Automotive History Conference, April 12-14, 2012

As mentioned in previous post, Mr. Vinson was an active member of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH), having served as both its president and editor of its Automotive History Review. In April, SAH will be holding its Ninth Biennial Automotive History Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I will be speaking at the conference on Saturday April 14th about the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. After my presentation, there will be an afternoon tour of Hagley Museum and Library. The tour will include a trip to the Library to see some of the treasures of the Vinson Collection first hand.

I wanted to take this opportunity to see if any of our readers will be attending the conference and if so, what questions do you have about the collection? Is there anything in particular that you’re dying to know? Please post any thought, questions, or comments below so that I can try to address as many of these items as possible in my presentation. I look forward to meeting many of you there! Thank you in advance for any input you can offer. For more information about the conference, visit the Society of Automotive Historian’s website.

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

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 3

So far our methodology discussion has covered corporate hierarchy changes, as well as the first subseries, Trade Catalogs. As you may recall, this subseries is separated into Specific Model, Various Model, and Fleet Vehicle trade catalogs. Today, I’d like to describe the second subseries, called General Publications. Before we dive in, here is a quick refresher of the collection’s overall hierarchy:

Series 1. Automobile Makes
1.1 Car Make
1.1.1 Trade catalogs Specific Models Various Models Fleet Vehicles
1.1.2. General Publications
1.1.3. Media Information
1.1.4. Serials

The simplest way to understand the General Publications category is as the “Everything but…” subseries. It includes everything but trade catalogs, media kits, and serials. As you might imagine, this can include an extremely wide array of items. To make sense of it all, we sort them by topic or subject.

Here is a list of frequently used divisions:

  • Accessory Catalogs
  • Apparel Catalogs
  • Color and Upholstery Selections
  • Company Overviews (includes corporate histories)
  • Dealer Mailings
  • Environmental Initiatives
  • Narrative Catalogs
  • Owner’s Manuals
  • Price Lists
  • Promotional Items (i.e. coloring books, comic books, other two-dimensional freebies.)
  • Safety Features
  • Salesman Literature
  • Technology and Innovation

This list is just a small sample of the categories that you will see on the finished finding aid. Also, our list is always expanding and changing since processing a new company often means finding a type of publication that you haven’t encountered before. If there are any particular items of note within one of these categories (something rare or that is likely to be of interest to researchers), there will be specific mention in the narrative portion of the finding aid. (As a reminder, each subseries of the finding aid will have a narrative description, as well as a complete box and folder list displaying all the folders in the subseries.)

Feel free to post any questions you might have about the methodology or arrangement in the comments section below.

In the coming weeks, our next methodology post will explore the final two subseries, Media Information and Serials. Until then, come back next week to learn about some of the oldest items in the Vinson Collection.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for 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.

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 1

As was mentioned in our first post, the unique aspect of our project is the application of archival methods to a collection of published and printed materials. Since individual cataloging is not feasible for a collection of this size (around 700 cubic feet), we are using folder level archival description instead.

Normally in a library, materials are assigned a specific call number and each cataloged individually. In folder level arrangement, we simply try to group like items together so that a researcher has a specific folder or group of folders to look through, even though they won’t have a list ahead of time of the actual items contained in each folder.

Each folder title tells a researcher the topic of materials in that folder, as well as a date span (if known). Undated materials in the collection are either labeled as n.d., or dates were supplied by the processing team if based on a particular model’s production years, a reasonable estimate could be made. Estimated dates are all noted as “ca. 19XX.”

The method we are using is called More Product, Less Process. What this boils down to is focusing less on extremely detailed processing and more on getting as much out and accessible to the public as possible. For those who are interested in reading more about this method, the article by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner which originally appeared in American Archivist is available full text from the Society of American Archivists.

The first step in the arrangement process was to write a processing plan. Based on an initial survey of material, they were broken down into series and subseries. Materials are being grouped by make and model wherever possible, with the largest series consisting of sub-series for each of the makes.

The problem with arranging materials by make and model is that a large number of companies produce one catalog for multiple cars in their lineup. If there is a catalog for the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta, would you file it under Focus or Fiesta? Putting it under either seemed misleading for researchers, since there was no way of knowing which models might have been grouped in catalogs together.

