1908 was a pivotal year for the motorcar as it was the year the Ford Model T was first introduced, bringing the motorcar to the hands of ordinary people. Up to that point, the automobile had primarily been a source of entertainment of the wealthy but cars were now rapidly replacing horse-drawn carriages in the streets, including as a means of transporting goods. Other car manufacturers were suddenly faced with a challenge to change with the times or get out of the way of the Ford juggernaut.
Henry K. Holsman, along with his partner C.H. Bryan was one of those early pioneers. He and Bryan formed the Holsman Automobile Company in Chicago in 1903. They set about producing a high-wheel automobile which at first found favor with buyers, particularly farmers, doctors or anyone who had to cover ground where roads were scarce, as the high clearance allowed them to traverse all sorts of terrain and even ford through high water. But by 1908, with the Model T coming on strong and Holsman refusing to deviate from his design, the company was not long for this world.
In 1908, William Ayers a successful salesman for the Honesdale Shoe Company of Sussex, New Jersey, took delivery of his Holsman H-11 Touring via a train directly from the factory. Immediately after delivery, Mr. Ayers removed the Holsman’s rear seat so he could put the car to work hauling the latest footwear about Sussex County. The story of this remarkable car continues when Mr. Ayers’s son, R.D., took after his father’s successes, leading the Farmers Union Telephone Company and serving as a prominent local politician. He inherited his father’s Holsman, which then passed to his brother. In April of 1964, it was acquired from its original owner’s family by the previous owner, a resident of the Sussex County town of Branchville.
Despite being remarkably well preserved (the rear seat had since been reunited with the body) the car was restored in the late 1960s by Lawrence Stillwell of Goodville, Pennsylvania. Following the restoration, it was entered in the 1964 AACA Eastern Fall Meet here at Hershey, Pennsylvania, earning a 2nd place award in Class 2. The car is believed not to have been shown publicly since but has remained in the same collection for over 50 years— and has rather amazingly, remained in Sussex County from the day it was delivered.
While it has been half a century since its one and only restoration and the car now presents with a healthy patina, it is remarkably well preserved. The brushed-on black paint, patent leather fenders and black leather cockpit have been treated to recent, careful freshening. The brass lamps, horn and fittings have been polished to a beautiful luster and the car carries a wonderful, correct appearance, including its various badges and striping. Included in the sale are accompanying pieces of historical documentation, including assorted original and reprinted manuals, and the bill of sale from Mr. Ayers.
With only two family owners in 107 years, this charming Holsman Touring is a fascinating piece of automotive history, even though it may seem like tiny spec in the huge shadow cast by the Ford Model T of the same era. The incredible story or Mr. Ayer’s Holsman is ready to be carried on by its next keeper – only the third in over a century.