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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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July 2004 Issue
 
ARTICLE
 
Pate's Hidden Treasure
By Robert McLellan
 
 
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We have all heard the story of the Duesenberg, Ferrari or Silver Ghost discovered in an old barn, covered with blankets and junk. I can attest to the actual existence of such gems, but that was many years ago.

Literature, on the other hand, usually ends up in trunks, attics and basements. This happens frequently, but the circumstances of one adventure were most unusual.

Harold W. Schiff was a literature collector who lived in Austin and, later, Fort Worth, Texas. Beyond that he is an enigma. His literature collection, however, is not and where it resided for many years will surprise many Texas swapmeet participants.

 
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In the early 1970s the Pate Swapmeet near Cresson, Texas, southwest of Fort Worth, was a gold mine for old car literature because most of it came along for the ride when parts were brought to the meet. Few literature collectors sold literature and literature dealers in Texas were apparently non-existent. Boxes of brochures were usually something to get rid of and not to be taken back home. Literature available was downright cheap in the early years and yet this was the biggest swapmeet in Texas.

The event was named after the Pate Museum of Transportation which, in the 1960s, collected cars, airplanes, boats and trains. It came to an end in the mid-1990s when the land was sold off to build a subdivision. In addition to a nice selection of cars inside the main building, there were additional structures and airplanes scattered about the grounds. Separating the parking from the swapmeet field was a row of railroad cars. In 1994 the contents of the museum were sold off and little remained with the exception of the box cars which were probably considered worthless. The curator of the museum, prior to having them hauled off, decided to look inside. To his surprise they were filled with memorabilia, parts and literature. Coincidently, he had a letter on his desk that I had written him inquiring about literature the museum might have to sell. He contacted us and we retrieved the life long collection of Harold Schiff.

 
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The collection was composed primarily of late 1920s to early 1970s sales literature and dealer albums. All of the expensive automobiles of the period were represented Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, etc., down to the more common makes. A very thorough collection containing even press kits and postcards, along with dealer memorabilia, all nicely organized in dozens of file cabinets and boxes. It had sat in a box car for over 30 years while swapmeet goers wandered back and forth around the walls of railroad cars never imagining that some of the best finds were tucked away just out of their sight!

On the 10th anniversary of the Pate purchase we would like to thank Harold Schiff, if he is still out there, for all the pleasure that he has given to hundreds of literature collectors who now enjoy his literature. What might have been destroyed was saved.

 
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In this case a positive event occurred after a literature collector had made a donation to a museum/library. Unfortunately, most donations are actually destroyed, either due to poor storage or just thrown out due to lack of room. Although using a railroad car is not recommended, it was better than a damp storage basement or warehouse full of insects and rodents. Most museums/libraries will accept anything. But literature does not have the visual appeal of antique cars or memorabilia, and they do not have the staff to catalog and properly preserve the literature, so storage is the most common result. And, since it is considered of little or unknown value, it is rarely treated to careful preservation. Collectors and their literature deserve better. Study your options before making a decision on where your literature will end up.

 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, July 2004
 
 
 
 
 
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