Treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection – 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight Trade Catalog

Cover of the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Over the course of his long career, Z. Taylor Vinson collected and preserved thousands of examples of automobile literature. In his autobiography A Collector’s Life, he listed a small handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures,” which he was particularly proud of owning and considered to be especially significant. For this week’s blog, I decided to highlight an item that Vinson identified as being especially rare: a trade catalog for the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight.

The Custom Imperial Eight was a prestige luxury car built by the Chrysler Division of Chrysler Corporation. Aimed at a wealthy clientele and selling in the $2800-$3600 price range, it occupied the top rung of Chrysler’s 1932 model lineup. Essentially an enlarged and dressed-up version of the smaller and less expensive Chrysler Imperial, it was intended to compete with other American prestige cars of the day, including those manufactured by Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow.

Rendering of a 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight 4-Door Sedan Limousine from the trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Like other American prestige cars of the time, the Custom Imperial Eight was a truly extravagant and luxurious machine. It was a very large and heavy car, riding on a 146-inch wheelbase and depending upon model trim, weighing in between 4900 and 5300 pounds. Customers were offered a choice of 6 semi-custom bodies: 3 built by Chrysler and 3 built by famed coach builder LeBaron, Incorporated. The cars’ interiors were sumptuously appointed, featuring high-end upholstery materials, a walnut dashboard, and amenities that included a cigar-lighter and personal accessory compartments.

In terms of engineering, the Custom Imperial Eight was a very innovative car for its time. The car was built on a rigid “Double-Drop, Girder-Truss” chassis, which gave the car a lower center of gravity and improved its handling. Power was provided by a 384 cubic-inch straight-8 engine, a high-compression unit that was good for 125 horsepower. The engine was mated to a 4-speed transmission which featured free-wheeling and an automatic clutch that permitted gear changes without the clutch pedal. Passenger comfort was improved by installing the engine on “Floating Power” rubber engine mounts, which reduced the amount of engine vibrations transmitted to the car’s interior. The car also came equipped with self-lubricating springs fabricated from a porous metal called “Oillite,” which blessed it with a remarkably smooth and quiet ride.

Rendering of a 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight Convertible Roadster from the trade catalog in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

A single example of the 1932 Chrysler Custom Imperial Eight trade catalog is preserved in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection. In his autobiographical manuscript A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson describes this particular trade catalog as being very rare, stating that he had only seen one copy of it advertised for sale in over 40 years of collecting. He also revealed that he it took him nearly 20 years of searching to find it.

As for the 1932 Custom Imperial Eight itself, it is also quite rare. Due to its high sticker price and the bad economy brought on by the Great Depression, only 220 of these cars were built. Surviving examples are highly prized collectables today.

Sources

Brown, Arch, “Classic Chrysler, 1932 Custom Imperial,” Special Interest Autos, June 1988

Chrysler Imperial Eight Custom Models, Chrysler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Imperial, 1929-1935, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Imperial Club

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 317-318.

Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Treasures from the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: 1938 and 1939 Maybach SW38 Portfolios

Cover of the 1938 Maybach SW38 portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

In his autobiography A Collector’s Life (an autobiography), Z. Taylor Vinson listed and described a handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures.” The Treasures are individual collection items that Mr. Vinson was particularly proud of owning and considered to be of special significance. This week, I decided to highlight two items from Vinson’s list of treasures: a pair of portfolios for the Maybach SW38.

The Maybach SW38 was an exclusive luxury car built from 1936 to 1939 by Maybach GmbH, a now defunct German automobile manufacturer based in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Aimed at a wealthy clientele, the SW38 actually represented the low end of Maybach’s model lineup and was offered as a smaller and more modest alternative to the firm’s top-of-the-line Maybach Zeppelin. It was designed and built in response to the difficult economic conditions brought on the by the Great Depression, which reduced the demand for premium luxury cars in Germany.

Rendering of a Maybach SW38 Sport Cabriolet from the 1938 portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

Although it was not Maybach’s flagship model, the SW38 was an extravagant and luxurious machine in its own right. It was a very large car, measuring more than 16 feet long and riding on an 11-foot wheelbase. In keeping with the specifications of the firm’s wealthy customers, SW38’s were luxuriously appointed, being equipped with sumptuous interiors and fitted with custom bodies built by Herman Spohn, a famed coachbuilder based in Ravensburg, Germany. In terms of engineering, the SW38 was a very advanced a car for its time. It was powered by 3.8 litre inline-six engine, which produced a then-impressive 140 horsepower and gave it a claimed top speed of 87-93 miles per hour. The engine was mated to Maybach’s then-innovative “Doppelschnellsang” semi-automatic transmission, which allowed the driver to change gears without a clutch.

