Michael T. Lynch
People often ask me what to do with the automotive memorabilia they have that they no longer want, but has historic value. It’s a tough question, because most museums do not have the staff to sort, index, scan and post or perform all the other tasks necessary to preserve material in a way that can be useful to researchers. My usual response is to sell it through eBay because if someone is willing to pay for it, they obviously want it, although some eBay lurkers are purchasing for resale. We will have recent news on the museum contribution conundrum in another article coming shortly.
Back in January 2011, I was preparing to move from Carmel, California to San Francisco. In an attempt to lighten the load, I ended up with 75 boxes of automotive magazines, press kits, correspondence, files, pictures, books, and other ephemera that I had not touched in years. I remembered that when I first got many of these items, I would get either a six pack of beer or, later in life, a bottle of wine and sit in my favorite chair and paw through them for hours. Now that I no longer used them, I wanted other people who wanted them to have the same experience. Money was a secondary consideration, but at the same time, I didn’t want to give away something that could be monetized.
After being in touch with two people who claimed to deal in used magazines and made multiple appointments but never showed up, I was running out of options. Then someone mentioned a fellow named Steve Fields. He turned out to live just a few blocks from my house in Carmel. After chatting with Steve on the phone, he informed me that he had sold collectible automotive items at events and online for many years. Steve takes a percentage of the sales price, but absorbs all the eBay, PayPal or Amazon fees as well as doing the scanning or photographing for presentation, packing and shipping, collecting the money and dealing with the occasional nut cases who trade in this merchandise.
Steve’s percentage was not cheap, but it seemed that by accessing a worldwide market, it was likely my goal of having the stuff end in the hands of people who would enjoy it as much as I had would be realized. Steve offered me two options, a flat up front payment or a percentage of whatever the archive would bring. I chose the latter, just to prolong our relationship and to be able to assist Steve with descriptions and histories of some of the more unusual items as he listed them. He picked up the boxes in a vintage Alfa Romeo.
It turned out to be an unforgettable experience. What I hadn’t reckoned on was that, over the years, I had thrown many long-forgotten non-automotive items into the boxes. Steve posted them as well. There was a trip on the Orient Express I hadn’t thought about for decades. Steve assembled a package that included the tickets, menus and a brochure telling what celebrities had been transported in the coach that I had traveled in. Then there was a load of Grateful Dead memorabilia including a string of backstage passes and some T-shirts that went for amazing sums, mostly to Japan – part of Steve’s reporting process is to tell you where the merchandise went. I was struck with the feeling that Steve, and regular visitors to his site, knew where I had been, at least on a monthly basis, for most of my adult life. Some things sold for less than I thought. Others provided pleasant surprises.
My father had once bought a late sixties Mercedes 200 from Josef Krips, the Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. It was one of the wonderful fin cars with a thermometer-style speedometer. When Dad got another one, he passed the 200 on to me. When I sold it, I removed the AAA license plate frame that probably dated from the fifties. It ended up in one of the boxes and Steve sold that for $89.
In the end, I realized well into five figures for items that many would have left at the curb for the trash man. Better yet, I still have an ongoing relationship with Fields and many of the remnants of events – goodie bags, posters, menus, credentials, programs, etc. – continue to find their way to Steve.
On top of that, he’s a real enthusiast with three vintage Alfas to prove it. These are all immaculate and last summer when I was announcing the second and third place class winners at Concorso Italiano, who should be in line for a second place trophy with one of his Duettos, but Steve. For a car that is driven often, this was an impressive performance at the largest gathering of Italian cars in the States.
Fields’ automotive journey paralleled many of ours. In his early teens, he was already reading Hot Rod, Car Craft and other rod and custom magazines. Then came the enlightenment. Fields’ next door neighbor in Richmond, Virginia had an Alfa Giulietta Sprint Veloce that he raced. One weekend, the neighbor invited Steve to accompany him and his son for a weekend of racing at Marlboro, Maryland in 1965. Steve was 14 at the time. The trip was a bit cramped with the two boys in the back of the Alfa that was stuffed with racing gear.
Upon arrival, Fields was fascinated by the variety of machinery. He watched the C/D Production car race from the first turn and when the cars came down the straight three wide, he was convinced that no one was going to make it through, although all did. Steve was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the event included a race long duel between two of the East’s best – Bruce Jennings in a Porsche Carrera Speedster and Bob Tullius in a Triumph TR4, both winners of multiple Sports Car Club of America National Championships.
Fields drove a 1965 MG B all through college, a feat that required learning a great deal about both maintenance and repair. After graduating, he drifted to FIATs and Alfas. After a short stint as a social worker counseling wayward youth, Fields turned his auto interest into a career in foreign car parts, starting with BAP-GEON. Living on Long Island and in Connecticut, Steve covered New York and New England. Then in 1979 another turn in the road came.Fields had been one of the winners of a sales promotion contest that took the winners to Long Beach for the U.S. Grand Prix. His winning trip there allowed him to see a Ferrari 1-2 with Villeneuve leading Scheckter, but it also began a love affair with California. When a BAP-GEON opening occurred, Steve moved to work at their West Coast headquarters in Los Angeles. Later acting as a manufacturers’ representative, he has lived in Sacramento, Santa Barbara and presently, Carmel.
A long time collector of memorabilia as well as cars, Steve was an early adaptor of the Internet and began selling on eBay in 1998. Always the complete professional, he has been a speaker at eBay’s campus multiple times as an example of how an eBay client should use their services. The company has also made tapes of Steve in action at his desk to show to employees. He now spends the bulk of his time on his Internet business. As my generation ages and downsizes, he should be looking at a successful future with no shortage of merchandise.
In addition to his automobilia business, Steve is presently helping with the organization of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club National Convention which will be held in Rohnert Park and at nearby Sonoma Speedway (formerly Infineon and before that, Sears Point). This event will take place July 8th through 12th, 2013.
To see Steve’s wares on eBay, go to the site and click on the Advanced tab at the right of the top navigation bar. Then scroll down to Sellers. Check the box “Only Show Items From” and then type into the blank box his eBay name, stevefieldsautomobilia. You can also contact Steve at email@example.com