LOWER TOWNSHIP — Auction houses often overtout estate sales as having something for everyone, but there’s one coming up at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Museum that just may live up to that billing.
The May 10 sale seems, at least, to have something for anyone interested in transportation. The sale items range from the horse-drawn era, to steam engines, to early internal combustion engines.
Items on the block will include a steam locomotive, a 1906 San Francisco cable car, an 1870 steam fire pumper, a Conestoga horse-drawn wagon, several antique airplane engines and various early-American vintage automobiles. They are just a few of the items that once made up the Frontier Village Transportation Museum at the Cape May Airport. Once owned by the late Ralph Waldo Emerson Cox Jr., they have been stored in a Rio Grande barn since the museum closed in 1964.
Cox, who founded U.S. Overseas Airlines at the airport shortly after World War II, loved to collect. He died two years ago at the age of 97, and the family has hired the auction house Bonhams to sell the more than 200 items in his collection. Next month’s auction will be at the NASW hangar, where the items were once showcased to the public.
Rupert Banner, of Bonhams’ International Motorcar Department, can’t speculate on how much the collection is worth because it is so unique.
“There’s no precedent for a lot of this,” Banner said. “It’s a good old-school collection of American cars and Americana. Pioneering collectors are very important to American history, which relies on these people saving this stuff,” he said.
Cox had the items fully restored in the 1950s and 1960s before showcasing them in the Frontier Village Transportation Museum, which was in the same World War II wooden airplane hangar that now hosts the NASW Museum. After Frontier Village closed, Cox moved them into his barn off Route 9 in Rio Grande, near the Wildwood Canadian Campground that he owned.
“I don’t think they’ve turned a wheel since that era. They were in pretty good shape before they were put in the barn and they were not out in the elements. They were in a tightly sealed barn,” said Banner.
Two of the best cars — a 1932 Auburn Twelve Speedster and a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K Tourenwagen — have already been sold for almost $2 million. Cox, in a 2007 interview, said the Mercedes was from Germany and was reportedly owned by high-ranking Nazi officials.
There is a wide selection of cars, but Cox seemed to especially collect Fords — and not just common Model T’s. The auction includes a 10-horsepower 1904 Model AC Tonneau, A 1906 Model S Roadster, a 1931 Model A Deluxe Roadster, a 1934 Phaeton, a 1926 Model T Racer, a 1928 Model AR Sport Coupe with a rumble seat, a 1911 Model T Torpedo Roadster and two 1914 Model T touring cars.
Other cars include a 1909 Premier Model 45 Raceabout, a 1927 Franklin sedan, several Cadillacs, a 1923 Dodge truck, a 1900 Barouche and a 1906 Orient Buckboard Runabout.
The museum also had some unique forms of public transportation now on the block, including the San Francisco cable car, a 1925 open-top double decker bus, an 1890 Brill Streetcar and a 1927 Yellow Coach bus. The Baldwin Steam Locomotive will also be auctioned, though it will not be on site. Banner said it, like all items, will be sold to the highest bidder as it’s a “no reserve sale.” He figures the steam engine should bring up to $35,000.
“We’ll see how the market goes,” he said.
Cox also collected firefighting apparatus, including the 1870 Silsby steam pumper, a 1925 American La France ladder truck and a 1919 Mack “Bulldog” ladder truck.
The museum even had horse-drawn vehicles, including an ice wagon, a Conestoga wagon and an omnibus built in 1900. Farm vehicles include a 1916 International Harvester Model EX truck. There are also antique bicycles, airplane engines and car parts. The “automobilia” section includes dozens of brass lamps, speedometers, horns, engines and other car parts.
Cox also collected mechanical music machines. The auction includes two Mills Violano Virtuosos and a Seeburg Style G Orchestrian. There is also a World War II JB1 “buzz bomb.”
Cox graduated from dental school in 1938 but became a U.S. Navy flier in World War II. After the war he formed Ocean Air Tradeways at the Cape May Airport, later called U.S. Overseas Airlines. It ran charter flights all over the world and was a pioneer in low-cost passenger air service while also participating in the Berlin Airlift and the Korean Airlift. The service also responded in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Joe Salvatore, director of the NASW Museum, said Cox started it all with a single DC-3 after the war and before long had a fleet of planes flying to Paris, Japan, Hawaii and other destinations.
“He was the largest employer in Cape May County in the 1950s and 1960s. The place was wild,” Salvatore said.
Auction administrator Samantha Hamill said buyers do not have to bid in person. To learn more, go to Bonham’s website at: www.bonhams.com.
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