To this day, designer merchandise usually carries a label, whether it be a metal emblem on a Coach purse or a red tag stitched to the pocket of Levi’s jeans. A prominent label shows the maker’s pride in their work, and the owner’s discerning taste and sense of style, especially when attached to luxury items. So it is with cars.
Since the early days of the automobile, cars have worn labels to identify the builder of the engine and chassis, whether it be a Ford or a Packard. Since the bodies of those cars could be built by another manufacturer, a second label identifying the body builder could often be found placed on the body.
By and large, body builders functioned on a large scale, producing bodies en masse for Chevrolet, Ford, Nash and other chassis. These cars’s bodies might wear the tag of body builders Fisher, Budd, Murray, Seaman or others.
Buyers with the wealth to purchase a very expensive automobile chassis before World War II often had the means to order a specially built body for their Packard or Duesenberg chassis. Often, these bodies for luxury cars were hand-built and uniquely designed or trimmed to an individual’s whims, or both. The companies that built these special quality bodies to order employed craftsmen to hand build them using Old World techniques, and are referred to coachbuilders. Some coachbuilders had been custom-building coaches, aka bodies, since the horse-and-carriage days. When transportation became motorized, these coachbuilders adapted by building coaches for automobile and truck chassis, carrying their wood-framed, metal-skinned traditions into automobile bodies. (Some coachbuilders even employed expensive casting methods that cast entire body sections in a substrate, such as aluminum.)
A key attribute of a coachbuilder was its ability to meet the sporting desires and luxury needs of well-heeled car owners seeking a personal touch. These touches usually included opulent interiors and advanced exterior styling features. The coachbuilder might build one body of a certain design, or hundreds.
Hand-built, coachbuilt bodies were usually fitted with labels, or tags, identifying the coachbuilder that built them. These coachbuilder tags were often screwed to the lower cowl area of the body (that space between the back of the lower hood panel and the front of the front door). Cars with coachbuilt bodies often had door sill plates that additionally identified the builder upon entering the bodies’ opulent interiors.
Aside from being a mark of pride, the coachbuilder tag on an automobile body advertised the company. When the owner of a car with a coachbuilt body parked at the opera or the athletic club, impressed socialites who noted the fine lines of a coachbuilt car could identify it as such, and perhaps seek out the coachbuilder for the body on their next Packard, Duesenberg or Isotta-Fraschini.
Builders of mass-produced bodies of economy cars would likewise fit labels to bodies for recognition, and perhaps to capture a bit of the air of exclusivity found on coachbuilt cars. However, it is the tags of coachbuilders that built high-quality bodies for luxury car chassis that are most valuable today.
Since coachbuilt bodies were noted for their quality and stylish exterior design features, which were often advanced compared to mass-produced budget cars, the tags — usually a couple inches long — were often equally thoughtful in design. These tags were often cast, but could be stamped or created in some type of process involving a metallic material.
The best-known company to build these tags for coachbuilders was D.L. Auld of Columbus, Ohio, and its maker’s mark appears on the back (obverse side) of the tags it built.
Recently, Check the Oil Productions conducted a series of six online auctions containing a diverse collection of original tags from coachbuilders and companies that mass-produced bodies for economy cars. Below are highlights of those auctions, with a focus on the more rarely seen tags from well-known coachbuilders that built bodies for American luxury cars during the 1920s and 1930s, plus a few recognizable European coachbuilders.
It should be noted that, over the course of the six auctions, awareness to the collection grew and prices seemed to rise with that awareness. As a result, identical tags had varying sold prices across the different sales.
What the Market Says
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