Interview with Yann Saunders, 2014 April 25

Hagley ID:
  • Early Interest in Cadillacs
    Partial Transcript: "I suppose I should go back to 1948, the year my dad bought his first car, until then he had a bicycle until he was forty eight." "I drove the car backwards into the garage..." "I came across an ad for a 1956 Cadillac, and I kind of went "Wow, that's some car," and I started collecting...
    Synopsis: Yann Saunder's interest in cars began in 1948 when his father bought his first car, a 1934 Chrysler that he bought in Switzerland. Saunder's older brother taught him to drive when he was 9 years old. In 1955 he was looking through National Geographic and saw an ad from a 1956 Cadillac. After this moment he began collecting Cadillac auto ephemera and bought a Sedan Deville in 1966.
    Keywords: Cadillac; Chrysler; driving; National Geographic; Sedan Deville; Switzerland
  • Methods of collecting and acquaintance with Vinson
    Partial Transcript: "I used to go to toy shows, I used to look at catalogues, advertising... it just kind of happened along the way."
    Synopsis: Saunders looked at toy shows, catalogues, advertising, and car shows to find his collectible material. Over the years he established trading partners, among which was Z. Taylor Vinson. Vinson was instrumental in pushing Saunders to collect auto ephemera. Saunders and Vinson met though their shared interest in catalogues. Saunders wrote to Vinson for a 1958 Cadillac catalogue, and since then the two men corresponded regularly through letters. The two men became even closer friends when Vinson's sister coincidentally married Yann Saunder's brother-in-law. The two met for the first time in person at the wedding in Huntington, West Virginia. After the wedding, Saunders traveled to Vinson's home in Washington D.C. to see his collection.
    Keywords: advertising; catalogues; collecting; toys; trades
  • Z. Taylor Vinson
    Partial Transcript: "I was flabbergasted when I saw it..." "...of course the best stuff was in the "autotorium."
    Synopsis: Describes Vinson's collection and Vinson as a person. At an earlier stage Vinson's collection was less organized, mainly consisting of drawers of his auto literature collection. As time went on, Vinson converted a portion of his home into the "Autotorium," which was essentially a museum with organized cases and drawers. After Vinson passed away, Saunders assisted Vinson's family in sorting the collection before it was donated to Hagley. They would see each other about once a year. Vinson was a "joker" who traveled a lot in the pursuit of catalogues. Compared to Vinson, Saunders has spent considerably less money acquiring auto ephemera. Unlike Vinson, Saunders is more interested in the content, rather than the actual physical object (catalogue, advertisement, brochure, etc.). As a person, Vinson was humorous and always smiling. He was well traveled, and had an estimated number of 50 trading partners in many different countries. Vinson began his collection by cutting portions of catalogues, but when he became a more serious collector he collected whole catalogues and brochures.
    Keywords: "autotorium"; Cadillac; catalogging; collecting; Z. Taylor Vinson
  • Collecting and the Cadillac Database
    Partial Transcript: "Basically, I no longer collect per se, I have a collection which I have built up over the last sixty years."
    Synopsis: Saunders established a number of personal connections to point him towards sources, but his own collection was very personal. He no longer collects to create a larger physical collection, but has turned to digitizing materials for the online Cadillac database that he manages ("The Cadillac Database"). The database currently stores images of over 8,500 web pages with 44,000 images of Cadillac advertisements, brochures, catalogues, photographs, and other materials. Saunders chose to specialize in Cadillac ephemera due to the "aura" of the particular manufacturer's automobile.
    Keywords: Cadillac Database; collecting; the Internet
  • Saunder's personal collection
    Partial Transcript: "It started out with paper, photos, advertisements, catalogs, basically those three and then I went to toys.. it was a small toy collection, a very large Cadillac collection, I believe it was the largest in the world."
    Synopsis: Of all the forms of auto ephemera, Saunders first began collecting auto literature and model cars. At one time, Saunders possessed what he believes to be the largest Cadillac model car collection in the world, which he eventually sold. He has chosen to collect materials that portray Cadillacs in their original condition. His favorite car showpiece is a woodcarving done by artisans off of the Ivory Coast. Saunder's favorite Cadillac model is a 1960 Eldorado convertible that he purchased in Switzerland. He also owned a 1942 Cadillac limousine. Since 1966, Saunders has owned only 9 cars.
    Keywords: buying; Cadillac; collecting; selling; toys
  • Creating the Cadillac Database
    Partial Transcript: "Well, with all the stuff I knew and collected about Cadillac, I decided to write my first book, this was 1969 or 1970..."
