Letters from Homer Brown
Written by Matthew Hocker
Since the library’s formation in 1977, the collection has grown exponentially, having been built almost entirely on donations. One such individual donor was Homer Brown, a literature collector from North Canton, Ohio. Brown’s collection was voluminous, spanning an entire century and covering over 100 different makes from around the world. This material filled nearly 90 boxes and was donated to the library by Brown and his wife in 2002.
Some pieces were sourced through showrooms, fellow collectors, and even a five week trip through Europe in the 1970s. However, much of Brown’s collection was obtained through writing letters to manufacturers year-after-year, expressing an interest in whatever literature they might have to offer. In fact, the catalog and select photographs used in the Stout Scarab feature article (January/February 2013 issue) were obtained in this manner.
American cars were well-represented, but the bulk of Brown’s collection consisted of material from foreign countries, covering everything from English Fords to the Spanish-built Pegaso. Whenever possible, Brown made an effort to write his letters in the mother-tongue of the companies he wrote to. A learned man, he knew how to read and write in French, German and Italian.
World War II halted civilian vehicle production, but it didn’t put a stop to Brown’s pursuit of related materials. Even while serving as a Sergeant for the U.S. Army, he still managed to find a new piece here and there. While stationed in Germany in 1945, a “Sergeant Glen” Davison with the Third Armored Division mailed Brown prewar postcards depicting Ford’s Cologne factory. The two had become friends while stationed together in Halle.
After the war, Brown resumed writing to company representatives for information. Most of these exchanges tended to follow a formulaic pattern, but some revealed unique insights into his hobby and personality. In the 1960s a series of letters between Brown and Vauxhall Press Officer Glyn Davies showed the development of a warm friendship. Davies informed Brown that his daughter enjoyed stamp collecting. Brown’s response was to decorate envelopes addressed to Vauxhall with a variety of U.S. commemoratives. In return, Brown received enthusiastic thank you notes along with the latest Vauxhall literature.
In a 1961 reply from Rover, Brown received more than the literature for that model year. He was also asked for a personal review! The company’s Publications Manager, E.C. Borst-Smith wrote, “As an experienced collector of literature you will, of course, be familiar with the productions of most of the world’s vehicle manufacturers and I should be very grateful to have your candid opinion as to how the Rover material compares with others.”
Flattered and excited, Brown replied with an in-depth critique. His impressions of the 1961 material was overwhelmingly positive, and he felt the Rover literature had a leg-up over examples from competing British manufacturers. “Folders are hardly ever so interesting or complete as catalogs,” he wrote, “[but] both [Rover brochures] are bright, cheerful, inviting and colorful and bountifully supplied with pictures of features of chassis and body design.” His only real complaint was that he felt the cover of the 80/100 catalog was “too somber,” but he loved the artwork within its pages.
Brown continued seeking out literature through the late 1990s. The onset of Alzheimer’s ultimately put an end to Brown’s collecting efforts, and he passed away in 2005 at the age of 89. He was an avid automobile enthusiast until the very end and enjoyed sharing his hobby with others. At the library we feel the same way, which is why we remain grateful to have been chosen to share his passion with you.
If you are ever researching a foreign car at the library, there is a good chance you will run into a piece from Homer Brown. Thanks to his donation, we were able to fill thousands of gaps in our collection but there are certainly more. If interested in donating material to the library, feel free to contact us or pay us a visit. We would love to hear from you.