Another Story To Tell

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Every set of wooden wheels has a storyto tell – make that, lots of stories to tell. From who owned it and where it’s traveled to who made it, for whatpurpose, and how was it done, there is a tremendous amount of history attachedto any early horse drawn vehicle. Unfortunately, much of this provenance often goes overlooked andunknown.  It’s just the kind of mysteriesthat get my full attention.  After all,some of the more noteworthy findings today will be directly related toAmerica’s most legendary western transportation giants.  Ultimately, it’s why we do what we do;constantly digging, searching, combing, and pouring over virtually every facetof this subject.  It’s a passion fraughtwith challenges.  Nonetheless, over thelast two decades, our efforts have been rewarded by the consistent uncoveringof volumes of new information.   Theprocess has also allowed us to locate, identify, and help preserve a number ofhistoric and previously lost 19th century vehicles. 

One of the greatest assets in our searchfor America’s wheeled past is the broad scope of period sales literature in theWheels That Won The West® archives.  Withoriginal materials in the collection dating from the early 1800’s and extendingthrough the 1960’s, scouring those pages of history has helped us authenticatecountless brands.  That said, themajority of the earliest industry catalogs were created for a small number ofcompany representatives and, as such, there are few survivors today.  It’s a shame as these elements not only offeran authoritative view of design standards but, in many cases, they serve as theonly source from which we can learn more from a particular manufacturer. 

This 1875 catalog may hold the only surviving specifications for legendary Mitchell wagons (Racine, WI) produced during this era. 
Pre-Civil War catalogs profiling wagonsand coaches are particularly difficult to come by because so few builders couldafford the labor intensive costs of printing bound matter in those days.  As a result, the majority of all vehicleinformation prior to the Civil War is typically limited to faded and wornbusiness ledgers, newspapers, letters, trade journals, directories, guides,universal print blocks, or some other mass produced work.
This 1860’s wagon maker tintype is part of an extremely scarce early business card.

As the decades passed after the War,promotional printing became more common. In fact, by the 1880’s, larger vehicle makers were regularly engaged inthe printing of sales cards, calendars, catalogs, flyers, leaflets, and othermaterials.  Some pieces were stillproduced strictly for dealers while others were intended for the end user.  Larger 19th century firms like Milburn,Jackson, and Studebaker worked especially hard to flood the market withup-to-date literature.  So prevalent wasthis focus that Studebaker is known to have reprinted multiple versions of thesame catalog during the same year.1

1883 Studebaker Wagon Catalogs
Our commitment to locating these earlypieces has led us to countless rare discoveries – including what is likely theearliest surviving flyer and illustration promoting the legendary Bain wagon(1869).  Our archives also house severalthick, hardcover maker catalogs including a pair from 1860 and 1862.  Likewise, years ago, we happened upon aone-of-a-kind image of a Moline wagon from 1870 (just one year after thecompany started in Moline, Illinois). Other 1870’s information from Studebaker, Peter Schuttler, Mitchell,Milburn, Jackson, and the Kansas Wagon Company top the list of primary sourceliterature we’ve preserved from this decade. Additional 1880’s and 1890’s pieces in the collection include the vastmajority of the most dominant wagon and western vehicle builders as well as ahost of smaller firms.  Collectively andindividually, these materials have helped piece together a myriad of storiesthat continue to shed light on surviving vehicles.  In fact, the combined body of materials hasnot only helped us outline when certain technologies and designs were beingutilized but, as I’ve already mentioned, the literature provides an invaluableresource, helping to identify significant brands, histories, and values.   
This rare businesscard from an Ohio maker dates to around 1873 and includes an extremely scarceproduct photo on the back.
As we continue in our search forAmerica’s rarest wheeled history, from time to time, we’ll share more about thediscoveries.  Reinforcing this week’sdiscussion on the importance of early period literature, we recently identifiedthe maker of an 1870’s-era spring seat as Studebaker.  The seat still holds the majority of itsoriginal paint and artistic striping.2  Through extensive reviews of same-periodimagery, we’ve come to a supportable conclusion that – during this particulartimeframe – brand logos were not always included on the seats.  As time progressed, maker logos became moreprevalent on seat backs.  Piece by piece,these extraordinary findings continue to shed even more light on how every partof America’s early western vehicles were designed.  Likewise, each discovery allows us to moreeasily recognize and rescue valuable parts of America’s frontier past… beforethey’re lost forever.
1 The Wheels That Won The West® archives include multiple Studebaker vehicle catalogs from 1883.  While each book is labeled the same with mostpages being exact duplicates, there are slight color variations in the outsidecover and, when comparing the books to each other, some vehicles have beenupdated, added, or eliminated.

2 In 20 years of pursuit, thisspring seat is only the second that we have identified as being built by aspecific maker during the 1870’s.  Bothseats were authenticated using early Studebaker literature and availableimagery as a part of the evaluation process.   
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