Interview with Rick Shnitzler, 2013 November 7

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  • Early interest in classic American automobiles
    Partial Transcript: "I was a dealer, an entrepreneur..." "...he would be happy and I would be happy and that was the fundamental driver in our relationship..." "My interest in obsolete cars.... goes back to when I was a child and my parents took me to a car show..."
    Synopsis: Shnitzler clarifies that he was an auto ephemera dealer rather than a collector. He would find auto literature and find out where it belonged and who should have it. Shnitzler was a dealer for Z. Taylor Vinson, and the two formed a productive relationship since Vinson was a collector. Describes his first emotional experience with a car that took place in 1950. His parents took him to a car show and he sat in a Stutz. When he was 16 he wanted to buy a vintage car to restore. He put an advertisement in the Boston Globe and ended up buying a 1932 Buick Sport Phaeton. After he bought the car, but before he restored it, he had a near death experience. After this, he restored the car and went to Rhode Island School of Design. By 1963, the car was fully restored and he drove the car to Flint, Michigan where it was manufactured. When Shnitzler would find auto ephemera, he would attempt to find a buyer that would conserve and preserve the materials.
    Keywords: Brookline, Massachusetts; Buick Phaeton; collecting; Flint, Michigan; Stutz
  • Early auto ephemera dealing career
    Partial Transcript: "So I got the '32 Buick..."
    Synopsis: Continues to describe how he became interested in auto ephemera, his discovery of sales literature and how he sold it at auctions as a youth. He first came across auto ephemera in his uncle's attic. Among the pile of auto sales brochures, he found the brochure for his 1932 Buick. He took the pile of brochures to a car show when he was 17 and sold his first catalogues. Discusses the value of auto catalogs as authoritative aids to restoring antique cars. The catalogues are the "deed" of the original car, in terms of its appearance, components, etc. Most of Shnitzler's customers bought the catalogues as an authoritative aid in restoring their automobiles.
    Keywords: brochures; Buick Phaeton; catalogues
  • Intergenerational connections between people and their cars
    Partial Transcript: "A huge, huge delight is finding someone with the same car..." "If you have a '32 Buick and it needs restoration and you find another one... you have an instant rapport with that person...
    Synopsis: There is a connection between people who own the same vintage cars. Usually, there is an emotional, "intergenerational set of links" that connect people to their cars. There is a cultural heritage in Southeast Michigan where people produced cars and worked on them.
    Keywords: Buick; cars; collecting; emotions; restoration
  • Evolution of Shnitzler's career as an auto ephemera dealer and classic car restorer
    Partial Transcript: "I wasn't paying attention to cars at all during my junior high and high school years... I can't really tell you what propelled me to need that Buick..."
    Synopsis: Discusses how his auto ephemera dealing and car restoration evolved in his adulthood. His interest in drawing and hand skills was a factor in his interest in restoring autos.
    Keywords: Buick; cars; catalogues; skills
  • Differences between dealers and collectors
    Partial Transcript: "In terms of the value of the brochures there is a profound drop between people who deal in certain segments of the antique and collectible field and those who collect it."
    Synopsis: Distinguishes critical differences between auto ephemera collectors and dealers. Dealers are interested in both the cash value and the historical significance of the objects; however, dealers do not need to keep the items. Collectors, on the other hand, are driven to keep and possess the objects themselves. Shnitzler does not understand why collectors like Vinson or other collectors needed to possess all of the auto ephemera.
    Keywords: brochures; collectors; dealers
  • Selling auto ephemera
    Partial Transcript: "I don't want to be tacky, but I'd go to these car shows and flea markets and I'd put out a big sign that said "Literature Wanted" and that was a key device."
    Synopsis: Discusses how he sold auto literature. He went to flea markets and car shows and set up a booth to sell his wares. He organized his materials into categories to suit the needs of customers. The majority of his clientele consisted of antique car restorers, rather than collectors like Vinson. In addition to selling his current stock, he would also find particular items for interested parties. Ninety percent of what Shnitzler sold had never entered the marketplace. The rarest items mostly went to Fred Simeone and Taylor Vinson.
