Von Dutch originals dominate memorabilia section of Bonhams’ Las Vegas sale
Series of motorcycle engine drawings by legendary Von Dutch go under the hammer
Kenny ‘Von Dutch’ Howard was a complicated character who divided opinion during – and after – a life cut short by illness in 1992. Born the son of a Los Angeles signwriter in 1929, Howard was earning money as a pin-striper to the custom car movement by the age of 10. Developing a unique style, he was also a skilled mechanic, metal fabricator and sometime gunsmith, and he became an integral part of the Kustom Kulture scene.
Though Howard’s artistic talent is undoubted, many contemporaries say he had a darker side. Robert Williams, one-time friend and fellow artist, said he could be, “quite a racist, didn’t like anyone.”
Whatever the truth about the enigmatic Howard, his art has lived on – and 14 original Von Dutch artworks went under the hammer at the Bonhams Las Vegas sale on January 25.
All were pencil-on-paper sketches reflecting Howard’s passion for motorcycles (and, in one example, firearms), plus a single surrealistic work. And the 12 bike drawings reveal an understanding of (and interest in) the mechanical side of bike design, rather than the custom paint he’s better known for.
Subject matter included a cutaway sketch of a carburettor float bowl, a fanciful design for a twin-cam Triumph twin, and a complete motorcycle with a Sunbeam engine in a Triumph frame with BSA, Velocette, Indian and BTH components. All the illustrations are more artistic works rather than detailed engineering drawings, and the energy, creativity and flair of a flawed genius shine out of the weathered paper. Estimates ranged from a low of £300 for an unnamed singlecylinder engine design, to £940 for the surrealistic work of a winged question mark. Interest in the drawings proved strong, however, with only one of the bike-related works – an Ariel logo – failing to sell over its top estimate.
A design for a ‘reverse flattwin’ engine, with opposed pistons meeting in a central combustion chamber and a pair of outboard cranks, made $1187 (£863), while the exploded drawing of a 500cc alloy single engine design went for $1750 (£1228). Top-selling Von Dutch memorabilia proved to be the dohc Triumph twin design sketch, which made an impressive $4000 (£2809) – considerably more than its $750 high estimate. Someone’s workshop or study wall is going to look pretty cool.
ONLY ONE WORK FAILED TO SELL OVER ITS TOP ESTIMATE
4 1 Not an engineering drawing, but exploded single demonstrates mechanical understanding 3 Sketch for a double-overheadcam Triumph made a tidy £2809 4 Not your usual opposed twin – pistons face each and create a shared combustion chamber
2 Bosch brand is an intricate detail on the points-end cam bearing housing on this single 5 Far better on the workshop wall than a watercolour landscape 5