THE ECLECTIC COLLECTOR

April 22nd, 2010 by James Ferris


In her long life, Perlita Too has been very fortunate to pass through the hands of people who valued her status as a rare and unique boat, worth preserving. Nearing the end of a good run, Perlita found Alan Furth, the Eclectic Collector. Lucky boat yet again, she became a part of Alan Furth’s expansive wooden boat collection; yet unfortunate that he never actually got around to restore this important Riva Tritone.

Alan Furth was likely the largest wooden boat collector in the hobby. He had over 75 boats in his collection; I have a good handle on this since I cataloged them for him in 1990. Alan was one of the first at Lake Tahoe to insure his boats with Hagerty Marine Insurance when they launched their innovative Agreed Value insurance policy for classic wooden boats in 1984. I began shortly after, insuring both classic boats & cars with Hagerty. (Thanks Carla)

I met Alan Furth at an ACBS meeting in 1985, then again at Lake Tahoe when I purchased a small restoration shop in 1988; Lake Tahoe Classic Boats. Alan continued as a restoration customer of mine, and it was during the cataloging of his collection that I discovered Perlita Too in a barn kludged together of metal shipping containers, on his farm in California’s Sacramento Delta.

behind bushes and small trees.......

behind bushes and small trees.......

under the bird***t.....

under the bird***t.....

seeing the light of day for the first time in 17 years......

seeing the light of day for the first time in many years......

Alan purchased Perlita from third owner Bob Burnand (see IN GOOD COMPANY) sometime before 1985, and although it was no longer a running boat, Alan registered it with the DMV. He said it was the easiest way to keep track of his boats.

all legal like.......

all legal like.......

Just a few of the other boats in Alan’s collection……

Baby Watercar and Dodge 'Em

Baby Watercar and Kamaiena (renamed Dodge 'Em) 1935 Dodge

BR 21 052 21' Cobra

BR 21 052 21' Cobra

Trusted assistant claims 'her' Riva.....SF 418

Trusted assistant claims 'her' Riva.....SF 418

Alan loved to illustrate his fascination (obsession) with speed and boats by the story of how in 1946 he was chased and cornered by the Military police off the occupied port on Kyushu.  To prove that all the “kamakazi” boats had not been demolished he got one working and was testing its limits, “after all he said the Japanese engines were built on the blueprints of a 1937 Chevrolet… and I was running a tank outfit, I had all the tools and there wasn’t much to do with your time” . One can only imagine the discussion when they caught up with this US Marines Captain.

The marine engines were always an important part of his collection.  No doubt it was the Scripps V-12 that had lured him to Perlita and make her part of his collection.  Would Alan have restored the superchargers as an important part of her history? Maybe so, maybe so……..

Alan tests his newly re-powered Riva Super Florida with a Holman Moody Ford V8

Herb Hall, owner of The Sierra Boat company has one the most researched and documented Gar Woods on the planet for sale. Originally built for the New York boat show in 1939, it is one of only two of this model built that year. It was delivered new to Lake Tahoe the same year and has spent most of its life on this lake. It is also one of only 10, 28′ Gar Woods built from the factory with the Scripps 302 V-12 engine. This rare & unique GarWood was part of Alan’s collection at one time.

After Alan retired from the Board of Southern Pacific Railway, he and his wife Virgina and son Andy spent their summers at Lake Tahoe. Dick Clarke of Sierra Boat Company fed Alan a steady stream of interesting boats, some rare and unique, some commonplace. By the early 1990’s Alan had decided to “thin the herd” a little bit; that was when I had the plum job of finding and cataloging all of the boats. No easy task either; boats were stored in 4 locations around Lake Tahoe, on 2 ranches, in 2 locations in the San Francisco Bay area, and even in another boat shop on the east coast.

Some rare boats changed hands in that time, including historic Gold Cup racers Chloe (ex-Delphine) and Baby Watercar, a 1923 Dodge Gold Cup; Schools Out, a 1924 Cupernall launch; Big Sky, a 1946 Stancraft Torpedo; a Hickman Sea Sled Sedan; and 3 Gar Wood triple cockpits; one with a Rolls Royce V8 marine engine, one of two ever made by the Rolls Royce factory.

SUPER-COLLECTOR featured in Motor Boating & Sailing/August 1992 by Kimball Livingston

Alan & Virginia on board Oski III, built in 1926 by Stephens Brothers. Oski III, was a former coaching launch for the U.C. Berkeley crew. Motor Boating & Sailing/August 1992

My boatshop associate, who had a long history with Alan, said “just watch, there’ll be a new boat coming before these are all gone…..” Too right too; a few weeks later we got a phone call; “I found this great old racer, with a Packard Gold Cup motor!” The eclectic collector at his best.

IN 1990 CASUDI wrote, directed, and produced a documentary about the Tahoe wooden boat scene called “DOING THINGS THE OLD WAY”, narrated by Peter Graves. She interviewed Alan Furth aboard one of his very favorite boats in the collection, a former San Francisco Bay pilot boat, the Jerry Daily, crafted by Anderson & Christofan in 1928.

The Jerry Daily one of Alan's favorites.........

Of the total number of boats in Alan Furth’s collection, I estimate that he must have restored at least 30. However, there may have been a few more, since there are many wooden boat restorers who could claim to have had Alan Furth as a client.

