Ace Motorcycle Rare Drawings from 1919 Found in Dumpster!

In 1919, at the end of the World War One, a significant set of motorcycle drawings was created. They would be lost for the next 90 years, until discovered in a trash bin.  They will be sold at the Mid-America Auction, which will be held at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas on January 10th 2009. Read the unbelievable story of these extremely rare documents.

During the World War I era, a number of early manufacturers went out of business or were bought up by stronger companies. William Henderson, who is still considered America’s most creative motorcycle designer, sold his company to a German immigrant, Ignatius Schwinn, who started making bicycles in Chicago in 1895.The Henderson had a fine reputation as being America’s most luxurious, elegant, and expensive four-cylinder motorcycle. Schwinn felt he had taken ownership of the “best of the best” and added it to his Excelsior Line. Despite signing a non-compete clause, Henderson was unhappy and soon began plans for a finer and even more elegant replacement, the ACE. Henderson would call it “The Ace Four”, the finest thing on two wheels!” He began drawing the plans for his elegant new ACE and searching for investors to help finance the new factory. As soon as his non-compete expired production began. Money would eventually run out, and while searching for the finances needed to complete his machine, production was moved, and even discontinued a couple of times.

One tragic cold day, Dec. 11th 1922, Henderson was test riding the new Ace and was struck by a car and killed. Within weeks his assistant, Arthur Lemon, completed the final drawings, and then sold the rights to Indian Motorcycle Co., America’s largest manufacturer. Indian produced the bike as the Ace, then Indian Ace, and finally as their own brand, the Indian Four. During the 1930s, it went on to become America’s only luxury motorcycle, akin to a Duesenberg or Cord.

The original drawings, numbering approximately 400 pieces, disappeared from view. Lost in the files of the massive Indian Company, the Henderson Ace drawings were assumed to have been destroyed in 1953, when Indian went out of business. Astonishingly, the new owner, Bill Melvin, found the drawings as they were being placed in a dumpster and headed for a landfill. They had sat under layers of dust in a warehouse for years. Bill Melvin says: “After spending much of my adult life looking for this type of treasure, it was overwhelming to find what represents the finest work of the most renowned designer in American motorcycle history. And to think they were headed for a landfill; when I found them, I had goose bumps for a week.”

The drawings are each signed and dated by William Henderson and Arthur Lemon; they were done on a cloth material and are in beautiful condition. They still rest in the old envelopes from the Indian factory. They have added significance in that many of Henderson’s inventions are still in use in today’s machines. Information for auction: Bill Melvin at 616-450-0640.


12 Responses to “Ace Motorcycle Rare Drawings from 1919 Found in Dumpster!”

  1. 1 Lyle Dec 28th, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Man, That’s a real find! I have some old blueprints from Indian and Crocker but nothing on the original linen or vellum. I’ve fond some nice things in dumpster but this takes it to a whole new level. I wonder what ‘warehouse” they were sitting at and who was doing the throwing away?

  2. 2 Mike Greenwald Dec 28th, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I am willing to bet that they are going to tear this collection apart and sell it off by the piece. I would prefer that they copy it and publish it as a complete collection. The historic significance will be lost again once these are separated.

  3. 3 steveb Dec 28th, 2008 at 11:31 am

    what a great coffee table book this would make…
    killer story & i’d love to see the drawings

  4. 4 Dave Mann Dec 28th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    If he wanted to see all of these preserved intact where the public could see them, he would have donated them to the AMA museum.

  5. 5 choppedirwin Dec 28th, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I think they better carbon date this. Hard to believe this never made it to the Indian Museum. And in what warehouse was it found – Gilroy?

  6. 6 raycwheeler Dec 28th, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Coffee table book gets my vote .
    Make it a large please .
    What a find .


  7. 7 James (Kiwi) Dec 28th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Yes a large format book would be amazing, but it may struggle to get published as not that many people would appreciate how great it is.

    The normal book buying motorcyclists usualy like glossy pic’s.You only have to look at what gets published in large numbers to see.
    I collect motorcycle books and I have bought some real crap…

    My next purchase is going to be Flat Out,the Rollie Free story it sounds Fantastic and also part of the Indian story.Truly an amazing gentleman and a great help to Burt .

    If they do not publish a book why could they not sell a disc of the drawings then you could have them printed and bound yourself.

    Summer here, stinking hot! and I am out for another ride.


  8. 8 Nicker Dec 28th, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Unfortunately many historic records like this don’t even get this much attention. Most simply end up in the ball-mill because some manager is looking at cost savings. Even storage costs money, let alone scanning, filming and/or managing a repository.

    The best one can hope for is that some one person can recognize the value of historic documentation and save what they can for posterity.

    A retired guy from Pratt & Whitney gave me a copy of an assembly drawing of one of the original aircraft radial engine from WWII. He said most of the collection had simply been thrown away. As an individual he wasn’t able to save very much.

    Imagine what would NOT have happened had some of Napoleon’s men simply discarded the Rosetta Stone as just another chunk of old broken pottery.

    Value is a matter of perception, imagination, and propriety.
    Too bad isn’t it.


  9. 9 paul Dec 28th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    its listed on ebay right now item # 160306254824 – $38,000 and rising but it hasn’t met its reserve

  10. 10 Lyle Dec 29th, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Auction is over on ebay with the resever not met at t little over 38K. I noticed the auction didn’t give the buyer the exclusive rights to the prints. Has the owner (who’s had them for 4 years) made copies of them?

  11. 11 dragon Dec 30th, 2008 at 8:10 am

    ok give them up i want a set or least a chance to look them over that my friends is true history

  12. 12 Nicker Dec 30th, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Well, no one takes care of a free puppy, regardless of the pedigree.
    But charge em $250 bucks for a mongrel and it’ll get the attention it needs.

    So, the good news is that if someone does pay $30k or $40k for em the they won’t end up as kindling, like some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    And when the surviving Scrolls were finally put into preservation the translations started showing up on the Internet, even though the “owners” (the controlling intellectual elite) didn’t want them disseminated.


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