    Keywords: car shows; catalogues; flea markets
  • Z. Taylor Vinson as a person
    Partial Transcript: "Taylor would just hang around... he was very subtle and well mannered and all of that, but he was aggressive in his own way." "It was a win win, I got the money, I helped pay my rent and he got the stuff..."
    Synopsis: Discusses his memories of Vinson. The two men shared a booth beginning in the 1970s at the Carlisle flea market. Vinson mostly set up booth in order to acquire the items that he wanted. Vinson was "square" and consistent to deal with. Distinguishes Vinson as a connoisseur, compared to fellow collectors. Vinson was able to discriminate what items were exceptional and which were not.
    Keywords: Carlisle, PA; collecting
  • Assigning value to auto ephemera
    Partial Transcript: "First off, I can tell you that he had a great fondness for European..."
    Synopsis: Recalls the Huntington car show in Long Island, where he acquired the 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio that he sold to Vinson. The Huntington car show was a particularly rich place to find rare auto ephemera. Explains how dealers and collectors assign monetary value to ephemera. It is difficult to assign a price to such items since they are so rare. The price, for Shniztler, was not the only important aspect of passing on an item to a collector. Preserving an object was also a primary goal of Shnitzler's. To assign a price, he would do research and look at comparable items, if they existed.
    Keywords: Delaunay-Belleville; Long Island, New York
  • Hispano-Suiza catalog
    Partial Transcript: "This one I remember, was one of 500..."
    Synopsis: Goes on to describe the 1934 Hispano-Suiza catalog, another find from the Huntington car show. Explains the high value and desirability of the catalog is due to the rarity of the car. Only 500 cars were made, which made the corresponding catalogues rare as well. If one were to attempt to restore a Hispano-Suiza, the catalogue would be in valuable. In the auto ephemera and automobile collecting realm, there are tiers or rarity and desirability. The Hispano-Suiza catalogue was among the most rare and desirable tier. In this particular case, cash "fails as an exchange medium" since the item is so rare and requires conservation.
    Keywords: Hispano-Suiza; Long Island, New York
  • Inability of cash to value numinous objects
    Partial Transcript: "I don't know why, but I like typewriters..."
    Synopsis: Describes a comparable example of the limitations of cash as a measure of value. He and his wife found a typewriter that is the exact same that Jack Kerouac used to write.
    Keywords: typewriters; value
  • Methods of acquiring auto ephemera
    Partial Transcript: "Well it would be stuff from people's attics..." "Many of the other key dealers... there wasn't any curatorial sense the way I had, I treated it like a museum where you could buy the stuff..."
    Synopsis: Discusses how he acquired his sales inventory from garage sales, attics, and other locations outside the market. It was rare that anything Shnitzler would find had already been priced or discovered. Shnitzler identifies himself as an exceptional dealer in his approach. Unlike others who were simply trying to make money, Shnitzler was more interested in connoisseurship and preservation. Regardless of the topic of an object, emotional, intergenerational connections with cars are the driving force that makes people want to save and collect auto ephemera. Discusses his strategies for selling automobiles and auto literature and the importance of personal relationships to his business. Ethics were a large part of his business practice since he relied of return customers. He would find very rare vintage cars, repair them, and sell them on the market. Auto ephemera, on the other hand, required little work to sell. The "value added" was knowing enough about the literature to know how important and valuable the items were and also how to market them.
    Keywords: collectibility; hobbies; interests; valuation; value
  • Rare classic cars that Shnitzler owned
    Partial Transcript: "I was in the business for about twenty years..." "The stuff I could buy on the streets of Philadelphia... who needs this, whose gonna take care of it?"
    Synopsis: Recalls his most rare and favorite cars that he purchased and sold over the years. Of the three hundred or so vintage cars that he sold, the rarest was a 1971 Barracuda convertible that he bought in Germantown. Another is a 1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper that he bought in the mid-1970s. 1932 Buick Sport Phaeton, which he mentioned earlier, is the most significant car that Shnitzler owned.