    Synopsis: The Cadillac Database began from an earlier book project. Sanders wrote two manuscripts about Cadillac history generally and a more specific book on 16-cyllinder models. Shortly after he completed a working draft, a very similar book was published by another author. Saunders adapted to this unforeseen event by converting his book into website. In May of 1997, Saunders and his son-in-law launched the database, which presents a more aesthetic view of the automobile, rather than the mechanical aspects. Vinson, on the other hand, was much more interested in the mechanical and technological aspects.
    Keywords: books; Cadillac; Cadillac Database; Morris Henry; Roy Schneider; writing
  • The Nash Metropolitan
    Partial Transcript: "I don't like it, it's too small, it doesn't look American, but that just personal opinion, what they should have done is put two cars, pre-war and post-war..."
    Synopsis: The Nash Metropolitan, for Saunders, is a "fly-by-night" car that did not last and does not represent American automobiles.
    Keywords: Cadillac; Nash Metropolitan
  • Methods of advertising the car
    Partial Transcript: "It started off with an engineer on a drawing board, and from there they started creating models..."
    Synopsis: Harley Earle was the first to model clay cars. Manufacturers designed the catalogues and brochures and had them published by an outside company. Saunders did not spend very much money on catalogues and brochures, "and came out on top" at the end of his collecting career. Catalogues were on display in the showroom and the manufacturers also mailed them to potential consumers. Newspaper, radio, and television advertising were also popular ways in which to sell the car. The Internet has made advertising easier.
    Keywords: advertising; catalogues; development; Harley Earle; models
  • Model cars
    Partial Transcript: "I think, basically the dads wanted their kids to have smaller versions of what they drove... the toy automobile has been around since the nineteenth century, so it's not something new."
    Synopsis: Model cars primarily began as toy cars for children. Saunders' smallest model car was one inch whereas his largest was about three feet. Some collectors would collect model cars of only one size. Saunders would collect Cadillac ephemera of any medium. Tin plate model cars were popular in the 1970s. Saunders found many tin plate model cars in Switzerland in the 1960s. He sold his entire collection decades later at a much higher selling price.
    Keywords: Cadillac; models; toys
  • Market segmentation by race
    Partial Transcript: "Until 1973, 74 Cadillac basically only sold their cars to white people, and then one day- hey there are many people out there."
    Synopsis: Until 1973-1974, Cadillac only advertised their cars to white consumers. The first advertisement that depicts an African American family in a Cadillac was produced in 1974.
    Keywords: advertising; Cadillac; race
  • Market segmentation
    Partial Transcript: "Cadillac went for the woman purchaser in the 20s..."
    Synopsis: Cadillac began advertising with women in mind in the 1920s. Saunders himself does not respond to celebrity endorsement or advertising.
    Keywords: advertising; Cadillac; celebrity endorsements; gender
  • Mechanics and advertising
    Partial Transcript: "I can tell you roughly when it began and when they insisted on the mechanical aspects of the automobile before they started talking about its aesthetic appeal."
    Synopsis: Mechanical aspects, as a selling point, preceded the emphasis on consumer features or aesthetics. Reliability was a higher value for many purchasers, particularly in the early days of the automobile. After the late 1950s, aesthetic appeal became a larger selling point. Electronics have become more prevalent as a consumer aspect and as a mechanical feature.
    Keywords: advertising; mechanics; safety; technology
  • Changes in communication and collecting
    Partial Transcript: "You send a letter... you may have forgotten what you were asking by the time you get it back... computers have really changed the whole scene."
    Synopsis: Changes in communication technology have profoundly affected Saunders' collecting. He used to send letters to fellow collectors in the United States from Switzerland that would take three to four days to reach the recipient. Now, with email and computers, communication has become much faster. He is sorry that he began collecting so early since he now has access to so much more information and media that is of interest to other Cadillac enthusiasts. When he began the Cadillac Database, web space cost significantly more than it does today. Now, most of Saunders' work is spent upgrading the quality of pictures that were uploaded previously. Some aspects have been lost with changes in technology and communication. The "hunt" for materials is not the same, nor does the Internet create a community of collectors in the same way as before. Young people do not seem to collect auto ephemera today, though toy cars are popular. The market price for model cars has increased drastically.
    Keywords: Cadillac Database; collecting; communications; Email; the Internet
  • The Value of Auto Ephemera
    Partial Transcript: "I have tried to keep mine very reasonable, I would buy for four of five thousand... and sell them for five or six."
