Originality in Early Western Vehicles

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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You might want to grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell as this week’sblog is a bit longer than the norm.  Itrelates to a subject important to all stewards of early vehicles, so I’ve givenyou a bit more fodder to chew on. There’s a lot more that can be shared on this subject but, this blogshould provide a good start…

One of the things I enjoy doing is evaluating early westernvehicles.  Whether you realize it or not,every time you view a set of wheels, you’re also making similarassessments.  As enthusiasts, we all lookat different designs, forming conclusions as to their intrigue anddesirability.     

So, anytime we’re reviewing one of these wooden workhorses, there area number of basic questions that can come to mind. Thoughts like... How old isit?  Who made it?  Where was it used?  What was it used for?  Is anything broken, weakened, damaged, ormissing?  And, just as critical forcollectors – How ‘original’ is it?  Eachof these questions can be helpful when determining a vehicle’s provenance,personality, and price point. 

From my experience, some of the most common references to wooden vehicles seem bent on attaching extreme originality to thepiece.  In fact, I believe the catchphrase,“All-Original,” is so frequently misapplied that it often carries only apartial vein of truth.  Don’t get mewrong.  I love all-original vehicles andthere are some nice surviving examples. However, it’s a tough description to live up to and many simply donot.  The reason for that is that mostextant, wood-wheeled western vehicles are going to be 75 years or more inage.  A lot has likely happened to avehicle that’s been around for at least three-quarters of a century and many ofthose occurrences can leave the old transport in far less than ‘all-original’condition.  Numerous parts of the wholeare regularly lost, replaced, or have deteriorated to the point they are nolonger salvageable.

It should be noted that if a vehicle is deemed to be less than‘all-original,’ that does not necessarily mean that it has suffered any loss inresale value, desirability, or importance. Truth is, early vehicle values and historical significance arecontingent on a host of qualifications and any tendency to place unboundedimportance on a single trait can lead to missed opportunities as well asmisunderstandings. 

Clearly, there are different levels (amounts) of originality in mostearly vehicles we see.  For example, apiece may be fortunate to still contain all of its original components but itmay have been repainted at some point. Even if this was done 80 years ago by the farmer using the wagon, theterm ‘all-original’ cannot legitimately be applied to a vehicle carrying a finishthat was applied well after its initial production.  Terms such as ‘authentic,’ ‘period correct,’or even ‘historically accurate’ might be more suitable – depending on the pieceand its makeup. 

The term, “All-Original,” tends to infer that the vehicle is still comprisedof the same pieces that came from the factory/shop that built it or theretailer that initially sold it.  To thatpoint, I regularly receive questions asking if wagon running gears and boxescould have been mixed from the start of their lives together.  In other words, can a piece be ‘original’ ifit is made up of one brand of running gear mated to a box from a differentbrand?  Yes, this did happen and, yes, Ihave evidence of it occurring.  There aremultiple ways that it took place.  In onescenario, a dealer may have put different pieces together and sold it to aconsumer not particularly swayed by one brand over another – they just needed agood box and gear.  Many early dealerssold multiple brands of wagons, making this a very understandable occurrence.  In another situation, a customer may have hada good box and needed a replacement gear (or vice versa).  It reminds me of the time our washing machine went out.  The dryer was still good so we kept it but when we went to buy a new washer, we ended up getting a different brand than what had previously accompanied the washer (Economics sometimes win out over brand consistency).  Most can relate to an end user not spending unnecessary monies just to keep things perfectly aligned by brand.  In both cases I've mentioned, the collectivegrouping is represented as it was acquired by the consumer. 

I’ll extend a friendly word of advice here… The occasional mixing of brands by some in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is is not a license formodern-day collectors to mismatch pieces willy-nilly.  Likewise, I would counsel strong caution toanyone attempting to elevate vehicle perceptions and values by misrepresentingpieces in a similar fashion.  There arenumerous ways to confirm originality of multi-brand parts making up a singlevehicle.  Fraud can always be spotted bythose who know what to look for and, as part of our Authentication Services, I have pointed out such circumstances toclients in the past.

Normal wear and tear (including paint fading & loss) is typicallypart of a vehicle’s originality but some additions and deletions are not.  For example… while a crack in the originalwood floor is part of the wagon’s use, age, and character, a replaced floor isjust that – a replacement.  Again, it isnot necessarily a negative element for the wagon.  It merely requires us to be mindful of how werefer to the piece.  Likewise, a wagon isnot “all-original” if it has had its wheels cut down, end gates replaced, oreven had something as small as new bow staples recently installed.  Again, these points are not meant to declaresomething as a negative but rather cause us to think twice about how we use andthink of the terms such as ‘all-original.’ 

As a collector, I typically like a piece to be as original as possiblebut I certainly won’t shy away from an exceptional piece just because it hashad a few repairs or is missing some of its parts.  In fact, if you’re looking for a piece thatis 100% perfect, you will likely grow gray-headed and toothless waiting forwhat may be the fulfillment of unrealistic and unwarranted expectations.   

Ultimately, there are a number of considerations that go into anyevaluation focused on originality levels of a particular vehicle.  Start to finish, it’s not a process thatshould be taken lightly or approached with personal agendas. Coming Soon... We'll look at early vehicle "Authenticity" and examine how it relates to "Originality".  Have a great week! 
Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.
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