    Keywords: 1932 Buick Phaeton; 1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper; 1971 Barracuda; cars; Dutch Darren; Germantown, Pennsylvania; literature; parts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; selling
  • Production of auto literature
    Partial Transcript: "Sure, I'm an expert in this field... the catalogs were in house."
    Synopsis: Discusses how catalogs were published and designed. Independent publishing companies in Detroit were the primary publishers of the catalogues and brochures. Some manufacturers would produce all of the literature in-house; however, most utilized outside advertisers and designers to produce auto literature. The 1947 Packard Custom Super Clipper was designed by Howard Darren, who had great sway in marketing decisions. However, about 98 percent of the design was anonymous and done in-house unless the designer was prominent. Vinson had a large collection of designer-driven automobile literature. Artists and illustrators, unlike car designers, were almost exclusively anonymous and unrecognizable.
    Keywords: advertising; catalogs; Detroit, Michigan; Dutch Darrin; Howard Darrin; publishing
  • Scale and scope of elite collectors
    Partial Transcript: "..might have been ten(collections as large as Vinson's), that's a wide range estimate." "..one of Taylor's big motivators was to keep it out of Fred's hands, Fred didn't get it..."
    Synopsis: Quantifies number of collectors comparable to Vinson. There may have been ten other collectors in the world that collected at a similar scale and scope of Vinson. Reflects on collectors and the competitive nature of auto ephemera collecting. Top auto collectors would compete at auto shows for the best literature. Fred Simeone "was the champion." Vinson's collection was among the top three to five of all the collections in the world. Collectors value their collections in terms of a cash market value. However, the market value has become much diminished with the availability of digitized catalogues.
    Keywords: collecting; competition; Fred Simeone
  • Recognizing rare literature
    Partial Transcript: "You talk to other collectors- have you ever seen one of these... it's really that kind of consensus..."
    Synopsis: Collectors determined the rarity of an item mostly by speaking to other collectors and forming a consensus. Auto manufacturers would distribute common catalogues and brochures directly to the showroom. More obscure and rare car brochures, press releases, and catalogs entered the market in a path that is more difficult to trace. Auto ephemera designed for segmented markets are rare but do exist. The most common form would be an American brochure that was published in a foreign language. Vinson paid a lot of attention to the formatting and quality of the printed auto ephemera.
    Keywords: collecting; distribution; domestic markets; foreign markets; localization; rarity; translation; valuation
  • Auto catalogues as tools to sell cars
    Partial Transcript: "If I have any insights, how about some explicit statements... if you walked into a showroom... a brochure would almost always have a rubber stamp with the dealer's name on the back..." "It was basically a document of... a promissory note of look at what you're gonna get."
    Synopsis: Discusses how auto catalogues were used to sell cars, primarily as a means to verify the technical aspects of cars. Salesmen would hand out brochures, which bore the mark of the dealer's stamp on the back, to potential customers as they browsed around the showroom. The sales brochure or catalog was the primary way to verify the statement of the car salesmen. The brochures were not a major marketing tool, compared to advertisements.
    Keywords: catalogues; sales
  • Advertising and technology
    Partial Transcript: "It depends on how you define early... to make the thing go under control is enough... then in the last decade or two, mechanics don't matter as long as the thing goes... it shows technology evolves over time."
    Synopsis: Advertising often emphasizes the technological features of the car, particularly as technology has evolved and become more complicated. Discusses safety as a new technological feature, relating it to Vinson's career in automotive safety. Vinson documented changing safety technology in his collection. He believed in safety technology in cars and was believable in the way that he spoke to others about it.
    Keywords: advertising; technology
  • Automobiles as an international phenomenon
    Partial Transcript: "The unifying element is human hard wiring... in my car business I sold stuff... to buyers in fifty states and fifty four nations..."
    Synopsis: Observes general continuity in collectors and car enthusiasts across the world. Shnitzler acquired most of his literature in the United States, but still had a keen interest in traveling abroad. His first job out of college was as a civic design planner in the Council of London. He surveyed the countryside around England as part of his job. This experience was formative in forming Taillight Diplomacy (an organization that seeks to create ties between auto enthusiasts in the United States and Cuba. Vinson played a large role in establishing Taillight Diplomacy with his knowledge of government operations and his international travel. Vinson presented the Taillight diplomacy project to the Society of Automotive Historians. Distinguishes Vinson as an exceptional collector due to his interest in foreign auto literature. Most top collectors collect American auto ephemera, and tend to restrict their collections to domestic products.