Two examples of Maybach SW38 portfolios are found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: one published in 1938 and one published in 1939. In A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson described these portfolios and revealed how they came into his possession:

1938 Maybach SW 38 portfolio. The piece is one of the handsomest I know, with exquisite watercolor-like renderings of the cars. My copy came from my German friend Heinz (“Harry”) Neisler, who told me that he had written “Old Maybach,” asking about literature. This was Karl Maybach, one of the most noted German auto engineers of his time, and founder of the Maybach auto company. Herr Maybach had replied that he was an old man and had no further use for his copy, and that he was sending it to Harry. I should note that the 1939 version contains the same renderings; my copy of this came from Andrew Currie and his father, strolling around Carlisle one year.

Rendering of a Maybach SW38 Pullman Limousine from the 1939 portfolio in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection.

The two portfolios contain identical product information and identical renderings of the custom body styles available for the Maybach SW38. The 1938 version includes a handwritten note by Mr. Vinson regarding its provenance. The 1939 version of the portfolio includes an original business letter from a Maybach representative to a potential customer.

As for the Maybach SW38 itself, around 520 of these cars were built and only a few remain in existence. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.

Sources

Conceptcarz.com

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 980-982.

Maybach, 1938, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Maybach, 1939, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Maybach Club

Maybach Manufaktur Official Site

Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Treasures: Lincoln Executive Book

Cover of the Lincoln Executive Book, including my hand for scale.

The following excerpt from pages 60-62 of A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography describes another of Mr. Vinson’s treasures: the 1938-1939 Lincoln Continental Executive book.

During the Spring ’98 SAH Board meeting in St. Louis, we went out to see the Hunter collection of classic cars. On the front seat of a ’38 Lincoln seven-passenger touring sedan lay a photocopy of what appeared to be a dealer book on the classic Lincolns of that period. I was fascinated by it, because the cars and their interiors were shown in photographs, whereas the sales literature contained only artistic renderings. Thus, it appeared significant to me.

I was told that the original belonged to Charlie Schalebaum, and had been sent out for approval several years ago; however, it was too expensive for them, and they photocopied it before returning it. I agreed about the expense.

Well, I had it in the back of my mind to ask Charlie about it the next time I saw him. Charlie is a dealer in fine automotive art built up the Ray Holland collection now at Blackhawk and literature is not his primary interest, though I had bought rare Leyat and Fageol catalogues from him. I hadn’t been at Fall ’98 Carlisle for an hour when I ran into him in the Z Building. Imagine my surprise when I found that he not only still had the piece but had brought it with him, the first time he had had it out in several years. The price was still the same, which meant it would be twice the price of the Ferrari 815 piece discussed below. One look at it and I was hooked: large page format (17 x 23), 19 pages of photos of cars and their interiors, one or two upholstery swatches per page plus a color chip, some with striping. And a 20th page of accessories. The prices of the cars had been penned in. “Bet you paid almost as much for this as one of the cars cost” dealer Stan Hurd astutely remarked to me. The item was bound in green leatherette with a bas relief of the Lincoln greyhound on a silver oval medallion inset into the cover. The weight of the item was 8-10 pounds and it came in its own black leather zippered carrying case. Bill White, the doyen of Lincoln literature dealers, later told me that this was only the third copy known to him. The National Auto History Collection has one and its late curator, Jim Bradley, once remarked that were the building to catch fire, this would be the item he would save first.

An interior page of the book.

There is a remarkable story behind my copy. When John Schaler III of Indianapolis was about 7 or 8 in ’39, he and his father went to Detroit to pick up a new Lincoln-Zephyr for his mother. According to a letter Schaler wrote 50 years later to the then-owner of the piece, the factory men were so amazed at the boy’s knowledge of cars that they introduced him to Henry and Edsel Ford. In Henry’s office, young John spotted the Lincoln executive book on a table. He couldn’t get it out of his mind, and four years later, in ’43, wrote Henry Ford about it. Next thing he knew, the local Ford Mercury Lincoln dealer phoned him, and asked him to come over as he had something for him. Thus, the treasure I now own came into his possession. I don’t know of many nicer stories than this.

According to the late Tom Solley, who knew him, John Schaler III grew up to become the Rolls-Royce dealer in Indianapolis, then moved to Texas.

Also check out the Hagley Video Minute featuring another glimpse of this rare item!

