What will you do with your collection when your time has come?

Whether it’s your cars, or simply books about cars, there are choices to make about where they can do the most good

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There comes a time to cull the collection, but do you sell or do you donate? | Larry Edsall photos

Remember back when you were in school and summer vacation was over and one of the first things your teacher did when you were back in the fall was to demand you write an essay about what you’d done over the summer months?

This is my coronavirus pandemic version of that essay. 

Among other things, with so much time sequestered at home, I was able to enroll my 6-foot-4 son-in-law and my almost 6-foot-2 14-year-old grandson — and the real muscles of the team, my 5-year-old but amazingly strong grandson — to help move the last of the boxes from my rented storage unit to the garage in the home, to which I moved nearly 2 years ago.

Those boxes were full of books.

I covered a lot of auto racing during my career in journalism, and I always figured that retirement would be just another pit stop: You’ve worn through one set of tires so you pulled into the pit get another set bolted in place. In other words, you re-tire and then get back out on the track and right back up to speed.

However, as I was approaching what I consider to be semi-retirement — I’ll keep writing as long as my brain and fingers maintain their connections with some degree of dexterity — I realized I’d not be needing all the books I’d collected through the decades. 

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But what to do with them? 

I don’t have a car collection that I can leave to heirs or donate to a museum or other charity. However, over the decades I have assembled quite a library, primarily books on journalism and writing, on sports (my previous writing profession), and on motorcars and motor racing.

As I was getting ready for my move from Arizona’s Valley of the Sun to Nevada’s Vegas Valley, I donated a pickup bed-full of books — novels, reference, travel, etc. — to the annual Visiting Nurses used book sale at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. It usually takes place around Valentine’s Day and offers thousands of books for sale, all of them nicely sorted on tables by subject.

I also asked friends at McPherson College, the Kansas institution that has a 4-year bachelor’s program in automotive restoration, if they would accept my automotive books as a donation to their library. They seemed pretty happy and enlisted students to unload the more than a dozen heavy boxes from a trailer as part of my move from Phoenix.

I’d be back with another load.

But they’re not all going to the college. At least not yet.

Friends wondered why I wasn’t selling those books, several of which had pretty decent value in the marketplace. At the time, I was teaching as an adjunct faculty member at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. I really enjoyed my interaction with the students and realized I valued their education, and that of the McPherson students, more than whatever money the books might generate in the marketplace. 

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During my enforced pandemic vacation, I’ve been going through the boxes in my garage as well as the books on the shelves in the house. I’m nearly done packaging up a second batch — 15 boxes so far — to take to Kansas as soon as we’re freed to travel. There will be a third load, but I’ll likely not be involved in that delivery; it will come after my time has expired. 

Which leads me to this: How do I decide which books to donate now and which ones I still need for the years I have left to write?

Well, some of those decisions have been easy. I use on a daily basis The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile (oh how it hurt to write the check for more than $600 for the 4-volume set). I also need to keep my copies of the Standard Catalogs of the American Cars, Independents, Light-Duty Trucks, 4x4s and Imported Cars

So what else am I keeping? Primarily books on automotive design and designers, on concept cars, books about early automotive travel, on the car and its role in American culture, some motorsports reference books, and books autographed by authors, especially those who have been mentors or have become friends.

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Hopefully, before too much longer, we’ll get the clearance to travel, I’ll rent another small U-Haul trailer and be off to Kansas with the second load, happy and confident my books are going to a good home.

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

9 COMMENTS

  1. You bring up a plethora of issues faced not only by us gearheads but the family, in many cases, that are left with collections they have little interest in. Those collections might be a valuable historical resource like your books or a bunch of vehicles that only the owner loved. And we’re seeing plenty of those collections being broken up in auctions and sales, sometimes at a fraction of the original owner’s cost. So will we find a place for all those treasures we’ve worked so hard to preserve? Are there enough enthusiasts that can continue this preservation? And for how long?

    • You might find a local automotive trade school or high school auto shop class that would really appreciate their donation.

  2. Thanks for another thoughtful column. We aviation journalists sliding down the wrong side of longevity’s bell curve have similar concerns. Like Robert above, I raised my kids wrong: they have no use for first editions signed by Chuck Yeager or Richard Avedon. Some of us also own large collections of vintage airplane desktop factory models that are rare and valuable–but only to us. Aviation museums are being deluged by families who are reluctant to throw away Dad’s treasures, but have no interest in keeping them. The Museums either have no room, or no money to catalog and preserve them. In cases like these, he who dies with the most toys, loses…

  3. I’m very happy that McPherson is happy to receive the books. I taught journalism as an adjunct professor at Arizona State for 6 or 7 years and was disappointed when I offered my collection of journalism and writing books to the school but the offer was declined because, it seems, students are doing their research online.

  4. I have collected automobile magazines and hard cover books since I got out of the Army in 1968.
    Autoweek (magazines only, no old newspapers), Road & Track, Car & Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile, Corvette News, Automobile Quarterly etc. just to name a few. My kids love cars
    but will never have enough storage to handle all of this. Oh yes, I live in Henderson, NV so
    stop by and we can look over a bunch of old racing / automobile stories.

  5. My will gives my younger brother, or his two children pick of my automobiles and peripherals- books, manuals, spares, tools, as well as my sci-fi/fantasy collection- and then stipulates sale or donation to like minded organizations and/or individuals, including schools. My surviving friends get first dibs following my family, but I don’t think any of them want anything but my GTO and it’s attached stuff, so the rest will be dispersed.
    Other than that, I can’t do anymore, and frankly don’t spend time worrying. I’ll be dead, likely burning in Hell for acts in my misspent youth. I acquired these things to please myself- if others don’t want them, well, I had the pleasure for many years.

  6. I consider myself the next generation of collecting anything automotive. Of course budget plays a major role, so models and books mostly fill my coffers. I’m no spring chicken, but if my parents are any indication I’ve got a few decades left. These days I’m into everything early Porsche for the many obvious reasons, but also because I am of German decent. Reading everything I can about Porsche history via something I love so much, the automobile, is really the only way I would bother to learn about my roots. Recently pre-war automobiles has really captured my interest. It’s truly amazing the craftsmanship behind so of the amazing machines. I wonder if the next generation will have the same itch I do? Your books will be read by people like me, and I hopefully people after me. Just get them out there and know you have done your best to inspire the next. I will do the same.

  7. I had hundreds of magazines that I donated to the local library who, in turn, donated them to a local prison. Every time I get 20 or so, off they go to the library. I also have a bunch of restoration books bought with good intentions! They are going to the prison library, too.

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