What is a “cartifact” you may ask? Why it’s an artifact found in a car of course! Foreign items, things that are not supposed to be in the vehicle, can sometimes shed light on the history of a vehicle, the validity of a seller’s story or both. Such is the case with my ’52 Cadillac. Upon its purchase, I asked the seller what history he knew about the vehicle. I already knew he had owned it for about 6 years and during that time he did various repairs to the car, all of which were mechanical. I was told by the seller that previous to his purchase, the car sat in a garage in New Hampshire since the early 1960’s. The seller had some expired documentation dating from when he purchased it 6 years earlier from the state of New Hampshire. It was unfortunate that he had let it expire before obtaining the new paperwork for the vehicle, this would prove to be an aggravating task for me to resolve as its new owner.
Nevertheless, I had a story to go off of, the overall condition of the car led me to believe no different, there was no real sign of heavy use to make me think otherwise. Once the car was home, I was hoping that cleaning out the interior would allow us to find some documentation leading to a previous owner or at least tell us when the vehicle may have been used last. So what should you keep an eye out for when cleaning out an old car? Here is a short list to get things started;
.:: Money - Loose change, even bills all have dates on them. Change is probably the most common thing that can be found in any car. It falls between seats, under seats, in between consoles, falls into dashes, door panels, glove boxes, vents, you name it and you can probably find lost change in it. Although it’s never 100% accurate, it might get you to an approximate date as to when a vehicle was used last if it has been sitting for a long time.
.:: Cigarette Boxes - Another common item found in cars, crumpled up and kicked under seats, stuff in between them, under the spare tire, you’d be surprised where you can find garbage sometimes. Even if it’s a partial box and there is no Copyright date on it, these boxes changed design every so often. Take a picture and toss it on the net or see if you can find one that matches yourself, odds are you can get an approximate date for it.
.:: Any Papers - Anything with writing on it might have some sort of clues. Bank statements, junk mail, business cards, matchbooks, receipts, school work, this list could be endless. Even if it doesn’t have a date, check that business card and see if the place is still in business, if not when did it close? If so, is it still in the same location? Does the person whose name is on the card still work there? If a receipt has the item that was purchased on it, how much did it sell for? How much was the tax? Either of those can be researched to an approximate time frame. A little detective work can go a long way if you take the time to do it.
Again this topic could get very lengthy, but I think you have the gist at this point. When going through the Cadillac, I was not lucky enough to find any information linking it to a previous owner, no old registrations, no old insurance cards, nothing with a previous owner’s name on it. A handful of change was found, the latest date on any of the coins was 1959. Since I purchased the car off of someone who basically planned on restoring the car as I am, I have to assume they did a little cleaning out of their own, but most people just remove it all as “garbage” and do not take the time to sift through it and see if there is something useful in there. So the initial sweep turned up nothing really useful except some change, a fortune cookie fortune, a blank matchbook, and an old Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum wrapper.
Once the seats were removed, one small, slightly useful, very delicate piece of curled up paper was noticed half way stuck under the carpet. After it was removed and examined a little closer, it was found to be a old inspection sticker that had either been removed or had fallen off after the adhesive had dried up over the years. Although I could tell what it was based on the color, size and its markings, it was still extremely hard to read and I really didn’t think anything of it for nearly a year until I discovered it once again after cleaning off my desk. I decided to see what I could make of it and figured the best way to make it viewable was to unroll it onto a piece of clear packing tape, it worked like a charm. Once flattened out, it became more legible and seemed worth investigating a little more. The next thing I did was scan it in to see if a little Photoshop magic could clear things up.
Despite searching, I was unable to find a picture of an old New Hampshire inspection decal of the same year. It clearly says “October Inspection” and obviously NH in the middle. I have to assume the “9” is from 19xx and that bottom line actually read; 19 HN XX. With the style font, I have to also assume that it’s a “6” to the right of the H, since a 5 would show a gap and 7 you would only see the tip at the top, I suppose it could be an 8, but this decal looks a little older than the 1980’s, plus I was able to find 1980’s inspection decals, they are nothing similar.
The text on the back gave a few clues to help narrow things down even further. I found that the “V. Gould” was actually Ralph V. Gould, who was appointed Director of Safety in 1949 and in 1961 was appointed as the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, serving until 1967. So if he was still the Director as it says on the back of this decal and that digit next to the H is in fact a 6, that would narrow it down to 1960 or 1961 being the only years that this inspection sticker could represent.
Based on the story told to me about the vehicle, the coins, the inspection decal, everything seems to point to the early 60’s as the last time the car was actually in use and it could have very well sat in a garage from that point until the early ’00’s when it was finally resold. The condition of the frame and floor pans only reinforces the facts as they were very clean, the frame being nearly mint and almost completely rust free, same for the pans. If it was only on the road for 10 years, then 6300 miles per year is what was put on this car before it was parked.