Wednesday - 30 July 2014

Saved from the flames twice – the unique Campbell archive

26 March 2007Written by ATG Reporter

Cambridge auctioneers Cheffins are to offer a recently rediscovered archive of slides that depict the daredevil Malcolm Campbell in his pomp.

The collection of glass 'magic lantern' type slides (there are 188 in total) was rescued by the vendor from the fate of a bonfire some 48 years ago after they were cleared from the cellar of the Reigate Hill Hotel in Surrey. The Campbells lived at the hotel (owned by the vendor's aunt, Margaret Park) during 1949 and rented a garage where mechanic Leo Villa set up shop to work on the first 'Coniston' Bluebird.

The vendor only looked at the slides again in the last five years when, once again, they were cleared out, this time from the family garage by his father. It was an image of Campbell surrounded by crocodiles and other big game (later identified as Campbell's well-documented treasure-hunting trip to Cocos Island aboard Kenelm Lee Guinness's yacht in 1928) that caught his eye and encouraged him to take further advice.

Cheffins' automobilia specialist Jerry Curzon has detected the hands of several professional photographers in the slides that chronicle Campbell's career in the 1920s and '30s. They include a 1922 record attempt at Saltburn Sand in Yorkshire, trails at the Danish island of Fanoe and Pendine Sands c.1924, Daytona in 1928 and 1934, a 1929 trip to Cape Town and the Sahara and the 1928 journey to the Cocos Island.

Images of Campbell posing with his young son Donald next to the Bluebird biplane, or at speed in a Bugatti during a road race in France, are accompanied by unpopulated topographical views (some aerial) that were probably taken when searching for suitable land speed sites.

Some of these images, or ones very close, appear in later books including Campbell's c.1934 My Thirty Years of Speed and The Record Breakers by Leo Villa c.1969. This latter publication credits many of the photographs as coming from the authors' private collection. However, the origin of the slides would seem, most logically, to lie with Sir Malcolm, who perhaps used them to illustrate lectures and speeches. Certainly there is cause for further research and Mr Curzon believes there is sufficient material here for a book or institutional exhibition.

When the archive goes under the hammer within the automobilia section of Cheffins' Vintage sale at the Saleground, Sutton near Ely on April 21, it will carry an estimate of £2000-3000.

Contact 01223 271971 for more information.

• Bonhams are to sell the collection of annotated scrapbooks, photograph albums, film footage and trophies from the family of Sir Henry Segrave (1896-1930) - the first man to hold both land and water speed records simultaneously. The collection will be sold at Bonhams' annual Festival of Speed sale at Goodwood on June 22.

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