Previous News - Uncle Johnnie's mean machine saved by Kent enthusiast


He beats U.S. consortium to keep Vincent Black Shadow on local roads

A magnificent example of the legendary Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle – considered to be the first “superbike” – will be back on Kent roads after a local enthusiast beat off an American consortium of buyers in a sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.

The battle proved expensive, though. The gleaming 125 mph machine sold for £48,000. The consortium was left disappointed.

“It was very tense,” said auctioneer’s consultant Dave Parker. “The room was packed and there were many potential buyers including one French bidder, but the bike will stay in Kent.”

The Series D motorcycle was one of the final 38 machines to leave Vincent’s Stevenage factory before it closed in 1955. It was purchased new by John “Johnnie” Sawyer, then aged 27, from Conway Motors in Shepherds Bush, who paid around £500 – then the price of a house.

His niece, Pam Doyle, from Canterbury, remembered riding pillion when her Uncle Johnnie took her out for spins around the Kent countryside.

The machine was laid up in 1990 due to clutch failure. It had covered less than 60,000 miles. Mr Sawyer died last year, aged 82. Prior to the sale minor re-commissioning work was carried out by Kent Classic Motorcycles.

“Finding an unmolested Black Shadow is a remarkable discovery,” Dave Parker said. “It is a piece of motorcycling history. The engine note makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and it runs as well as it did in 1955. It remains one mean machine.”

It is hoped that classic, vintage and veteran motorcycles will become a feature of sales at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.

The motorcycle – a work of art in its own right – was just one of the major items among more than 1,000 lots of fine art and antiques in the September Two Day sale.

The passion among Chinese buyers intent on securing heritage pieces shows no sign of diminishing, one trade buyer, bidding in the room, paying £10,000, a multiple of its presale estimate, to win a Wucai porcelain bowl and cover decorated in enamels with scholars and attendants. The Kangxi period piece, from a local deceased estate, had suffered some damage and had a metal replacement knop to its cover.

Another lot to overturn its estimate substantially was a blanc-de-chine figure of a seated girl with pigtails on carved wooden stand, which sold to a Chinese bidder on the telephone for £7,000. It came from a local home.

A Chinese porcelain blue and white bowl painted with five toed dragons chasing the Sacred Pearl amongst clouds with hardwood stand sold to a Chinese commission bidder for £1,250 against an estimate of £150-200, while in works of art, a Qing Dynasty bamboo perfumier carved with figures in a landscape and with buffalo horn end caps, sold to a Chinese bidder in the room for £2,100 against an estimate of £200-250. Both were consigned from a local estate.

A Chinese Internet bidder paid £860 for an Indian cast brass model of an eight armed, many headed deity on lotus leaf which had been estimated at £100-150.

A UK based Chinese buyer was also keen to secure a continental silver two-handled tureen, cover and stand of 18th century design from a local private home. The tureen had handles formed by a prancing horse, while the two-handled stand had floral and nautical mounts (165ozs - stamped “Sterling” and 925). It doubled its presale low estimate to sell for £4,000.

Most valuable among English ceramics was an 18th Century delftware punch bowl painted in blue and manganese to the exterior with a chinoiserie landscape, the interior painted and inscribed in blue “One Bowl More and Then”. Despite some damage, it sold to a local dealer for £620 against an estimate of £300-400.

In continental porcelain, a pair of 19th century Meissen sweetmeat dishes and covers modelled as negro figures supporting baskets, painted naturalistically with flowers to the baskets, sold to a Belgian collector bidding in the room for an above estimate £540, much to the delight of the local vendor who had taken them to one of the saleroom’s free Friday valuation days.

The saleroom invariably has a selection of pre-owned jewellery of the highest quality, this sale being no exception. Top of the shop was a magnificent modern suite of 18ct white and yellow gold aquamarine, diamond and pearl jewellery in the manner of Boodle & Dunthorne. It comprised a necklace with 54 triple clusters of 1.5ct oval cut aquamarines interspersed by nine large pearls within bands of approximately 200 small brilliant cut diamonds (gross weight 140 grammes).

A matching bracelet was set with 24 aquamarines, four pearls and 88 small brilliant cut diamonds (gross weight 63 grammes), while matching earrings were each set with three aquamarines, 12 small brilliant cut diamonds, and a large pearl. All contained in black leather covered case for Air Bijou X, Genevre, Zurich, the suite sold to a local buyer for £10, 000.

Another local buyer paid an above estimate £2,000 for a modern 18ct gold mounted ruby and diamond dress ring, the central oval cut ruby approximately 1.5ct flanked on either side by three collet set brilliant cut diamonds each approximately .15ct.

The saleroom is also noted for its ability to achieve high prices for collections of objects, always aided by the cumulative effect when numerous pieces offered together attract like-minded collectors.

