One Owner From 1912-2013: 1912 Pierce Model 12 Single

The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company has the distinction of building America’s first four-cylinder motorcycle. Manufactured at the company’s factory in Buffalo, New York, the four-cylinder Pierce was launched in 1909. Although inspired by the Belgian FN four, one of which Percy Pierce had brought to the USA in 1908, the Pierce differed in detail design, its engine eschewing the FN’s ‘atmospheric’ inlet valves in favour of mechanical side valves in ‘T-head’ configuration, a arrangement FN themselves would later use. According to its makers, the Pierce would be: ‘Vibrationless, give motor car comfort and travel comfortably from a mere walking pace up to the speed of the motor car’, and capable of proceeding from 6 to 60mph in its single gear. The ‘Vibrationless’ name would later include the single-cylinder models that followed.

It was not just its multi-cylinder engine that made the Pierce unusual; the frame too was novel, being constructed from 3½”-diameter steel tubes that housed fuel and oil, and, like the FN, final drive was by shaft. Early models employed direct drive, but from 1910 onwards a two-speed gearbox was standardised. Fast and well made, the Pierce soon had a string of city-to-city endurance race wins to its credit. At the time of its motorcycle’s launch in 1909, Pierce-Arrow was embarking on a policy of building luxury cars only, many of which would come to be regarded as among America’s finest. This approach was reflected in the quality – and cost – of the Pierce four and would ultimately lead to its downfall. Priced at $325 in 1909, it cost $400 when production ceased in 1913, at which time the basic Ford Model T was priced at $525.

Alongside the four, Pierce offered a 592cc single-cylinder model from 1910, the frame of which was constructed along lines similar to the four’s. For 1912, the single’s sidevalve motor was redesigned with two-cam valve operation and a longer stroke (for a capacity of 644cc). A top speed of 55mph was claimed for the smaller Pierce, which was said to have the ‘efficiency of a twin with the simplicity of single-cylinder construction.’ Production ceased at the same time as that of the four.

Pierce motorcycles are very rare and highly sought after nowadays, only infrequently turning up on the open market.

This Pierce’s single’s original owner was Roy Walter Glaser, who was born in August 1893 in the Hartwell/ Wyoming area of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Mr Glaser worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a signalman until his retirement. A resident of Lockland, Ohio, he never married and had no children, being survived by only his sister, two nieces, and a nephew. He would have been around 19 years old in 1912 when he purchased the Pierce, which was kept with its attached sidecar and an old automobile (perhaps a Ford Model T) in his garage. Upon Roy Glaser’s passing in November 1984, the estate was split among his sister and her children, one of whom was Roy’s nephew, Mr Jack Mesley. He was given the motorcycle and brought it to his Lockland residence on Pershing Avenue. Jack Mesley never rode motorcycles but was fond of his uncle’s Pierce, which he stored in the garage under cover. When he died in June 2004, his wife Shirley Mesley inherited the estate. When the Mesleys offered the Pierce for sale at a Las Vegas motorcycle auction in January 2013, this remarkable machine had been in the family’s possession for over 100 years. The Pierce was presented with its original paint and period white rubber tyres (photographs on file). The current vendor purchased the machine at the aforementioned auction, since when it has been carefully cleaned, re-commissioned, and ridden only once, around a field.

Outstandingly original and unmolested, the Pierce retains its original Mesinger cavalry saddle. Factory options include the pillion seat and passenger footrests ($18.00) while also installed is an Old Sol Brand acetylene headlamp and tail lamp ($5.00), though the carbide gas generator is missing. A duplicate leather drive belt ($1,000) of the original has also been installed. A Seiss hand-cranked horn (manufactured 1914) is attached to the handlebars. Accompanying documentation consists of a photocopied Pierce catalogue for 1912; a Sunbeam MCC Pioneer Certificate; a written history of the Glaser/Mesley family’s ownership; bills for repairs to the handlebars and rear hub; and a V5C Registration Certificate.

Bonhams Autumn Stafford Sale takes place Oct 15. More information can be found here.

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