Merwin: Shakespeare's Fortune and the Best Used Car Deal of All Time

As a fan of both fishing tackle and collectible automobiles, I thought it was fascinating to see both come together in a recent NY Times article.

First, there are few vintage cars more revered than Bugattis. Not the modern supercar of that name built by Volkswagen. I mean real Bugattis that were made by Ettore Bugatti and family at Molsheim, France, between 1909 and about 1944. At the time, these were perhaps the world's most finely engineered, artfully designed, and exclusive cars. A rare 1936 model recently sold between collectors for $28 million (the model below is a 1938 Type 57SC Atlantic).

The newspaper report was about the sale back in 1964 of a collection of 30 Bugattis by one John W. Shakespeare who lived near St. Louis. The sale price was $85,000 and included freight to a buyer in France, who in turn was planning a museum. It was described as possibly the best used-car deal of all time.

John W. Shakespeare, meanwhile, was described as a "sportsman" in the sense of being one who played around a lot with expensive stuff. He raced sports cars, raised orchids, and generally found lots of ways to spend his father's fortune.

That fortune first came to William Shakespeare because he invented the level-wind for baitcasting reels and began a tackle company under his own name. Son John, former playboy and car collector, was eventually found murdered in his Illinois basement, a case still unsolved. Of the Shakespeare cars, six have recently returned to the U.S., bought by a California collector for the Mullin Automotive Museum near Oxnard.

I, meanwhile, have lots of level-wind casting reels, thanks to Mr. Shakespeare. But alas, I have no Bugattis.