Early Tour de France notebooks under the hammer

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Alphonse Steinès

I found this thanks to French journalist Jean-Paul Brouchon. Today a collection of notebooks from Alphonse Steinès are up for sale in Paris at the Christies auction house.

Alphonse Steinès
As I wrote before, Steinès worked for L’Auto and to was responsible was the Tour de France visiting the Pyrenees, the first race in the high mountains. To cut a long story short he made his way up the Tourmalet to determine whether a race could be held on the roads. But on the day conditions were so bad that he ended up needing rescuing. Yet far from being wary, soon as the hypothermia subsided, he fired off a telegram to Paris saying the road was “perfectly passable”.

Like many legends of the Tour de France Steinès’s reconnaissance trip has been told so many times over the years that exaggerations make the tale ever more colourful, with accounts of blizzards, marauding bears and more.

Auction
But now a collection of his notebooks are for sale at auction house Christies, a genuine record rather than legend. There are nine and they are accounts from the race, complete with newspaper cuttings, handwritten results and many observations made during the race, for example “fog so thick you could cut it with a knife“.

The price is expected to reach €4,000-6,000 this afternoon. It’s a lot of money but for me that sounds like a bargain. I can’t inspect them but these are not rare, they are unique. In an age where people pay a premium for “heritage brands”, this is genuine.

The sale is today and I’d be interested to know who buys them. The books don’t appear to contain any revelations but they are records and documents from the past. As such they contain precious insights into some of the earliest races. It would be nice if they were bought by a museum or made available to historians of the sport. Today the Tour de France is part of France’s cultural heritage and these early notes are important historical documents. But if they go to a private collector I wish them some happy reading.

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{ 5 comments }

Oliver May 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I find it sad that this piece of cycling heritage maybe lost to the public. Couldn’t ASO or the French state buy this and put it into a museum or at least make a copy? (Maybe they will). This the “patrimoine” of France to a certain extent, at least as I see it.
Instead imagine it going to the Dorel exec. who downsized and closed offices for cheaper labor, oh the irony! Pro cycling has always been a living allegory for exploitation (They weren’t called “les forcats de la route” for nothing) but this is a bit much…
And, btw: four to six thousand euros is “a bargain” only for folks with that or more in their bank accounts… A bargain it is not for the Taiwanese factory worker or the recently laid off welder from Pennsylvania, but who is talking to them?

The Inner Ring May 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Oliver: we don’t who is selling here, they might already be lost to the public because they’re in a safe belonging to a private collector already. Now they’re for sale, let’s see where they goes.

Like I said above, it’s certainly a lot of money but some readers will spend this amount on a new bike, whereas this is a genuine historical record. Kept properly, these books won’t go out of fashion, wear out or become outdated or break. Given the historical significance I’d like to see the books go to a museum so they can be both displayed and carefully preserved, all whilst historians and others can have access to them.

Oliver May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Agreed: let’s hope they go to a museum. Keep us posted if you can!

miller May 13, 2011 at 2:27 am

So how much did they sell for and who purchased them?

The Inner Ring May 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

It appears the lot didn’t sell in the auction, perhaps it didn’t meet the reserve price? But it could that the results were kept private.

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