Ex-Doris Duke, James Melton and Dr. Samuel L. Scher
1910 Peerless Model 29 Park Phaeton/Victoria
Coachwork by Brewster & Co.
Chassis no. 16124
Engine no. 5095
232ci L-head four-cylinder engine
Front and Rear Leaf Spring Suspension
Rear Wheel Contracting Band Brakes
*Exquisite Brewster bodied Peerless
*Illustrious ownership history
*Formal Victoria coachwork by Brewster
*A very authentic example with many original finishes
Peerless started in Cincinnati in 1874 as a manufacturer of clothes wringers, clothespins and washboards, later moving to Cleveland and becoming the Peerless Manufacturing Company. Peerless was the world leader in laundry equipment, but management was keen to expand and perceived new opportunities in bicycles; production started in 1891. Success followed but by 1900 it became obvious that the new opportunity lay in automobiles.
Louis P. Mooers was the man chosen to lead this effort. Peerless licensed De Dion-Bouton designs but quickly moved beyond the lightweight DeDion machines, and by 1904 had built a 60hp four-cylinder Peerless for competition for the company's new driver, Eli "Barney" Oldfield. Called the "Peerless Green Dragon", it would define Peerless's reputation for high performance and quality.
Peerless also demonstrated its reliability in the early Glidden Tours, setting perfect scores in 1906, 1907 and 1908. In 1907 Peerless introduced its famous slogan, "All that the name implies", and it worked assiduously at living up to it.
In 1905, Mooers and Oldfield having decamped to the Moon company, Peerless hired Charles Schmidt from Packard, the designer of the famed Packard Gray Wolf racer. Schmidt moved Peerless into the realm of the six-cylinder engine in 1908, cautiously patterning it after the 30hp four designed by Mooers in 1905.
Peerless offered two four-cylinder engines and one six-cylinder engine on three different wheelbase chassis. Ten catalog bodies were offered by Peerless themselves, while some clients preferred their own bespoke coachwork from one of the major coachbuilders.
The Motorcar Offered
This Peerless, is in every respect 'All that the name implies' and more, with an incredible pedigree. It is a Model 29, introduced in mid-1910 and continuing into 1911; its engine is a 25hp four-cylinder with 4" bore and 4 5/8" stroke on a 113" wheelbase.
It is custom bodied by one of the foremost names of the day, Brewster & Co. in New York City, which at the turn of the 20th century was the coachbuilder of choice for New York society. The quality of Brewster's workmanship was legend and in 1925 it was acquired by Rolls-Royce.
The formal Victoria body is an eloquent adaptation of formal horse-drawn coachwork to an automobile chassis. The elevated seat for driver and footman are separate, in both place and caste, from the privileged, remote, partially concealed seat in the rear. The style was, as its name indicates, popularized by Queen Victoria and is one of the most enduring styles of the era.
This particular Peerless Victoria was owned before the war by tobacco heiress Doris Duke. In an era pre-dating the stardom of movie actors, Doris Duke was a fascination for the press, who dubbed her 'the richest girl in the world' reflecting the fact that at age 12 in 1925, she had inherited the majority of her father's $80 million fortune.
This aspect of its history is endorsed by a 1938 photo of the car in Life magazine, while stored at garage in Somerville, New Jersey, which was very close to Duke Farms. The image is captioned with a quote from the garagiste that "It belongs to Doris Duke Cromwell. It's a family heirloom, a 1910 Peerless and she has it insured for $10,000, using it about once every six months for a drive around her estate". He went on to comment "But we never know when she will use it, so we wash it every day"!
The mention of the car being a family heirloom suggests that the Peerless may indeed have been owned by the Duke family from new, particularly given its Brewster coachwork. But, since Doris Duke's husband James Cromwell was a Vice President of the Peerless Motor Car company, it is possible that the car had its ancestry on that side of her family.
Duke's ownership is further verified by its next owner, the famed opera singer and car collector James Melton. In the 1954 book Bright Wheels Rolling he wrote with Ken Purdy, his Peerless Victoria is described as follows:
"Here's a different bucket of bolts altogether: a Peerless of 1911 with a Victoria body. For sheer elegance and grace, I know of few automobiles that can match this lively carriage, which I acquired in 1946 from Doris Duke Cromwell [heiress to the Duke tobacco fortune and later married to Porfirio Rubirosa]. I'll always remember bringing this car home. With a friend, Paul Louis, I had gone to Mrs. Cromwell's home in New Jersey [the famous Duke Farms in Somerset] to get this car and another Victoria, on a Dodge chassis, and we drove them home across the Jersey Skyway in a pouring rain, I was driving this one, definitely not a wet-weather automobile. I kept thinking of a line I had once seen in a Locomobile advertisement: 'Nothing is quite as impressive of elegance as an exposed chauffeur.' Elegant maybe. But miserable, for sure."
Melton sold the Peerless to another famed collector, pioneering plastic surgeon Dr. Samuel L. Scher, and in a 1964 article in Veteran and Vintage Magazine, detailing a visit to Dr. Scher's garage in Mamoroneck, New York, noted historian Michael Sedgwick references Dr. Scher's ' 1910 Peerless park phaeton formerly owned by tobacco heiress Doris Duke'.
When Dr. Scher made the group sale of a large part of his collection to noted Maine-based collector Richard C. Paine, Jr., the Peerless was included, joining another of the most prominent collections in America at that time.
Some 41 years later, on the death of Richard Paine, the car was auctioned by Bonhams, at which point it was acquired by a Private European Museum Collection.
While in Dr. Scher's custody, the car rewarded him with an AACA National First Prize, suggesting that it had recently been restored at that time, however, close inspection of photos of the car back as far as the 1930s suggest that it has had sympathetic restoration or refurbishment, but may in many respects still wear its original finishes. It is likely that the cloth trimmed rear cabin section, cape cart top and leather fenders are the originals.
Today, the car features highly unusual and very attractive Peerless-branded acetylene headlights made by Atwood, Dietz Empire Junior kerosene sidelights, an Atwood kerosene taillight and a Peerless bulb horn. The patent leather mudguards are old and have been carefully refinished to preserve their aged pebbled surface. The Victoria tonneau is finished in Brewster Green and upholstered in beige broadcloth while the rest of the Peerless is finished in black with Brewster Green wood spoke wheels. Now fitted with a town cap atop its radiator, it once wore a Surfer hood or-nament, as a reference by Doris Duke to her Honolulu home.
This is one of the most elegant, refined and attractive formal automobiles of the first decade of the century. Built to the uncompromising standards of Peerless, it is an appropriate carriage for the socialite daughter of one of America's great fortunes. Its elegance and imposing presence make it a centerpiece for any collection and a welcome participant in the most formal parades, tours, events and Concours.