Concorde's supersonic souvenirs

You don’t have to be a supersonic aviation nut to harbour a certain fondness for Concorde—and not many of those queuing outside Christie’s elegant auction rooms in central Paris on Monday were.

“It was just such a beautiful and romantic machine,” said Mathilde Tabard (48) who gave up her lunch break to attend the first day’s viewing of several thousand Concorde bits and pieces—from fuel gauges to flight manuals to crockery sets - due to go under the hammer on Saturday. “It sounds odd, I know, but I wanted to say goodbye.”

Divided into 218 lots valued at â,¬20-30 (£13,75-£20,60) for an electronic cabin speed display to â,¬60 000-120 000 for an entire Rolls Royce-Snecma Olympus 593 jet engine, the pieces have been cannibalised from the five planes Air France was left with after the catastrophic 2002 crash that heralded Concorde’s retirement. Almost all are displayed with the number of flying hours they completed.

The idea, said Air France’s chairman, Jean-Cyril Spinetta, is to give “Concorde’s admirers a unique chance to purchase a piece of its history”.

Proceeds will go to the Air France Foundation for needy children, although Emmanuelle Vidal, the Christie’s expert in charge of the sale, admitted she had no idea how much the sale might raise.

After 27 years of commercial service, such is the emotion generated by the Anglo-French jet that artefacts as mundane as sick bags and safety instructions were changing hands for cash on the internet days after its last flight.
BA’s last Concorde flight was in October; Air France took its fleet out of service in April.

“These estimates are purely symbolic,” Vidal said. “We know how to value a Picasso. But how do you value an engine like this? When Concorde was in service, it was worth something like â,¬7-million to Air France. It will never fly again, but it’s still the most beautiful engine in the world.”

Christie’s said it expects the sale to attract not only technological buffs, aviation fanatics, museum buyers and straightforward Concorde fans, but also enthusiasts of late-1960s design and aesthetics attracted by such draws as a 48-piece, Andrée Putman-designed crockery service (lot 188, bowls, plates, cups and saucers to serve 12 people, valued at â,¬200-300).

Indeed, standing massive and gleaming in the refined 18th century surroundings of the auction house, many of the larger engineered components—primary jet pipes, fuel exchangers, air intake rings, compressor discs, engine gas temperature sensors and the like—look more like modern art exhibits than aircraft parts.

Many of the estimates look modest. Dozens of gauges and indicators have been valued at between â,¬80 and â,¬300. A worn-looking Concorde front passenger door is estimated at â,¬460-690, a nose cone control lever at â,¬400-600, two front landing wheels â,¬200-300, a 29-volume instruction course for maintenance technicians â,¬200-300, wing leading edges â,¬1 000-1 200, and spectacular scale models â,¬400-600.

You can equip your apartment with a Concorde galley, knives and forks, and a first engineer’s or pilot’s seat (â,¬800-1 000, expected to be one of the most hotly contested lots).

Some of the highest bids, however, are expected to be for Concorde’s emblematic 3,5-metre nose cone or radome, estimated at â,¬10 00-15 000.

“I’ll come to the sale, but I’m not sure I’ll bid,” said Jean-Louis Massonet, a retired Paris metro driver, examining a sculpted engine blade (â,¬2 000-3 000). “I’ve admired this plane since it first flew, I even saved up to go in it once, and I’d love to buy a piece of it, but it’s a mythical thing now. People will pay millions.” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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