Blast from the past: Automotive receipts from the early 1900s

These are little treasures #tbt
by Richard Wilhelm Ragodon | Jul 26, 2018

There are two vital archival materials that are collected and preserved for posterity. The first are the textual and non-textual records created by an individual, institution, or company. These are correspondences, reports, contracts and other agreements (textual); and photographs, illustrations, and memorabilia (non-textual). These are traditionally preserved for their significance and historical values. 

The other are ‘ephemera’—things which are normally discarded after use. Printed items include posters, broadsheets and other transaction records like receipts, and transport or movie tickets. Once upon a time, they were considered trash with no permanent value. Everything has changed. These items are being collected and even displayed in museums now.

Receipts as proof of payment for items bought, or for services received, have existed for thousands of years. Early samples date back to ancient times. The earliest receipts were even written on cuneiform clay tablets in ancient Mesopotamia. Eventually, receipts were  inscribed on plates, papyrus, and vellum. After paper was invented by the Chinese (around 105 A.D.) and eventually introduced worldwide via the Silk Road, it became the most popular receipt medium. It is still an in-demand material for writing notes, printing receipts, and for books.

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The oldest receipt discovered in the Philippines was a copperplate found in the delta of the Pagsanjan River in 1986 or thereabouts. The ancient inscription on the plate was eventually deciphered as a debt payment transaction receipt between a lender and a borrower. Named the ‘Laguna Copperplate Inscription’ record, it is accepted as the oldest Philippine textual record—a 10th Century document for that matter.

Barter was the norm during early local trade with others. However, the introduction of money and paper changed everything. Trade transactions since the Spanish period have been done using money as payments and receipts as proofs of of this. An additional change was the use of language. Originally in Spanish, transactions shifted to English, sometimes Tagalog, or other languages and dialects.

On local automotive heritage related items like receipts, various samples have been discovered. They vary based on the kind of transaction—acquisition of cars or parts, payments for services rendered such as automotive repair, use of toll facility or parking slot, and even redemption of traffic offense tickets.  All were also printed on paper in different dimensions (large to small) and designs (intricate to simple).

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The earliest one (our main photo at the beginning of this article) is a dealer-purchase receipt for a 1911 Hupmobile runabout car. A certain Ms. Hidalgo bought the car for P1,950 on April 30, 1911. The large format receipt has a superbly printed masthead design that is likely a continuation of a stationary design trend from the late 19th Century. The Spanish language inscription on the receipt is definitely written by a person with excellent penmanship. Also attached is a one peso revenue tax stamp for the document.

By the 1930s, intricately designed mastheads and formats were replaced by simple ones. Likewise, many inscriptions were made with the use of typewriters. Store or shop attendants usually scribbled using pencils on a generic receipt and or invoice papers for gasoline and parts acquisitions. Ballpens were not yet in the market. Fountain pens were reserved for and used only when signing official letters (offers, price quotations, service cost estimates, etc.). A fountain pen was considered a luxury item, even among field employees who delivered billing statements to clients everywhere. The use of pencils was carried on until the 1950s.

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Paper was scarce during World War II, so the backsides of unused stationeries and broadsheets were used. Many Japanese-sponsored Philippine government documents, including vehicle registration receipts, were printed on recycled paper then.

Automotive transaction receipts were varied during the 1950s. However, a single format was adapted per brand. The local dealer of Mercedes-Benz will definitely follow the design used in Germany, save for the difference in language. Other sellers, whether automobile units, parts suppliers, and gasoline dealers, also use internationally accepted transaction formats for uniformity. 

Receipts are still evolving. Some are printed by computers with added security features like embedded fibers or holograms. These can be seen on box labels. Order transactions are done online via credit card now. While less paper receipts are used, and perhaps even none at all in the near future, people will still continue to collect all kinds of automobilia—from enamel car-brand signs, to miniature payment receipts like expressway toll tickets. There will always be people who feel nostalgic. As some collectors are very impulsive or excessive, automotive heritage seekers will likely create museums, libraries, and archives.
New collectors will also sprout, but they have to careful not to buy fake items. In short: Buyers beware.

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PHOTO: Richard Wilhelm Ragodon
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