Treasures: 1955 Ford Thunderbird

This week we bring you another Treasure from the Vinson collection – a 1955 Ford Thunderbird catalog. What makes this catalog so unique is that it was supposed to have been destroyed. The following excerpt from A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography tells the story in Mr. Vinson’s own words.

When Ford announced its sensational Thunderbird in ’54, the prototypes bore a chrome spear on its sides which began at the headlamp, swooped down through the front fender, started upwards, and continued horizontally through the door and fender to the rear. The motif was repeated on the ’55 Ford passenger cars but was dropped from the T’bird when it went into production.

Ford Thunderbird catalog, with the chrome spear. Click to view the catalog in its entirety in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Somewhere along the way I heard a rumor that there was literature showing the car with the spear, but I never saw any. One Sunday in the early ‘80s, I was at home when a local friend with no interest in cars, John Rison Jones, telephoned to say that he’d returned from an antiques show at the D.C. Armory where he’d come across a man who was selling what he claimed to be a rare Thunderbird catalogue. There could only be one piece that deserved that term, so I immediately went over to check it out. But it was true. What’s more, there were two of them, and two or three page proof.

Ford Thunderbird catalog without the spear. Click to view the item in its entirety in the Hagley Digital Archives.

The man knew what he had because he wanted $100 for each for them. According to him, Ford had ordered all copies destroyed, and these were the only ones saved. I bought both, he threw in the page proofs, gratis. I was awed to own the world’s supply of something. Once home, I phoned Bob Tuthill who’s never seen the piece. As I was negotiating with him for a $1,200 1934 Packard Custom Cars catalogue, he agreed to credit me $400 towards it for the second catalogue (I never really considered destroying it so that I would have the “only” one in captivity). Later, I sold the page proofs to John Robinson for $50. He said he’d heard that there were as many as 8 catalogues that were saved, but Bob Tuthill, Jim Petrik, and I seem to be the only collectors who have them.

The versions of the catalog with and without the chrome spear are available in the Hagley Digital Archives.  A scan of a hand written note from Mr. Vinson relaying the story of these catalogs is included at the end of each catalog in the digital library.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Treasures: De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company

De Dion-Bouton (1883-1932) was one of the premier French manufacturers of horseless carriages and motorcycles in the early era of motor car production. Venturing outside of France and into America, De Dion-Bouton was one of the first foreign manufacturers to produce motor cars in America under the company name De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company headquartered in Brooklyn at the corner of Church Lane and 37th Street. Lasting only one year (1900-1901) they produced three models: the Brooklyn, the New York, and the Doctor’s Coupe.

Though they only lasted one year in America, De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company still had an impact on American motor car technology. The De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company was known for its one-cylinder engines, creating small, but reliable, concept vehicles. However, once in production, they did not meet the expectations of the American public, and went out of business rather quickly.  Not only did they produce motor car models during their short time in America, but they also sold parts and accessories including air-cooled and water-cooled engines, sparking plugs, and mufflers.

De Dion-Bouton Motors and Accessories catalog.

A few treasured pieces of De Dion-Bouton history are part of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. One of these is the “Motors and Accessories” catalog, published in April 1901 by the De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company. This catalog describes the company’s history in France, why the company has set up operations in America, and provides a list of engines and accessories for sale by the company. As one of the earlier period pieces collected by Vinson, it was probably one of only a few pieces of sales literature produced by the company during its time in America, making it an exceptionally rare piece of automobile literature.

The following is how Mr. Vinson described the catalog in his own words in A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography:

The De Dion appears to have been the first foreign vehicle manufactured under license in the U.S., hence the significance of this small item. The U.S. company was headquartered in Brooklyn and lasted but one year. It appears to have manufactured motors as well as cars (the De Dion firm at this point manufacturing many of the motors used in other French cars of the day). This catalogue must have been one of the few pieces of sales literature that the U.S. company issued.

