Tracing my cars owner ship

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    I would add a little more:

    David’s search for Al Jolson having a Pierce might be revealed using some of the lesser-known New York City newspapers: such as Variety, which included Pierce-Arrows in their reports. Jolson made news with Ruby Keeler when she was performing in the Follies, singing to her from the audience, so he was putting his name in the papers, which might include how he got around town. Harlem was a night spot then, the local newspaper there mentioned people’s automobiles and might have something, too – all in addition to more mainstream, say, Journal-American, Daily News or Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reporting.

    Regarding Don’s mention of Sinclair Powell’s Series 81 convertible coupe. I knew Sinclair; he was a devoted historian (and past president of the SAH), and would have given Bernie the prior ownership information of his car. If you write to Bernie, he will make a printout of the material in the file. He is a master printer and formatted everything to look special; it prints out as a souvenir capable of being framed.

    I never saw Sinclair’s convertible but know that model had two different sun visor treatments – Philips’ original plain visor, like the Series 80, and a more complex one seen in the factory photo. It would be interesting to know which you have.

    Bill’s question of the 1914-196 Minnesota registrations being digitized should be easy to determine – my experience with the Minnesota Historical Society is that they are well organized and a call/email would say for sure.




    It is always Super (in the 1920s meaning of the word) to hear from you.

    You are a veritable fount of information on all things Pierce-Arrow.

    I have Bernie’s list and recently reviewed it regarding the Sinclair Powell, Series 81, Pierce-Arrow.

    There is no listing of owners prior to Sinclair.

    I respond here to head off unnecessary effort to track the history of that particular Pierce-Arrow.

    Best regards,



    Peter –

    I’m sorry to learn Sinclair’s Series 81 file has only one entry – but I think it is still possible to add to it! I remember Sinclair mentioning his son’s interest in his old cars (he also had a Franklin). He or Sue, his mother, might recall where it comes from, if only the state. Another clue might be in one of the earlier old car club rosters. AACA and VMCCA records would be a good place to start.



    Hi Brooks, Hi Peter, Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your input. Kind of a fun quest. I talked to Suzanne this summer and she described getting their Series 81 in 1969 from somebody near Indianapolis. When Sinclair and Suzanne showed the car they posted on a fact sheet that it was purchased by the President of a brick making company in Pennsylvania. I had forgotten that Sinclair was a huge historian- what a pity he apparently didn’t trace his Series 81. Or maybe he did and that is as far as he could get….



    Don –

    That is great news.

    I bumped into sources for the Connecticut Motor Vehicle Register by accident, while working on a story. The clarity of the graphics and ease of use are so impressive, but the ever-increasing variations of the different posts of the Register are still challenging. I was reminded of Peter’s comment about Bernie’s list when looking again at the Register last night. What if the query was the car number rather than the brand name? So I tried it out: the five-digit number can pick up the weight rating or the license plate number, but I have yet to get it to pull up the car number. Perhaps someone will get there before I do.



    Brooks & Don,

    I believe that chasing down old Rosters is the key.

    Years ago, I contacted the New York State DMV to get copies of past registrations for my Series 80.

    It has only had 4-owners, 3 from my family and was bought by Great Uncle Joe Waldorf from the original owner, Myron Forbes – then president of the PAMCC.

    The NYS DMV person told me that they did not have records past about 20-yers or so (I forget).

    However, maybe some States’ DMVs do, and chasing down the registration past sounds like fun.

    A body, chassis or engine number will likely be required.

    Another source of information might be Jam and Mary Ann Sandoro a the Buffalo Transportation Museum (

    Have fun,



    Everyone –

    The digital search by car number works for the 1915 Connecticut Registry: I looked up a Pierce and noticed a 1914 38HP with car number 34337 and Connecticut License plate number 2524. Knowing the car is in the Registry, I went back and queried the car number. And there it was:

    It will not work if your surviving car was not registered in the state then. But it should have a result for Connecticut in 1926 as there are more Pierces surviving. Whichever, you should have a great time looking.

    This also works for commercial vehicles in Connecticut.



    How can one access the Schwabacker-Fry files? I have a friend who has been trying to learn if the legend that his semi custom Packard was owned by a PBD (Pretty Big Deal) in Hollywood or the studio.

    Thanks, Jim



    The Schwabacker-Fry files, or the Schwabacker-Frey files?

    And if either, what are those, and what do they have to do with Pierce-Arrow motorcars?

    They were a high-end postcard / fancy printing company.



    Peter, I don’t know either, Brooks mentions it further up in the thread.


    Jim –

    Some of the Schwabacker-Fry California registration lists have been available online for some time. They are now being digitized – artistically – by, who are one of the groups behind the nationwide government records digitization project. Here is the 1921 I just opened:

    This sort of information Bernie regularly adds to his car history files: it’s invaluable. And it is just interesting to look through. The California lists are very large and take time for the computer to sort through. I queried (without luck) McFarlan to see if Wallace Reid might show; Mary Pickford’s Pierce runabout should be in there if she had one, but she may have used her real name. Please remember it may require going through all the volumes for each year before you get to say Eureka!

    After you have opened the 1921 records, you may want to start slowly, say, asking what that 1916 brougham #35878 was doing at the Stockton Hotel?



    I took another look at the California Automobile Registrations and noticed a couple of things worth mentioning: This 1921 digitization from was not printed by Schwabacker-Fry but from the California state printer. The key for me was finding Fatty Arbuckle’s name in the state’s printing, his name is erased in the Schwabacher-Fry version. Also in the state version, Arbuckle’s cars are not listed together, but separately, with his street address. Querying Arbuckle will bring them up.

    The California listings include body style with the car number so it is possible to query Pierce-Arrow adding the word run (for runabout) or land (for landaulet), if you want to search that way. All in addition to querying by car number.

    I hope this helps




    Great work. Is it possible to look up California registrations between say, ’33 and ’38?




    Bill –

    I have not seen any 1930s data yet – but it must survive. I continue to find new sources of digitization and can only suggest keeping an eye out, say, test Google every so often and go into the second, third page of listings for clues. In the meantime, and concentrate on this and seem to work together; you might ask them.

    I would also suggest warming up by looking for earlier Pierces in California in 1921, Connecticut in 1915, etc., and looking at the entries. There must be a good story waiting to be told on the fellow in Greenwich who had a 48HP with car number 10,000. I also noticed the owner of a Series 51 limousine in California gave the model year as 1921 and wonder why – her address was the Beverly Hills Hotel, so we know where to start looking!


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