    Synopsis: Discusses the amount of money he and his wife have invested in auto ephemera. There is a financial aspect to collecting, though Saunders is more interested in the content of the objects and literature. Many other collectors and dealers are primarily interested in collecting as an entrepreneurial activity. The value of objects is often determined by how much the seller wants and how much the buyer wants to spend. The value of auto ephemera is somewhat arbitrary, particularly once the amount of money exchanged is very high. In the course of his career, the price of ephemera has increased exponentially. The same trend is true for classic Cadillac automobiles. This is the "added value" that is associated with historic appeal of an object.
    Keywords: Cadillac; cars; money; valuation
  • Motivation behind collecting
    Partial Transcript: "Why do people collect? We kind of built a wall around ourselves with objects, it's protection..."
    Synopsis: Discusses what drives himself to collect and preserve Cadillac ephemera. Collecting is a way of "building walls around oneself," since it is a very personal activity. A large driving motivation for Saunders past collecting is a historical interest. Specifically, he is interested in the transition from organic forms of transportation, like the horse, to mechanical automobiles. Auto ephemera can document how this process happened. The Cadillac Database also tells this story of progression. However, Saunders stopped documenting the history of Cadillac in the 1970s. After 1970, Cadillac lost its image. The manufacturer has gained market shares but lost their identity as "the place to be." When he bought his first Cadillac, he knew that he had "made it."
    Keywords: advertising; Cadillac Database; collecting; evolution; sales
  • Experience from collecting
    Partial Transcript: "Best thing about collecting Cadillacs is the people you meet." "My days are taken up by this old car bug..." "I'm rich with memories and friends and a wife who still puts up with me..."
    Synopsis: Discusses what he has gained from his sixty years of collecting auto ephemera. The best thing about collecting Cadillacs and Cadillac ephemera has been meeting other auto enthusiasts. Throughout this process, Saunders and his wife have formed connections and relationships with a variety of collectors and dealers, including Z. Taylor Vinson. Even now, his days are largely consumed with collecting and preserving auto literature. Saunders spends most of his time working with the Cadillac Database on his computer, updating photos and text, making corrections, and uploading new material. While this process has little to no financial reward, he is "rich with memories" and values the friendships that he has formed through the process. In the last five or six years, he has spent less time with the database and focused more on his personal relationships and travel. His wife has come to take an interest in Cadillacs as well over the years
    Keywords: Cadillac; Cadillac Database; collecting; Z. Taylor Vinson
  • Selling the collection
    Partial Transcript: "We knew we would have to leave Switzerland because of the cost of living... let's see what this thing is worth because it has to be worth something..."
    Synopsis: Discusses giving up and selling his collection. He and his wife knew they would have to leave Switzerland due to the cost of living and his professional difficulties and that they could not bring his collection with him. He went to an auction house to receive a quote on his collection of auto ephemera and model cars. Saunders began placing advertisements to locate a buyer. He met a man at a car show in Geneva who was interested in Saunders' five to six inch model car collection and eventually received an offer. In order to preserve the collection as a whole, the other party made an offer for not only the model cars but also Saunders' entire collection. Saunders negotiated a higher price and sold his entre collection to the man, and the collection now is preserved and remains complete in Switzerland. Unlike many collectors, Saunders was able to sell his collection off completely and remain satisfied. However, Saunders admits that "it hurt" when he and his wife sold off their 1960 Cadillac when they began their family. Collecting began with Saunders looking at cars, advertisements, and other literature and transformed into a very large comprehensive collection of Cadillac ephemera. Once he sold his collection, he and his wife bought a boat and lived on Lake Geneva. The two eventually sold their boat to a man and bought a house in South Carolina where the cost of living was significantly lower. Both the Cadillac ephemera collection and the boat turned out to be "unforeseen investments."
    Keywords: collecting; selling
  • Turn to Digital Preservation
    Partial Transcript: "It's an ongoing thing... I've actually given up the database, it's being monitored by a French guy who lives in New York..."
    Synopsis: Saunders' work on the Cadillac Database, his evolved form of collecting and preserving, will never be finished. In many ways, he has "given up" the database to be managed by a French man who lives in New York. He took over the site in 2011; however, he is working on a more long-term version of the project. Saunders has not observed any large changes or progress so far, so he continues to improve and add to the information (pictures and text) on the site. Because there is an unlimited amount of information to add and improve, this endeavor is never over. However, he has completely ceased to collect any more physical objects.
    Keywords: Cadillac Database; collecting

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