    Keywords: buying; cars; collecting; globalization; selling; the world; trading
  • Vinson as a person
    Partial Transcript: "He was a nice guy, a very good guy, he was not overbearing in any form..."
    Synopsis: Describes Vinson personally. Vinson was "square and generous." He was kind and not overbearing whatsoever. He was a mild-mannered person and very likeable.
    Keywords: Z. Taylor Vinson
  • Model cars
    Partial Transcript: "They're 3d evidence as opposed to 2d evidence...""As opposed to the sales brochure model cars was a big industry, they had value mostly toys, but also as promotional devices."
    Synopsis: Explains how model cars were utilized and valued as both toys and as advertising devices. They were expensive to produce, rarer than printed ephemera, and highly collectible. It is sometimes difficult to discern which model cars are rare and which are common. Most model cars were sold in retail stores. Many of the companies that made them were large companies. Manufacturers would authorize companies to produce the model cars.
    Keywords: collectibles; die-cast; models; plastic; toys
  • Collection as evidence
    Partial Transcript:
    Synopsis: Relates Vinson's collecting as a symbolic activity to collect evidence of various cultures and value systems. The literature was simply a documentation of what Vinson wanted to know or needed to know. For example, the Hispano-Suiza catalogue documents the importance of aesthetics and design to the French in 1936. As a lawyer, Vinson collected auto ephemera as evidence of what other cultures and value systems were like.
    Keywords:
  • Current trends in advertising
    Partial Transcript: "You'll notice every increasing frequency of multi generational families... interacting with the car
    Synopsis: Discusses current trends in advertising that stem from multi-generational connections with automobiles. Families are often portrayed in television advertisements. There is an opportunity for organizations, such as the Society for Automotive Historians, to research "generational sharing" that he witnesses on contemporary commercials.
    Keywords: advertising; multi generational families; Society of Automotive Historians
  • The Nash Metropolitan
    Partial Transcript: "In general it's a very important car... it was made in the U.K. and badged with the U.S.A. and it's cute... it's a delightful toy of a car
    Synopsis: Discusses the 1952 Nash Metropolitan. In general, the Nash Metropolitan car was important. It was a "delightful toy" of a car that stood as an exception to the dominant paradigm of American automobiles that existed at the time. The car is a caricature in terms of its design and colors. Vinson would have liked the car due to its irony and delight. Nash was essentially a "dead" brand at the time of the Metropolitan's manufacture, though it sold many of the models.
    Keywords: car culture; compact cars; Micro Car Society; Nash Metropolitan
  • Changes in communication
    Partial Transcript: "I used the media, put in full page display ads... classifieds... and other media and so forth... that's how we got most of our business and confirmed to the rest of the world that we were legit."
    Synopsis: Describes how changes in communication (particularly the internet) have changed his dealing practice. Before the Internet, Shnitzler utilized newspapers and posted advertisements to draw in business and to establish a reputation. The Internet has a profound potential to alter contemporary society, much like electricity. Nothing has been lost in the transition to Internet; it has brought only a positive change.
    Keywords: buying; communications; Hemming's Motor News; selling; The Internet
  • Reflections on his experience with auto ephemera
    Partial Transcript: "I'm so pleased... I sold stuff to people in fifty states and fifty four nations, which really means I got people to trust me in those places and I was able to enhance their positions, that's where the value is..."
    Synopsis: The most valuable aspect of his experience with automobiles and auto ephemera has been exposure to many people of different states and countries across the world. Forming relationships of trust was important in his dealing connections. Vinson played a large role in establishing Taillight Diplomacy. When Shnitzler visited Cuba he visited a du Pont mansion.
    Keywords: buying; collecting; connections; Cuba; selling; Taillight Diplomacy; The Internet; the world; trust