Very seldom do we have an opportunity
to profile a literature collector for whom collecting
literature was a lifelong passion. Therefore, we are
proud to present the face of a dedicated collector as
he looked when it all began:
Lenz' passion for automotive brochures began in 1940
at age nine. "My father was a Superintendent of
Schools and he went to the next town which was big enough
to have an automobile dealer to see about a bus that
the school had ordered. Of course they were not just
a truck dealer, but a car dealer also, and he left me
at the showroom end of the building while he went and
did his business and I discovered that they had
catalogs showing all the different models that you could
take away with you! What a revelation and why
didn't I know about this before? I only got a few before
the war because, if the dealers had any catalogs left
at the end of a model year, they saved them. But that's
how I got started."
On Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed and America
went to war. With 1942 car models just appearing in
the showrooms, a black cloud descended on the auto industry.
Automobile assembly lines began to produce tanks, airplanes,
jeeps, trucks and a wide range of military supplies
and weapons. Amid this bleak picture of turmoil a 10-year
old boy rushed from dealership to dealership scouring
the last remnants of literature ahead of rapidly closing
doors. Salesmen gladly handed over their brochures...
dealer albums... anything the enthusiastic youth could
With automotive dealership shelves and cabinets open
to him, Lenz found literature often dating back well
into the 1930s. And so began a literature collecting
hobby which spanned over fifty years and filled two
warehouses and a home with over 1,000,000 items. "My
parents were 'accommodating' about the stacks of literature
that I collected", Lenz laughed. "They didn't
really object since I did have a room of my own. So
I could stack it under the bed and in the closet."
the war ended I found that there would be a new batch
of fantastic catalogs every year to enjoy and to keep
and to compare", Lenz said. "Very soon after
World War II ended there was a club composed of people
who collected automobile literature called 'Auto Maniacs'."
He joined the club, served on their Honorary Advisory
Board twice, and occasionally paid an "exorbitant
price of up to $18" for brochures.
Without considering the magnitude of the task that he
set himself, Lenz said, "My goal was to collect
at least one of every piece of literature that was produced
since 1930. I had already visited the Detroit Library
and found that they only kept what they were given.
They didn't even try to get the current year's material,
so I figured that there probably wasn't any place in
this whole country that had a complete history from
the manufacturer's point of view. And, obviously, so
many companies were going out of business that you couldn't
get anything from them."
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Art fascinated Lenz and early car brochures
are truly works of art, but his focus on collecting
was the historical aspect - a history that he realized
was being lost as brochures were thrown away. As he
set out to preserve history one aspect of collecting
led to another. Contacts, and friendships, were developed
between collectors throughout the world - Argentina,
Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia,
Spain... to name a few. "The most interesting experiences
I've had involved finding and corresponding with people
elsewhere", Lenz said, "because it often resulted
in friendships, not just the trading of literature."
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"Apparently the idea of making
lists of people who have common interests such
as toy trains is not a recent one, but goes clear
back to the 40s", Lenz said. "I joined several
independent auto clubs. I did not seek out foreign people,
but they belonged to a club, or got this list about
people in the U.S. who were interested in cars. I received
letters and/or catalogs of what they had for sale or
trade. Over the years some worked out some I
have literally been corresponding with for over thirty
years and others phased out in a month or two.
Most of these people have been ones whom I traded with
rather than buying things from various continents."
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"Before the war very few foreign
cars were sold in the U.S.", Lenz recalled, "and
those that were sold were in New York and Los Angeles
so you would have had to be right there where the dealers
were located to get any material. Immediately after
the war, however, they were so eager in Europe to export
cars that even a letter written in longhand and
my longhand has always been terrible brought
packages with catalogs in them."
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"If only I could have written
in French I could have gotten a lot more", he lamented,
"but there is only one postwar year in which I
got many French catalogs. That year I wrote to the producers
of the Paris Auto show, enclosed some actual money and
asked if they would send someone around to the various
stalls and stands to pick up the catalogs and send them
to me. So they went to all the French stands only and
sent me a packet of information. I doubt that anyone
would do that today, even if you paid them. It was a
revelation to see all of these cars that we never saw
anything about in our publications."
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When asked if there were one or two
pieces of literature in his collection that were exciting
"finds" at the time he obtained them, such
as the Minerva, Lenz laughed, "I didn't realize
at the time I got the Minerva brochure that I should
be excited. I didn't realize that they were only going
to last one year. After doing this for 25-30 years I
realized that there were a few cars that I was very
interested in that I had nothing on. So I finally gritted
my teeth and was willing to pay to get the material.
But it doesn't work out that way. If something is unobtainable
it is because there wasn't very much available in the
first place and nobody cared about the car in the second
place. Being rare doesn't make a sales brochure valuable
in and of itself if interested collectors/historians
haven't heard of it, but ALL sales literature and prospectus
(where else would one see the Tucker Torpedo 2-door
model that was never built?), especially that for "failed"
car companies, deserves to be saved. Auto history is
vague enough as it is!"
For today's collectors, Lenz advised, "the accumulation
of things from abroad worked very well until recently.
There are more people today in Europe than ever before
who want to trade material, but it's really weird what
you're liable to get in return. In Germany I'm thinking
of all the different models that they build and sell
that they don't send here. Mercedes-Benz, for example,
has two different types of stretched sedans. One is
used for high officials and the wealthy and the other
is used for taxis all over the world. They don't sell
them here so we can't get any information on them and
I couldn't get the person I was trading with to send
me any information on those cars. He wanted to send
me literature on cars that were unusual to him
the Japanese makes that were being sold in Germany.
It is unique to see a Japanese make in the German language!"
Lenz did not limit his collection to standard makes
and models of cars. He was interested in every aspect
of transportation - electrical, industrial and marine
vehicles, three-wheelers and golf cars, as well as exotic,
luxury and concept cars, taxi cabs, police vehicles,
ambulances and hearses. In 1996 we purchased the Lenz
collection and much of that literature is still available
on our web site and can be accessed through our index.
(NOTE: Rick Lenz passed away on Feb. 17, 2002. This
"Profile" is a summation of a memorial which
first appeared on our web site in April 2002.