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Auto Mobile Collections

As the automobile became an integral part of American life, private collectors began to acquire vehicles for their historical or aesthetic value. Many of the early collections were housed in mansions or on estate grounds, with some cars parked beside horse-drawn carriages. By the late ’20s, however, attitudes began to change. Collectors came to see that certain models—rather than being merely modes of transportation—conveyed a particular cultural moment, an aesthetic philosophy, or even a technological milestone.

Today’s automobilia collection manager is faced with the task of managing an ever-expanding assemblage of vehicles and making sure that these collections survive after their owners are no longer around to enjoy them. This article examines strategies for preserving and transferring these collections to future generations.

NMAH associate curator road transportation Roger White discusses the challenges of building an auto mobile collection at the Smithsonian Institution. This collection includes more than 106 vehicles and contains important research for scholars, journalists, and restorers. The collection also includes original files and restoration binders for the historic H.H. Franklin Company, which produced America’s first air-cooled car between 1902 and 1934.

Automobile Collections” typically refer to curated assemblages of cars, often showcasing significant models throughout automotive history. These collections can range from private enthusiasts’ gatherings to public museums, each with its unique focus and display.

Some collections highlight specific brands, like the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, which houses an extensive array of Mercedes vehicles. Others may concentrate on certain eras or types of automobiles, such as classic cars from the 1950s or iconic sports cars.

The appeal of automobile collections lies in their ability to preserve automotive heritage, educate visitors about technological advancements, and evoke nostalgia for bygone eras. From vintage models to futuristic prototypes, these collections offer a captivating journey through the evolution of transportation.