The Story of Pierce-Arrow: A Photographic Trip Through the Pierce-Arrow Factory Showing the Uncommon Methods which Distinguish the Building of America’s Finest Motor Car
first published 1930 by Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, reprinted 1977 by the Pierce-Arrow Society
70pp., leather-like paperboard cover
Acquired from a private seller on kijiji.ca
An ad on kijiji.ca caught my attention – a number of old automobile books for sale. I ended up buying 6 books, among them, The Story of Pierce-Arrow: A Photographic Trip Through the Pierce-Arrow Factory Showing the Uncommon Methods which Distinguish the Building of America’s Finest Motor Car.
I knew of Pierce-Arrow by reputation. Among the finest American motor cars of the pre-war era, Pierce-Arrow was often referred to as one of ‘The 3 P’s of Motordom’ (along with Peerless and Packard). Built in Buffalo, NY, Pierce-Arrows were recognizable by the placement of the headlights in the front fenders, and were known as well-engineered luxury cars. But, I was unfamiliar with this book, and it was difficult to find any further information on exactly what this book is.
My best guess, this is a sales brochure, and an expensive one. It’s large at 13.5” by almost 10.5”, the cover is a leather-grained finish over heavy paperboard, the title is foil embossed. The heavyweight gloss paper stock (at least 100lb text) is bound with 3 metal screws. The only concession to cost is that the book is printed in 2 colours, black and orange (2-colour being significantly less expensive than 4-colour process).
In this case, the ‘story of Pierce-Arrow’ is not a history, but, as the subtitle reads ‘uncommon methods which distinguish the building of America’s finest motor car’. Page 1, ‘How to Buy a Motor Car’ introduces the 7 elements — Character, Distinction, Safety, Comfort, Performance, Economy and Value — and concludes “The IDEAL CAR to own is the one which most completely satisfies every one of these seven essential elements”.
Each element is like a chapter of this book. Each is addressed as to what it means at Pierce-Arrow, how the manufacturing process is used to achieve the highest level, and how the element is manifested in the car. The text is very much written as ad copy…
Pierce-Arrow character has been built up through thirty years of high purpose
and high endeavours.
No car has a higher reputation for genuine quality and fineness.
The perfection of Pierce-Arrow quality present in every detail insures safety
… and so forth. The central message of the sales pitch is that the care and skill that goes in to building this luxury car, and the high cost of purchase, ends up paying the owner back in years of satisfying use. This is bolstered by a wealth of technical information about how the car is created. Text and illustrations provide insight into the car’s white ash and steel construction. There are pictures of many components – the frame, brakes, suspension, the torque arm, even engine parts being machined and inspected in the factory. There’s even a table illuminating the 55 steps followed in finishing a Pierce-Arrow body.
As a graphic designer, I find it very interesting to read a book as old as this.It was produced at a time when offset print and graphic art were still fairly new. There’s quite a variation in font sizes, some being really large, some being somewhat small, and a number of other sizes in between. There’s many photos, but some have been used multiple times. These design choices likely wouldn’t be seen today, yet here they are in a high-end sales tool for a luxury car. Different times I suppose.
Overall, I found The Story of Pierce-Arrow to be very interesting. It wasn’t what I expected, as I thought it would be more of a corporate history. Instead it’s a high-end sales brochure, not dissimilar to what you used to be able to pick up at your dealership until recent times. It is more grand (certainly at 70 pages it’s much larger), which would befit one of the most luxurious American cars ever made. It is a great look at the manufacture of exclusive, partially hand-made automobiles of the pre-war era.
Of course, hindsight shows that at the height of the Great Depression, no amount of flowery language or detailed photos could save a car few could afford. A mere 8 years after this publication, Pierce-Arrow closed its doors and faded from the American automotive landscape. The Story of Pierce-Arrow opens those doors again for a glimpse of what once was.
Pros: a rare contemporary piece of literature with a lot of very good information about a long defunct car and company; great insight into auto manufacturing in the pre-war era.
Cons: minor quibbles with some of the design; content is perhaps a little heavy on the ‘sales pitch’ side.
Where to find it: perhaps Amazon or eBay, private collections.