Revved Up

Dr. Arthur Gilbert remembers exactly when his love affair with automobile advertising began. It was an ad for the Nash Ambassador in a January 1954 issue of “Time.” The teenage Gilbert saw the ad for the red four-door sedan, photographed against a scenic Arizona landscape, and he was hooked.

Today, Dr. Gilbert is coordinator of the Adjunct Graduate Program at Wilmington University’s downstate campuses, and the proud owner of a massive collection of automobile ads dating back to the carriages and wagons of the 1880s. The collection, which he plans to donate to the University for display at the Dover campus, extends to automobile books, magazines, die cast models of vehicles, even riding clothes. He estimates that it comprises 50,000 items.

In accumulating his collection, he’s also become an expert on the history of the automobile, and for the past few years he has shared that knowledge through the WilmU Library website in the form of “Dr. Art’s Auto Ramblings.” The “Ramblings,” which began as a two-page newsletter for monthly meetings of the Historical Vintage Car Club of Delaware, now run 300, 400, even 500 pages each. The library digitizes the articles, posts them, and catalogs them.

They’ve become an important resource for researchers worldwide, according to Library Director Jim McCloskey. “This is in keeping with one of the University’s strategic initiatives — Expanding Opportunity and increasing the visibility of the University,” McCloskey says. “It’s very exciting for that reason as well as the fact that, while the traditional role of the library is as a collector, we’ve become a de facto publisher. And there are very few libraries that focus on the topic of automobile advertising.”

Dr. Gilbert does most of his research and writing on weekends. His current focus: an article about defunct automobiles from the 1920s and ‘30s. So far, he has about 400 pages of typed notes.

Says the indefatigable 81-year-old: “I estimate that this large one will take me about a year to do. I’m hoping to complete it by August.” WU