It is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime situation that a person has the opportunity, the wherewithal, and most importantly the passion, to put together a collection like Alan Furth did. He will be long remembered for his part in collecting and preserving a great many classic wooden boats for our hobby. Although Alan passed on to the “boatyard in the sky”, and most of his collection was sold, his wife kept a couple of boats (including a one-off Philbrick triple that I nearly sank……)

Footnote: I recently met perhaps the next collector-of-wooden boats-extraordinaire; sometimes to be found in Calgary…….in between boat purchases and restorations…….a few months ago he found a yard with barns-full of boats…he got one and sent it to a restoration shop, and has his next one picked out…..and in the meantime bought another because “it was so cheap, I couldn’t pass it up…….” Yup, he’s deep in the grip of ‘collecting’……

Do you have an Alan Furth story? I would love to hear it…. comments below and/or email me.

comments

5 Responses to “THE ECLECTIC COLLECTOR”

  1. Paul Harrison Says:

    It does seem that the late Mr. Furth was truly a collector of world-class proportions. Those of us who enjoy these boats today are the beneficiaries of his passion and wisdom in selecting and especially restoring so many rare and wonderful boats. Unfortunately he passed away half a generation before I bought my first antique boat, so I have no stories to share. However, for a man of his diverse taste in boats and in his drive preserve them, it must be assumed that he would take a great deal of pleasure at the care, attention and pursuit of perfection you are bringing to the resurrection of Perlita.

  2. Paul Harrison Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this recollection of Mr. Furth and his passion. There he was, buying things that he loved, on a vast scale.

    In my case, I do indeed share his interest in boats, and an eclectic mix of them at that. I have been on the road a lot in the last month or so, and many of these miles have been driven in the pursuit of my antique boating hobby. I have had lots of time to think about a theme for a boat collection, what it should look like, and what should motivate a particular purchase. After trying to create such a core, I think I have just decided that in the future I will buy boats that I like – for whatever perverse reason (a Mullins, anyone?) Yes, I will look for boats with unique and rare power, or boats of low production, or of most importantance to me – a high percentage of preserved original content.

    Now I read your article on Furth, and he had such a huge, sprawling collection that he MUST have bought boats that he just liked – there is no other unifying theme that I can discern. To me that is the heart of it -why collect anything because someone tells you to – a person should collect because he actually likes the stuff he is acquiring.

    I bought the forlorn and melancholy Mullins because I thought it could be redeemed and because I thought it to be worthy of that. I didn’t buy it because it is valuable, desirable or even particularly functional. So, I have asked myself why? The only answer is that it is unique and representative of some thing, some time, that can no longer exist. I just liked the idea of rescuing that valueless derelict and spending a modest sum to let other people see and possibly experience what small scale boating was like at the time of the virtual advent of the outboard engine and small portable, powered boats. It isn’t fast or pretty, and does not need to be those things in my eyes to be interesting.

    Not sure why I feel this way, and I bet 999 out of a thousand would walk right by that boat and feel nothing, except perhaps a bit of scorn. Furth must have bought only because he liked the boats, not because it was a means to an economic end and the boats at the time he was buying probably had little prospect of attaining any real value. You knew him and probably had as much insight into why and how he bought – that would be interesting if it could be explained or shared with your readers. It actually looks like he was getting a bit carried away – but who knows?

  3. James Ferris Says:

    Thanks Paul, for your usual cogent & interesting comments. I thought I had posted mine back to you sometime ago, but you’ve had me thinking about what might be an appropriate future for Perlita.

    Should Perlita go back to her roots in Italy and become the centerpiece of the Riva/Ferretti factory museum? Or given her Hollywood background, would she be appropriate as the star of a gathering like the Nethercutt Collection in southern California? With her Italian heritage, she would not be out of place in a museum that showcased European and Italian masterpieces.

    Or might Perlita go to into a very personal collection, a private museum (open by appointment only) that a collector such as Alan Furth might have, were he still collecting today? At the level of perfection and accuracy we are lavishing on Perlita, she will be around for many years to come; whether she becomes part of family memories each summer, or rests on her laurels in some prestigious collection.JF

  4. Christopher Burg Says:

    I frankly have so many Alan stories it would be hard to choose…

    I was truly fortunate to know Alan as a mentor and friend and I spent many an hour with him in one of his boats, on the hunt for a boat, an engine, or a tour of a boat manufacturer (was with Alan and family at the Riva boat works on Lake Sarnico, Italy).

    For Alan though, his interest and theme if you will, was the beauty, design and craftsmanship first. Then uniqueness and performance. Always performance!

    At one of the early Tahoe Concourses they had an organized exhibition “race” for some of the entries. I was with Alan in Chloe, the 1934 Gold Cup Hacker, when in his usual peddle to the metal style, we hit a wake and a small forward hatch was knocked loose and flew back to the cockpit. I managed to fend it off and we recovered it next time around. Was a thrilling ride and not till we docked did I notice the blood running down my arm. A few stitches later all was good. I actually like the scar, it’s a kind of personal badge of honor. CB

    PS James–Would love to hear your Philbrick story. She’s still making waves on the lake!

  5. James Ferris Says:

    Chris, thank you for your comment, and for sharing some new and fascinating details about Alan. One thing I did not know was that he had visited the Riva factory in Sarnico. I would love to know more about when this was and the purpose of the visit? Was it before or after he acquired Perlita, or later when he acquired the Riva Super Florida (about which I am also interested, as it belongs to my partner)?

    Ahh, Chloe; if I had won the lottery back then I would have her today! You’re right about Alan and performance; even after he had sold many boats from the collection, the first one he came back with was a ’20’s “gentlemans racer” with a Peerless Gold Cup motor. And if I recall his 21 Cobra arrived with a 426 Hemi with the crossover intake; big horsepower, and only slightly out of place in a Cobra!

    Sorry; the Philbrick story will have to wait until we have a cold drink together; I don’t need to further embarrass myself in public! And yes, I thought it was nice that Virginia kept the Philbrick even when all the other boats went away. Must have carried many great memories for her.