As an example of foreign manufacturing in America, De Dion-Bouton attempted to bridge the gap between America and Europe in the motor car era. Louis Chevrolet, one of the co-founders and inspiration for the Chevrolet Motor Company, worked at the Brooklyn De Dion-Bouton factory during its time in America. This position helped Louis Chevrolet gain experience in the American motor car market before he eventually started his own company with General Motors founder William C. Durant in 1911.

This catalog, along with the many thousands of others that make up the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, represents a small, but important, piece of American automobile history. Not only were American companies, such as Ford, producing motor cars for the American public, but foreign motor car manufacturers were already setting their sights on expanding into the American market.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.
Kimes, Beverly Rae, and Henry Austin Clark. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942. 3rd ed. Iola, WI.: Krause Publications, 1996.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant on the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 2

One of the major challenges we have faced is the frequently changing corporate hierarchy of the automobile industry. Companies are sold, merged, separated, and sold again almost too many times to count. Mapping out these corporate structures could become a three-year project in and of itself!

To help overcome this problem, we have two tools in our arsenal: research and original order. We can use research to try and track down as much as we can about a particular company.

One useful tool for seeing how these companies exist in their present incarnation is the Automotive Family Tree. However, for information about the pasts of these companies, we have turned most often to The Beaulieu Encyclopædia of the Automobile (Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.) This reference set came as part of the Vinson Collection and is available for use at the Library.

The collection is also full of extremely valuable corporate histories. These include small pamphlets and publications that are being included in the foldered and not individually cataloged items. However, a large number of these are also full-length monographs and can be found in the Library Catalog by searching for whatever company is of interest. It is also important to note that these histories come in many languages besides English – French, German, Italian, Japanese and more.

Sometimes research fails us, particularly because some companies were so small or existed so fleetingly that little or nothing has been written about them. Or when we encounter the opposite and there is so much information that uncovers a corporate lineage too complex to grasp quickly (since we are using More Product, Less Process here we don’t have days to dedicate to researching just one company), we use the archival principle of original order. Original order basically states that an archivist should attempt to leave the collection the way the creator had it arranged.

What that translates to in this case is that if Mr. Vinson had it filed under a particular make, we will leave it with that make. The exceptions to this being that if an item is clearly misfiled, we will attempt to find its proper home or if there is a strong usability argument for moving an item to be with similar items, sometimes we alter the original order.

Our next methodology installment will continue our discussion from the first methodology post on the organization of the collection and tackle the second sub-series called General Publications. Until then, check back in the coming weeks for articles about De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company and another of Vinson’s treasures, a Ford 1955 Thunderbird catalog.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Automobile Companies and Disabled World War II Veterans

In honor of Veteran’s Day, today’s post examines the ways that some of America’s car brands reached out to veterans who came back from World War II disabled. The following examples are from Ford, and two branches of General Motors, Buick and Oldsmobile.

Ford’s publication for disabled veterans.

This quote from Henry Ford, printed on the brochure pictured here, sums up the approach that Ford Motor Company took to providing vehicle modifications for disabled veterans,

The least we can do for these men is to be sure that they get an even break with those who come back without major disabilities, and we do not want any profit incentive to enter into this picture. No man who lost a limb in the armed services of our country during the war is going to have to pay anything extra to drive a Ford automobile.

The rest of the brochure displays the modifications that would be made to help veterans who had lost limbs in the war. This deal applied to all Ford and Mercury vehicles from model year 1940 or later.

The next examples are two General Motors publications from Buick and Oldsmobile.  The Buick publication details the operation of the various modifications for different amputees. Like Ford, these modifications were added at no cost.  Oldsmobile called their disabled driving system the Valiant Driving Controls. This is the lengthiest publication of the group and goes into extreme detail about the operation and installation of the modified controls.

Buick's Driving Controls for Disabled Veterans of World War II.

Oldsmobile's Valiant driving controls.










All three of these items can be accessed in their entirety in the Hagley Digital Archives by clicking on the images above.

To all of our veterans out there and to those currently serving, thank you for your service!

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.