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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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February 2007 Issue
 
ARTICLE
 
Collecting Memories
By Peter Kraus
 
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My interest in things automotive began in toddlerhood if not earlier. Family lore holds that the first identifiable word out of my mouth was not mama or dada but car; I was pointing to my father's 1948 Nash at the time. Things went downhill from there. Throughout the 1950s I was one of those obnoxious lads who could identify the make and model of virtually every car on the road. Trust me, I shared that knowledge with anyone foolish enough to listen.

I was, and remain, equally enamored of commercial vehicles. My favorite sound was of 6-71 Series Detroit Diesels pushing "Old Look" GM transit coaches through city traffic. In fact during much of the '50s I thought I was a GM Old Look transit coach! Many of my early toys were trucks and buses. My favorites were the ones that looked like real vehicles. Not many toys did back then, at least not those found in my toy box.

By the early 1960s 1/25 scale model kits and promos were in full bloom. Of course I was smitten, but one could only accumulate so many on the pittance my parents called an allowance. Plastic models tended to break (or, on occasion, crash and burn). So it was around this time that I started to save car sales literature obtained at the occasional car show my father would take me to or that folks who knew I liked cars would give me. Prior to then, I'd been known to cut out pictures from brochures to paste in scrapbooks, but we don't want to go there, do we?

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In those olden days when many dealerships were still located downtown, many a Saturday I'd take the GM Old Look (slowly being supplanted by GM New Look "Fishbowls" which seemed less interesting and mellifluous then because their Detroits were in V-format instead of inline, but very cool today) from the suburbs to Atlanta's city center, sometimes for the sole purpose of picking up literature from dealers along the major avenues. Come the mid-1960s with driver's license blessedly in wallet I could make the rounds of suburban dealers, something I do to this day. It took courage to locate and beg literature from heavy-duty truck sales offices, but eventually I did that, too. The rest, as they say, is history.

It's hard to remember exactly when I decided to try to collect one example of every sales item produced by every manufacturer (who sold in this country) every year. I knew from the outset it was an abjectly impossible goal, since I couldn't know what specifically to look for. Who knows whether I was even fully aware of brochure revisions? Time spent away in college didn't impede collecting. Even a spell in Germany courtesy of Uncle Sam didn't entirely stop it (and gave me a smattering of German market literature from the early '70s era). During college there were forays into the unexpected, such as the time I wrote to literally dozens of motor home manufacturers requesting sales literature It was also the time when I discovered and joined Autoenthusiasts International, a group of similarly like-minded wackos. AI made periodic gifts to its members of sales literature it reprinted. They also sold older literature and were the source of my first rather tentative purchases. At the time my disposable income was not particularly robust (some things never change). I was also struggling with a philosophical conundrum - why should I buy something that was intended to be given away. Being a college man, it didn't take me all that long to realize that Cadillac dealers don't give away brochures for 1956 models in 1969.

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In 1974 I wrote to a newly published British truck magazine to which I had subscribed asking if anyone in the readership was interested in swapping U.S. truck literature for its European counterpart. The response quickly zoomed out of control - well over 100 offers by the time I stopped counting, including a fair amount of unsolicited literature. For several years I tried hopelessly to swap with everyone who'd written. I was on a first name basis with all the postal clerks within a several mile radius. Most correspondents drifted away over time. But that naïve letter has resulted in several enduring friendships and quite a mountain of literature from countries as diverse as England, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and others too numerous to remember. My foreign literature holdings are at least the size of my domestic, larger if you count foreign literature obtained in the U.S. for the domestic market.

By the mid-1970s I was attending old car shows and have been a regular at Hershey since the 1980s. I've developed friendships with professional literature dealers and several like-minded collectors, one of whom has published a compendium of post-WWII U.S. sales literature, to which I contributed very modestly late in the game. A group of us maintains e-mail alerts of current literature sightings, which helps immeasurably in the still futile goal of one-of-everything...

Other objects of collector interest include runs of automotive-related magazines. I subscribe to 40+ titles, most of which I read cover-to-cover. Books are a great attraction, not only car, truck and bus titles but also planes, ships, trains and certain types of architecture. A fair selection of automotive scale models vie for attention on my shelves, plus entire wall of snap-together airliner models. Then there are truck nameplates, license plates, hubcaps and other bric-a-brac.

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In the early days my smallish apartments could accommodate the collection adequately. Later I bought a slightly larger condo which eventually was overrun to the point of compromised livability and potential fire hazard. Being a confirmed bachelor didn't help matters. About two years ago I finally succumbed to the obvious and bought an unpretentious but comfortable house with a dry, finished basement and decent sized garage. Moving 100+ 11x15" hinge-lidded plastic crates was no picnic. That's just the sales literature The books were in just as many cardboard boxes, and the rest I don't even want to think about. Collecting habits take space, and the basement is filling up more quickly than anticipated. It shouldn't become a problem at least for a while.

Collecting from an early age, living in tight quarters, casual attention to storage and major moves can conspire through to years to have a deleterious affect on the condition of items in a collection. That certainly is true in my case, although it has never been a very big deal to me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a hobby, not an investment, and these are/were working documents. Items must be complete and readable, but beyond that I prefer to spend X dollars for two pieces that show some age than one pristine item. By exercising patience and shopping prudently, a frugal collector can do much better than two for the price of one. Serious collectors, regardless of the object of their desires, are advised from their fledgling years that the three most important attributes are condition, condition and condition. I do not disagree with the principle, except to point out that my less discerning approach has provided me with an incomparably satisfying and enjoyable hobby for over 40 years.

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By way of example, which is relatively recent and does not involve a literature purchase, permit me to recount the following true story. When the previous generation Suburban was released, Chevy issued a lavish brochure far more upscale than the regular showroom piece. It may have been intended for sales staff, previous owners or really hot prospects. While pawing through the racks of a dealership I treasure for its easy access to sales literature and overall hassle-free environment, a genuinely friendly salesman asked if he could help me find something. I fessed up and explained why I had a small stack of literature in my hand. On impulse I asked whether he'd seen the super-deluxe Suburban brochure. He ushered me to a chair in his cubicle, produced a fresh copy out of a drawer and handed it to me. We chatted cordially about my collection, my goal to own a Corvette before I die, etc. He made no sales pitch whatever except to give me his business card. When I thanked him and rose to depart, he asked for the brochure just for a moment. Then he took a black marker pen and scrawled his signature boldly across the cover! I'm sure most collectors would have been horrified. But to this day I think it's one of the funniest events in all my time collecting. I've never seen another copy of the brochure but wouldn't think of replacing mine. That inexplicably bizarre autograph is an integral part of my collecting experience. Here's hoping for many interesting moments to come.

 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, February 2007
 
 
 
 
 
 
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