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Trash or Treasure: Rare automotive artifact difficult to appraise

Not everything can be easily appraised. That’s certainly the case with a rare and possibly important piece of automotive history that Pete Gruich recently brought in to an appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy.

“I believe that this item may be of some interest considering that it is the FIRST 1st Place medal awarded in the "modern era" of Grand Prix racing and that race was won by an American driver, Jimmy Murphy, driving an American engineered and constructed car, Duesenberg,” Gruich wrote in his original email to the column asking for assistance with placing a value on his unusual family heirloom.

 “Also of significance is that fact that the 1921 French Grand Prix was run on the same course that became the 24 Hours at LeMans race a couple of years later.  Technically, Jimmy Murphy was also the first American to win LeMans driving an American constructed car and no less than Dan Gurney himself acknowledged this.”

Even Gruich knew appraising the piece might be a challenge. “The appraiser may find it difficult to determine the value of this since the FIRST of something is always the most difficult to appraise but to simplify this endeavor, they can contact Gary Doyle, author of "King of the Boards, the life and times of Jimmy Murphy" who possesses the set awarded to Jimmy,” he continued.

Gruich says his family is connected to early automotive history. “My grandfather was hired by EL Cord in 1926 to purchase paint and interior trim for the Auburn Automobile Corp.,” he explained. “EL loved my grandmother’s cooking so he was a frequent dinner guest.  Cord bought Duesenberg in 1928.  My grandfather was the last employee of Auburn.  When Cord sold the tools to the 810 to Hupp in Detroit, my grandfather moved with them, returning to Indiana a year later. My grandfather started the Labor Day reunion in Auburn.  Roy Faulkner gave my grandfather this wallet and medal for a job well done. The president of the ADC (Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg) museum said that my medal is ‘the holy grail of motorsports history.’”

“That’s quite a background,” appraiser Brian Thomczek said after hearing Gruich’s extensive provenance. Thomczek took a closer look at the medal at a recent appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. He agreed that the piece was “very, very interesting” but said that rare and unusual pieces are among the hardest to authenticate and appraise. “It definitely has history and a sentimental value,” he says, adding the monetary value is a bit more complicated.

Made of a bronze material in France, the medal has a few condition issues, including scratches. The appraiser said it would appeal to automotive collectors or museums and said Gruich’s options included selling or donating to an interested museum.

Part of what helps appraisers determine values is comparable sales of similar pieces, something this piece did not have.

Thomczek didn’t feel comfortable attaching a monetary value to the piece, adding that it would take a lot more research than appraisals for the column allowed. If Gruich is interested in selling, the appraiser recommended he contact an auction house such as Heritage in St. Louis, which holds annual automotive auctions. “They specialize in that,” he added, noting that they would have a staff more equipped to do intensive and time-consuming research.

“It should be in a museum,” if everything checks out, Thomczek added. “If you do decide to sell, it would best be served in an auction of historic automotive artifacts where it could attract people from all over the world.”

About this item

Item: Automotive medal

Owned by: Pete Gruich

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: To be determined.

 Upcoming appraisals: There are still a few places left for the May 11, 10 a.m. appraisal session at DuMouchelles auction house in downtown Detroit. If you are interested in applying, please send a photo and brief history of your item and how you acquired it to If chosen, we will be in touch before the event.