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

Treasures: Oldest American Item

Click to view the entire catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Back in January, we brought you a post on Automobile Ancetres that highlighted some of Mr. Vinson’s earliest French treasures. Today, we bring you the promised post on the lone American item. We’ll start off with Mr. Vinson’s description of these pre-1900 items once again to refresh everyone’s memories:

I rather think of these as the incunabula of automotive literature, and, of late, have taken an interest in them. The French refer to cars of this era as “Ancetres.” Thus far, the oldest item in my collection is an 1893 Peugeot catalogue on bicycles, the last page of which shows two “voitures á gasoline.” I have the 1894 version as well. The oldest catalogue devoted purely to cars is a Panhard catalogue dated July 1895. My collection also includes, from 1896, an informative Amedee Bollee folder, an E. Roger folder, and a Panhard catalogue dated December 1896; folders on the Darracq and Gauthier-Wehrle cars from 1897 or so, and a lovely but incomplete 1898 Panhard catalogue and electric auto sheet. In age these are followed by an American item, the 1898 Barrow, then back to France for the 1899 de Dietrich, Mors, and Delahaye catalogues and a Decauville folder of the same vintage. Just making the 1800′s is a Peugeot catalogue dated November 1899. – A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography, page 63.

Mixed in with the mostly French pre-1900 catalogs is an American example. Buried in the middle and given a short phrase, “the 1898 Barrow” catalog was considered by Vinson to be one of his treasures. He doesn’t elaborate further on why it is a treasure beyond the fact that it dates pre-1900. Is there anything special about this American example besides its date?

The Barrows Vehicle Company published the above mentioned catalog in 1898. The catalog is very straightforward in its design with a light yellow cover, white pages, and simple black illustrations. On each page are models that vary from two to four-seaters to light delivery vehicles. All of the models shown contained electric engines, taking advantage of the electric technologies of the era.

Barrows specialized in battery powered engines and interchangeable body styles. The consumer could purchase a Power Equipment package and then choose which body style they wanted to attach. Calling their style of automobile, “practically a mechanical horse,” Barrows attempted to provide consumers with a tangible metaphor so that they could understand the new technology of self-propelled vehicles.

Click to view page 7 of the catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Automobiles were new to the market in the late nineteenth century. Utilizing the image of a “mechanical horse” and comparing the cost and use of a horse to an automobile allowed consumers to understand what an automobile was and why they should purchase one. On page 7, Barrows points out “No cost when not used. Unlike horses, the Batteries eat only when they work,” giving an advantage to the Barrows automobile. This comparison runs throughout the whole of the catalog presenting evidence of the superiority of the electric automobile over the horse.

Though other companies didn’t use this exact metaphor to describe their vehicles, many companies used similar marketing methods. Likening automobiles to motorized bicycles or simply calling them self-propelled vehicles created an understanding that this new technology was a new method of transportation and could soon to replace the contemporary horse and carriage. Though the Barrows Vehicle Company only survived for four years (1895-1899), its literature represents the early era of American motoring and its place in the emerging automobile industry.

Sources:
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.

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

Treasures: SAAB Catalog Designed by Mr. Vinson

Click to view the entire catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

When the child grew up, he worked for awhile in a New York ad agency where, as assistant account executive for SAAB, he actually designed a piece of automotive sales literature. Must be pretty rare; I’ve never seen it in another collection or at a flea market (A Collector’s Life, page 69).

Mr. Vinson declares this piece of trade literature designed for SAAB to be one of his rarest items. It may not be the most valuable catalog, but Mr. Vinson had a special reason for keeping this particular trade catalog close to his heart: he designed it himself.

This trade catalog is small and printed in black and white, with simple illustrations. Written on the front, “SAAB from Sweden: The Economy Car,” provides a simple slogan for the newest automobile marquee to come to America. In 1958, Saab introduced the 93B model to America, advertising it as a safe, roomy, and technological advanced passenger car. The catalog also declares that SAAB stands for “Safe and sturdy, Aerodynamic construction, Acceleration plus, and Better mpg.”

Note accompanying the SAAB catalog designed by Mr. Vinson.

By the time Mr. Vinson designed this ‘rare’ item of automotive literature, he had already been collecting automobile catalogs and related ephemera for about 15 years. A simple handwritten note in Mr. Vinson’s hand, accompanies the catalog and confirms its provenance: “This folder was designed by Z. Taylor Vinson in the spring of 1958 when he was Asst. Account Executive for SAAB at the Gotham-[Veodini?] Advertising Agency in New York City.” (Note: If anyone has insight into the name of the mentioned advertising firm, please contact us or add a comment below. We are unable to decipher it fully.)

So while it is not the most breathtaking example of automotive literature in his collection, the catalog‘s value as a research document may be greater than even the exquisitely designed Delahaye or Maybach catalogs. Not only did Mr. Vinson collect and appreciate car catalogs, but he was once a designer of them as well.

Posts on some of Mr. Vinson’s other treasures can be found here.