Out of this conundrum, we devised the following breakdown for trade catalogs: Specific Models, Various Models, and Fleet Vehicles. Catalogs dealing with one model only are filed in Specific Models. Those covering an entire model line or more than one car are arranged in a straight chronological run in Various Models. Cars used as fleet vehicle such as ambulances, taxis, police cars, limos, funeral cars, etc. are filed as Fleet Vehicles.

An important note relates to the differences between models and body styles. Particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, cars came in a variety of body styles. If a catalog featured one model with ten different body styles, it is still being treated as a specific model catalog.

What this all boils down to for the researchers is that if somebody comes in researching the Ford Focus, they need to check in the relevant Focus folders, but also check the Various Model range catalogs for the particular years they are researching.

This issue is just one of the hurdles we have encountered while attempting to apply archival principles to a collection of printed materials. This post has discussed only the trade catalog sub-series arrangement, but below is a preview of the entire series hierarchy. Over the coming months, we will continue to discuss the challenges faced in determining this arrangement, as well as giving a more in-depth discussion of the other subseries.

Here is how the hierarchy looks:

Series 1. Automobile Makes
1.1 Car Make
1.1.1 Trade catalogs Specific Models Various Models Fleet Vehicles
1.1.2. General Publications
1.1.3. Media Information
1.1.4. Serials

Please feel free to use the comments section to ask questions or to continue the discussion of our arrangement scheme. Also be sure to come back next week to learn about Dodge’s Scat Pack.

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

674 boxes…

So we’ve mentioned this collection is large, but how large is it? 700 cubic feet, which arrived at Hagley in approximately 674 boxes. The purpose of this post is to familiarize you with the types of materials present in this collection.

The collection contains both two-dimensional paper objects, like catalogs and photographs, and three-dimensional objects, like model cars and promotional freebies.

Sample of the model cars in the collection.

The bulk of the Z. Taylor Vinson collection consists of hundreds of thousands of trade catalogs from makes and models around the world. These companies include some that were only in existence very briefly. Catalogs date from the dawn of the automobile in 1891 all the way through to 2010.

In addition to trade catalogs, there are all of the other publications that the car companies released to advertise for their company and their products. Topics covered include: company histories, interior and exterior color and upholstery choices, accessory and options catalogs, internal salesman instructional publications, and much, much more. Also included are press kits for various motor shows, which include photographs, slides, and CDs. There are also calendars and posters.

The collection also contains a large number of serials. These include those published by particular automobile companies (i.e. Audi Magazine), in addition to those considered general automobile magazines (i.e. Motor Trend or Road & Track).

Mr. Vinson had a large collection of books which covered all topics of automobilia, as well as transportation in general, including books on planes, trains, blimps, and boats. (Don’t forget these books have already been cataloged and can be found by searching the library catalog for “The Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.”)

Volkswagen toilet paper holder.

Model cars and other three-dimensional objects, including everything from hubcaps to ice scrapers to toilet paper holders, round out the remainder of the collection.

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing some information about how these 674 boxes are being arranged and described to make them accessible to research. Come back next week for our first post highlighting one of the interesting items in the collection.

October is American Archives Month and Hagley Library is celebrating by holding a Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Information Day! Come to the library building on Saturday October 8th from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm to get a sneak peak at the collection.

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


Welcome to the blog for the Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection at Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. This project is being funded by a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). We will use this blog to highlight unique items, discuss our methodology, and to keep everyone informed of the progress of the project.

This three year project began in March 2011 and is under the direction of Max Moeller, Curator of the Imprints Department at Hagley. Processing is being completed by Project Archivist/Cataloger Emily Cottle. Throughout the course of the project there will also be graduate assistants and volunteers.  Read more about the project contributors

What remains of the unprocessed Vinson material as of July 2011. Just five months ago this entire aisle was almost completely full (two rows deep!).

These are the materials that have already been arranged and rehoused as of July 2011.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks to hear more about the creator of this collection, Z. Taylor Vinson, as well as a more in depth discussion of our methodology. Also stay tuned for the launch of our digital collection that will allow you to get a sneak peak at some of the exciting items in the collection.