Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - April - 2023 Issue

Automobile Catalogues from Zephyr Used & Rare Books

Zephyr Used & Rare Books has published a catalogue of Dreaming of the Open Road: Automobile Dealer catalogues. If there is one symbol (other than home ownership) that typified the American Dream in the twentieth century, it was the automobile. It was freedom, the ability to go where you wanted whenever you wanted. No timetables or help from others needed, just get in your car and turn the key. For youth, nothing better symbolized the coming of age, if 16 is coming of age, than getting your first driver's license. Perhaps today, this is no longer the case. Young men and women are apparently no longer in a hurry to learn to drive or get a car. Maybe the virtual or internet world are more appealing, but for a child of the mid-twentieth century, there was little as exciting as getting behind the wheel. This catalogue is filled with brochures from early and mid century, and hey, I remember many of these when they were new. It's excitement all over again.

 

We will begin with some cross country trips from a time when the roads were such as to make this much more of a challenge than it is today, especially since the construction of the interstate highway network. This brochure featured photographs of such a journey in a 1920 Essex. Essex Motor Co. was a division of Hudson, with the name being retired in 1932, while Hudson was a victim of the last major shakeout in the industry in the 1950s. This dealership catalogue showed photos of the Essex on its journey, such as crossing the high Sierras in California on a mountain road. The Essex was affordably priced yet a durable car and this journey highlighted the latter feature. Essex was noted as a pioneer in enclosed cars rather than being open to the elements. Item 48. Priced at $175.

 

Next we have a book, Modern Gypsies: the Story of a Twelve Thousand Mile Motor Camping Trip Encircling the United States... by Mary Crehoe Bedell, published in 1924. In 1922, she and her husband, Fred Bedell, set out on their journey in a Hupmobile. As Zephyr notes, they traveled “over some of the worst driving conditions imaginable, including impassible roads, holdup bandits in Texarkana, tornadoes through Texas, while featuring camping stops at Yosemite, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Banff and more.” Interestingly, she also has some comments about the plight of African-Americans and Native Americans. She was particularly appalled by the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the South and as far west as Arizona. She writes about the KKK “taking the law into its own hand and wearing masks to prevent detection. Could anything be more cowardly or more at variance with our constitution.” Item 70. $450.

 

Here is one more cross country trip down memory lane. This is The Dash of the Sheriff: Mighty “Big Six” First to Beat Transcontinental Railroad Time. The Sheriff Big 6 was a model of the 1926 Studebaker, and Ab Jenkins and Ray Peck drove it from New York To San Francisco in 86 hours and 20 minutes, an average of 40.2 mph. Any of us could do it faster today, but they ran into flooded roads, mud in Iowa, and missed the ferry at San Francisco, adding a wait to their time. Still, they beat the fastest previous auto trip by half a day and the fastest train time by 6 hours and 25 minutes. Some consider the Sheriff the first muscle car. Studebaker was another American auto manufacturer that would succumb to mid-century competition, though they hung on in a greatly reduced form as late as 1966. Item 111. $495.

 

What are those cars on the cover? Actually, there are only two cars and a bunch of mirrors in that clever artwork. They are Oldsmobile 6 and 8: Two Style Leaders for 1933. Olds called themselves the “style leaders,” and Zephyr concurs, saying “they were definitely the most innovative of General Motors' various divisions.” Today, Olds and Pontiac have been eliminated from the GM line-up though somehow Buick still survives. Item 81. $150.

 

Item 66 is a showroom catalogue for The 1949 Frazer, with “the happiest interiors on the road.” The Frazer was made by Kaiser, another one of the car makers that succumbed in the mid-20th century. Henry Kaiser sought to market his cars to women and figured color was a way of appealing to the ladies. They offered numerous upholstery choices and an amazing 37 exterior paint colors along with nine two-tone paint combinations. Naturally, you were not likely to find your color choice in the average showroom unless you liked a particularly favored color or didn't care. The dealer would order your color choice from the factory. $150.

 

This is a brochure for the All-new Aerodynamic Plymouth '56. It does have smooth straight lines rising slightly in the back to create mini-tail fins, unlike the exaggerated monstrosities that showed up a few years later. The two-tone red and white one shown on the wraparound cover is quite attractive, despite Plymouth being Chrysler's low-end brand. Plymouth used fashion photographer Irving Penn to take the picture. I checked the Rare Book Hub Transactions+ database for Penn photos sold at auction and an astonishing 128 have sold for over $100,000, the highest at $509,000. This one will cost you a lot less and if you're into cars, it might still be your favorite. Item 96. $200.

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but still, this is one of the ugliest cars ever built (subjective opinion alert). The cover pronounces This is it! This is Nash! Yes it is, and it is ugly. This is for the 1949 model and features the styling Zephyr notes as “upside-down bathtub.” It was a big, clunky-looking car, and as long as you didn't care about looks, it had some advantages. They were comfortable and had lots of interior room, so much so that some were designed to have the front seat recline into a bed for traveling salesmen. This brochure features tests of the Nash by Mechanix Illustrated, and presumably they were favorable or Nash wouldn't be promoting them. Nash disappeared in the '50s too, after combining with the soon defunct Hudson to create American Motors. Item 80. $100.

 

Do you remember the Gaeth? Neither do I. Many auto manufacturers sprung up in the early days of the twentieth century but most did not survive. Gaeth was one of the most. The Gaeth was built by Cleveland bicycle maker Paul Gaeth, who built them by hand, about 100 per year. The Gaeth was powered by steam. They were in business from 1902-1911. Item 67 is a showroom photograph album for Gaeth automobiles and delivery trucks. This brochure is for the 1909 model when they were ramping up production. The car sold for $3,500 which was a lot of money in those days. In 1910, Paul Gaeth sold his company to Stuyvesant Motor Co., which sold their business to Grant-Lees Machine Co. in 1911, later succeeded by Grant Motors which made cars until 1922. Item 67. $1,950.

 

Zephyr Used & Rare Books may be reached at 360-695-7767 or zephyrbook@gmail.com. Their website is found at www.zephyrusedandrarebooks.com.

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