Such was the case with a group of charming and decorative scent bottles and holders, sent for sale by the executors of a local estate. They raised a total of £2,370. Pick of the collection of nine lots was an Edward VII silver heart-shaped hinged holder embossed with leaf scrolls with green glass liner. Assayed in Birmingham in 1904, it was sold with another similar late Victorian example (Birmingham 1897) and a small selection of silver and silvery metal mounted scent bottles and other items. A UK Internet bidder paid a double estimate £500 to add them to his collection.

Another collection was a group of oil paintings by the Australian-born artist Colin Colahan (1897-1987). Not surprisingly, they attracted the interest of a number of Australian collectors, three of whom were the successful purchasers of five of them. They included the most valuable, titled “Australian Forestry Coy, clearing up in Scotland”. It showed two lumberjacks in a wooded glade and sold for £700 against an estimate of £200-300. A UK telephone bidder purchased the remaining four, raising a grand total of £3,000.

Colahan was born in Victoria, New South Wales, the son of an Irish-born surgeon major general in the British Army. In 1916, he entered the University of Melbourne to study medicine but left after a year to study painting and drawing at the National Gallery Schools. He subsequently toured Europe, visiting England, before settling there in 1935. He was an official war artist covering the activities of Australian forces in Britain and Europe. He moved to Italy in 1958 and is buried there.

Interestingly, a portrait miniature which overturned its £1,000-1,500 estimate to sell for £5,000 was attributed to the master John Smart (1740-1811) but apparently unfinished. The oval, shoulder length portrait of Mrs Townshend was thought to be on ivory and measured just 3 by 2.5 inches. On the reverse of the modern gilt frame was a label for Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd, 43 Old Bond Street, Piccadilly West, and a partial exhibition label reading: “117 Mrs Townshend. John Smart”, while a further handwritten label stated “Unfinished portrait of Mrs Elizabeth Townshend by John Smart”. The sitter was presumably Baroness Cornwallis of Eye (1736-1770), the wife of Charles 5th Baron Cornwallis. The miniature was from a local home and sold to a UK telephone bidder.

A further collection in the sale comprised 13 lots of militaria from a local enthusiast, which raised a total of £5,650 That included the amazing £3,000 paid by a Surrey collector in the room for a collection of army regimental cap and epaulet badges contained in a modern eight-drawer cabinet. They had been estimated at £400-600.

From a somewhat earlier era, a double visored “Maximilian” style steel close funerary helmet with eagle’s head crest and ostrich plume sold to a U.S. commission bidder for £700 against an estimate of £300-400. A late 1920s hardwood propeller with brass covered leading edges, sent for sale by Medway Flying Club, sold to a local collector in the room for £660.

Most valuable among a number of bronze figures in the sale was a study of male and female dancers by the Vietnamese sculptor Tuan Nguyen (born 1963) titled “Romantic Harmony”. The three foot high piece was signed and was one of a limited edition of 100. On black marble socle and with custom made Perspex stand, it sold to a local collector for £2,000.

A strong selection of furniture drew equally strong bids. Most wanted was a pair of Howard & Sons mahogany framed “Bridgewater” easy chairs upholstered in original monogrammed green and white calico and standing on square tapered front legs and castors. Estimated at £1,500-2,000, they sold to a dealer bidding by telephone for £5,800.

Among antique furniture, an elegant, late Victorian walnut breakfront bookcase in the manner of James Shoolbred, the upper part with fluted pilasters, the lower with turned, fluted and moulded columns and four fitted cupboards, sold to a local private buyer for £2,400.

An equally elegant William IV mahogany wine cooler of rectangular Irish design, the stepped top with leaf carving, and gadrooned sides on carved and scrolled paw feet, and plinth base sold to a dealer on the telephone for £2,200. A Victorian mahogany collector’s cabinet fitted 32 small drawers with glazed tops sold to a UK telephone bidder for £880 – four times the presale estimate.

From the 17th century, a set of six high back oak dining chairs with leaf and floral carved crest rails and uprights, panelled backs and wood seats on turned front legs sold to a local commission bidder for £1,500, while a local private buyer paid £1,300 for a panelled oak court cupboard, inlaid with two tone marquetry of birds and flowers and with parquetry. Both prices were above estimates despite some damage and restoration.

A pair of late 17th or early 18th century walnut high back dining chairs with pierced and moulded cresting, caned back and seats, on carved and moulded front legs with ornate stretcher, sold to a Midlands telephone bidder for an above estimate £700.

An 18th Century Italian walnut and oak commode with guilloche and bead mouldings, fitted with three long drawers with mahogany banded fronts sold to a local dealer for an above estimate £1,700 and a local private buyer paid £1,100 for a George IV gentleman’s mahogany bow-front wardrobe in the “Irish” manner, fitted four sliding trays enclosed by a pair of oval panelled doors.

Entries of good quality antiques, fine art and collectors’ items are now being accepted for the saleroom’s final Two Day Sale of the year on December 11-12 (deadline for entries November 2nd). For further information, please contact the auctioneers on 01227 763337 or

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