Why Collect Automobile Trade Catalogs?

The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection is an incredible collection of automobile trade catalogs. Mr. Vinson, a collector and one-time designer of automobile advertising literature, admired the beauty of them. He started collecting from an early age and continued collecting up until the end of his life. The catalogs he collected were mostly used for informative purposes, but their illustrations and photographs turned them into pieces of art.

While Mr. Vinson saw the exquisite nature of automobile trade catalogs, especially ones dating from the early twentieth century, he wasn’t the only one. In 1913, The Graphic Arts and Crafts Year Book published an article by F.E. Dayton, titled “Automobile Publicity.” In it, Dayton described the automobile trade catalog as a piece of art meant to advertise cars rather than just an advertisement that contained art. He writes that:

In the score of years in which the automobile has found its important place in the transportation of men and material, great investments have been made in literature illustrating and describing various types and makes of motor cars. […] No other of merchandising, perhaps, has made such large expenditures in quality printing as has the automobile industry. (Page 69)

Automobile manufacturers felt the need to invest “in high-quality printing” because they had to convince the public that automobiles were worth the investment. Some high-end automobile manufacturers included both highly detailed illustrations and photographs to depict their models. Automobile catalogs also utilized the power of information in their advertisements. Not only did they have to market the company and the models being sold, but they also had to inform the consumer on the technical aspects of their models, emphasize the difference from last year’s models, and why the consumer needed a new automobile in the first place.

Tear-out from the Vinson Collection.

An example was the Pierce Motor Co., which is the illustration featured on the tear-out that Vinson collected and filed under Pierce-Arrow. Dayton suggests that

The Pierce Motor Co. has always been a leader in fine motor car advertising. The specimen page from one of their recent books shows a retouched photo of a limousine car while above is a combination of photography and pencil drawing, giving a splendid idea of luxurious convenience in travel. The background of gray lines gives to the two pictures a page effect of artist’s drawing board (Page 73 with image on Page 70).

The dual nature of automobile catalogs, as both informative advertisements and art, gave them a unique place in the advertising world. It was clear that these catalogs were already considered extraordinary in 1913. The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection contains many excellent examples of early automobile advertising literature that will be waiting for researchers to discover when the collection opens in 2014.


Dayton, F.E. “Automobile Publicity.” The Graphic Arts and Crafts Year Book 6 (1913). http://books.google.com/books?id=GPJIAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA69&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed May 11, 2012).

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>