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.