Imagine for a moment that you are an art historian, and you walk into the Louvre in Paris, France for the first time. Excitement, wonder, joy are all words that would describe those first steps into a world that you have only read about or seen on TV. That would describe my feelings as Brett Horton introduced me to The Horton Collection. Under one roof is an enormous collection of historic jerseys, bicycles, medals, trophies and posters gathered by Brett from as early as the 1880s.
Brett has situated his gallery on a very fashionable street in San Francisco. His building is surrounded by the likes of Gucci and Polo. This is historic San Francisco, where in the old days Montgomery, Giannini, and Wells were making fortunes in Banking and the Railroads. As I see it, the neighborhood has improved with the addition of the Horton gallery.
Brett Horton is a Forensic Economist by trade, but his true passion is to surround himself with the history of professional cycling. He is one of the few curators in the world who has taken it upon himself to preserve the legacies of so many great past cyclists. It would be an understatement to say that The Horton Collection is the largest collection of bicycle racing memorabilia in the world.
I met Brett at 10:00am on a Sunday morning. As I entered his gallery, I was greeted with his “World Championship” room that housed the World Championship jerseys of Eddie Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Felice Gimondi and Greg Lemond. Brett has had the jerseys professionally mounted and framed. There is nothing else in the room but a few comfortable places to sit to admire these works of art. As Eddie Merckx told him on a recent visit, “Brett, you have done a good job” The room truly is a testament to these World Champions.
And the list goes on. The Bordeaux Paris 1911 Winners Trophy, a
beautiful four foot poster of Costante Girardengo, the Italian National Champion from 1913 to 1925, a Tour de France starter flag used from 1903 through 1938, a signed jersey worn by Eric Zabel (One of Brett’s personal heroes) in the 2001 Tour de France, A framed photograph of Fausto Coppi. And this is just a fraction of what is currently on display. Brett assured me that what is currently on display is only about 1% of his collection. The rest is in storage!
Brett is a self-described bicycle racing junky. Well, a better term would be bicycle racing historian. Bring up almost any significant race, and Brett could probably tell you who the podium finishers were of that race. He is a walking encyclopedia of racing knowledge. If there were a “Jeopardy” game on just bicycle history, I would bet my retirement on Brett.
He is also one of the nicest guys I have met. As we traded e-mails he asked me if I had any riders that I followed as I was growing up. I thought I would impress him with my knowledge of the sport so I wrote back about Kelly, Roche and Lemond. That was old school I thought. Then, during our four plus hours together he pulled out a bag and emptied it on his desk. There in a clump were close to six to seven jerseys that had been worn by Kelly in the Tour, Lemond in the Worlds, and Armstrong in the Tour. Some were torn, some still had mud and dirt on them, one had its number partially ripped off. I felt like I was looking at a sports newsreel on fast forward.
As Brett mentioned to me, like any great art, one purpose is for it to evoke emotion. He recalled a man who came to visit his gallery a few months ago. The man spent hours obviously reminiscing about the great champions of years past. He stopped at a Fausto Coppi jersey that was worn in the 1952 Giro d’Italia and he began to weep. When Brett saw that, he felt like he had done justice to the Coppi jersey.
When you have a moment, check out The Horton Collection web site. (www.thehortoncollection.com) it’s a beautiful web site and you will be amazed at some of the items that Brett has obtained. Picture yourself in San Francisco shopping on Post Street near the Gucci store, and if for some strange reason you start thinking about the Tour, it just may be the power of those world championship jerseys, or those track bicycles of the near by Horton Collection looking forward to tell you their stories of glory.