BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) – Two brothers’ unique private museum of classic cars, rare musical instruments and other collectibles was emptied Saturday with the final strike of an auctioneer’s gavel, bringing in $38.3 million in sales.
Two days of bidding on 550 lots neared their conclusion with the biggest sale of them all, $3.3 million for the only known surviving 1912 Oldsmobile Limited, more than double its pre-auction estimate.
The final tally came in just below the roughly $40 million the auction houses estimated they’d yield.
Most of the automobiles sold at or above their estimates, though bids for many of the rare musical instruments came in below expected ranges. The centerpiece of the collection, a stunning custom-built merry-go-round, sold for nearly $1.3 million.
“Think of all the friends you could have over,” said the auctioneer, Max Girardo, as the carousel went up for sale.
Bob Milhous, 75, and his brother Paul Milhous, 73, spent decades building their collection. The Milhous Collection, as it has become known, is housed in a 39,000-square-foot building. It was never opened to the public, though it played host to charity fundraisers and some small private tours.
The brothers made their fortune in the printing business and a variety of other ventures. They decided to sell off their collectibles, though, as they planned their estates. They hired two auction houses, RM Auctions and Sotheby’s, to sell their prized possessions.
The offerings were eclectic, to say the least. A vintage barber chair sold for $28,875, and a toy Mercedes-Benz car went for $34,500, both far above their estimates. Also fetching higher-than-expected bids was a grandfather clock that netted $103,500, a neon sign from a Chevrolet dealership that went for $82,800 and a 1941 PT-22 airplane that sold for $241,500.
All manner of other items were sold, too: giant toy soldiers that once stood at FAO Schwarz in New York, funhouse mirrors, Tiffany lamps, vintage gas pumps, fine furniture and antique guns.
The real highlights of the collection, though, were the antique cars, which sat perfectly shined in the showroom, and the rare music boxes, player pianos, organs and orchestrions, which are made to simulate the sound of an orchestra all in one piece.
Many of the instruments are elaborately decorated with oil paintings, stained glass, gold leaf and moving figurines and are considered among the finest in the world. But bids often came in low. Of the eight automated musical instruments with estimates of $1 million or more, only three netted bids of seven figures.
Girardo brought a lighthearted mood as hundreds of bidders from 18 countries crowded a tent beside the museum and entered bids over the phone and online. “Are you ordering sir, or are you buying a music box?” he asked once. “Careful, a round of drinks might cost you $12,000.”
The final lot to sell was a 1948 tractor that went for $11,500. When the bidding was over, Girardo announced, “All done, all finished, SOOOOOLLLLLLLLDDDDDD,” banging his gavel one last time.
Afterward, the Milhouses and some guests gathered around an organ in the museum. Paul Milhous said he was happy with the auction’s result, saying it was simply time to move on. A woman sang, the carousel below twirled, and for one final time, the music continued to play.
Follow Matt Sedensky at
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)