale, the Rochefoucauld Grail, narrates the adventures of the legendary British king Arthur, his court at Camelot and their quest for the cup that was used to collect the blood of Christ at the crucifixion.

The manuscript, offered by Sotheby’s tomorrow, was made in France or Flanders in about 1315 and is illustrated with 107 miniatures on vellum. At least 200 cows would have been needed to produce the sheets, said Sotheby’s, which estimates it at as much as 2 million pounds.

“The subjects are almost entirely secular -- a breathtakingly unusual thing at the time -- with scenes of jousts, tournaments and battles, noble adventures and daring tests of strength and courage,” said Timothy Bolton, a Sotheby’s manuscripts specialist.

Some of the scenes, such as Lancelot and Gawain being pelted with filth by the inhabitants of a walled town, have a Monty Pythonesque quality that has been noticed by prospective buyers at the view, Bolton said: “They appeal to the modern age, and the stories they tell were the ultimate source for ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ‘Indiana Jones’ and Python’s ‘Holy Grail.’”

The manuscript is being sold by the Dutch collector J.R. Ritman for the benefit of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.

Birds of America

Three hours later, Sotheby’s will be selling a first edition of John James Audubon’s early 19th-century illustrated “Birds of America,” which may fetch a record 6 million pounds ($9.2 million).

Skull in Italy

Damien Hirst’s $100 million diamond and platinum skull is now on show in a medieval town hall in Italy.

The 1,106-carat sculpture, “For the Love of God,” was exhibited on Nov. 26 at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, where it will remain until May 1, 2011.

The presentation in the private chamber of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici has been produced by the Italian-based exhibition organizers, Arthemisia Group. This is the first time the skull has been put on public display since 2008, when it was shown at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and attracted 250,000 visitors.

A projected world tour, beginning in 2008 at the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, fell through because of security costs. The work, encrusted with 8,601 pave-set diamonds, was first exhibited by Hirst’s London gallery White Cube in June 2007, at the height of the art boom.

It was priced at a record 50 million pounds. In August of that year, Frank Dunphy, who was then the artist’s business manager, announced that the skull had been bought by an investment group. The purchasers would be required to show the skull for two or three years in museums around the world, he said. The investors in the buying group included himself, the artist and his dealer Jay Jopling, Bloomberg News reported in August 2007.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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