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

Hagley Video Minute Featuring the Vinson Collection

We pause from our regularly scheduled programming this week to bring you something a little bit different. Hagley Museum and Library has a YouTube channel featuring short videos containing interviews with staff and tours around the property. The latest Hagley Minute features two of the treasures of the Vinson Collection: the 1955 Ford Thunderbird catalog (which has already been the subject of a blog post) and a Lincoln V-12 showroom book (which will be the topic of a future post). The video is viewable below or on YouTube.

Stay tuned for future installments of the Hagley Minute featuring the Vinson Collection!

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

 

Treasures: 1919 Fageol Catalog

Cover of the 1919 Fageol catalog. Click to view the item in the Hagley Digital Archives.

This week’s treasure is a 1919 catalog from the Fageol Motors Company of Oakland, California. The following is how Mr. Vinson describes the item in his own words on page 65 of A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography, “The Fageol was a bizarre California car made only in a couple of examples. This hardbound small catalogue/portfolio is therefore rare.”

The catalog is heavily illustrated and spends significant space describing in detail the technical specifications and attributes of the vehicles. Inside the back cover are several images showing potential designs for these custom vehicles.

Fageol Two Passenger Speedster. Click to view the entire catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

According to the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, only two cars were known to have actually been built. One of these was a victoria phaeton that was used in exhibition and demonstration to potential customers.

The cover of the catalog (as shown above) has, “Mr. Horace M. Swetland” printed on it. It seems that this is referring to a publisher at that time who founded Swetland Publishing. Mr. Swetland was also instrumental in the founding of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). From the SAE’s history on their website,

Likewise, Horace Swetland used his editorial pen to become the defacto voice of the automobile engineer of that day, and he became an original SAE officer. Swetland was a man who would leave an indelible mark on the path of SAE history. A mere 27 months after Heldt’s editorial the Society of Automobile Engineers was born. Headquartered in a New York City office, four officers and five managing officers volunteered their time and energy to the cause.

I have no definitive answer as to why Mr. Swetland’s name is on the cover of this catalog. My best guess is that he was in some way affiliated with the Fageol Motors Company. Or, perhaps he was simply the publisher of the catalog? These two suggestions are just conjecture and I defer to our automotive experts out there. If any of our readers have more insight about this unique item, I would love to hear about it in the comments section!

Sources:
“An Abridged History of Sae.” SAE International. http://www.sae.org/about/general/history/ (accessed February 1, 2012).
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.

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

Treasures: Automobile “Ancetres”

The Vinson Collection contains about 120 years of automobile literature. From an 1893 catalog on bicycles and gasoline automobile models to 2010 model year catalogs, Mr. Vinson was dedicated to collecting as much automobile literature as possible including the rarest pieces of literature. Among his collection are catalogs dated pre-1900, which he writes about on page 63 of A Collector’s Life: An Autobiography:

I rather think of these as the incunabula of automotive literature, and, of late, have taken an interest in them. The French refer to cars of this era as “Ancetres.” Thus far, the oldest item in my collection is an 1893 Peugeot catalogue on bicycles, the last page of which shows two “voitures á gasoline.” I have the 1894 version as well. The oldest catalogue devoted purely to cars is a Panhard catalogue dated July 1895. My collection also includes, from 1896, an informative Amedee Bollee folder, an E. Roger folder, and a Panhard catalogue dated December 1896; folders on the Darracq and Gauthier-Wehrle cars from 1897 or so, and a lovely but incomplete 1898 Panhard catalogue and electric auto sheet. In age these are followed by an American item, the 1898 Barrow, then back to France for the 1899 de Dietrich, Mors, and Delahaye catalogues and a Decauville folder of the same vintage. Just making the 1800′s is a Peugeot catalogue dated November 1899.

Peugeot catalog, 1893.

The French dominated the early period of automobile literature. Though Karl Benz, a German, holds the distinction of inventing the modern automobile, the French were enthusiastic about producing cars and advertising literature. One American example (which will be the subject of a later blog, so stay tuned!) falls in just before 1900, but otherwise there are only French materials represented in this early era. The oldest piece of literature, dated 1893, contains specifications for both Peugeot bicycles and motor carriage models. Providing few images, but lots of specifications, this trade catalog seeks to explain the principles behind the new mode of transportation being advertised. Bound together with an 1894 version of the same catalog, both represent the transition from manual bicycles to motorized, independent transportation.

A page from the 1895 Panhard catalog.

As Mr. Vinson mentions above, his oldest piece of automobile literature solely advertising motorized automobiles is an 1895 Panhard catalog. With a dark green cover, gold lettering, and plenty of descriptive specifications, this piece of literature provides a look into how the French were advertising this new technology as well. These early automobiles were also incredibly expensive, and manufacturers had to describe in their literature why this new technology was needed. In short, they had to make the automobile appealing, approachable, and attractive to new consumers and to the industrializing world.

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


 

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.

Sources
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.