Some people go to car events and take lots of pictures of the cars on display; others seem less interested in the actual cars but contort themselves up and down, or side to side, in order to take a picture of a car mascot. But back in the 1920s and ‘30s, it was not the famous badges of these revered cars which the powerful and rich of France wanted to display, it was the actual cars themselves!
According to the author of A History of Cars written for youth, the first “hood ornament” was a sun-crested falcon (to bring good luck) mounted on Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s chariot.
A hood / bonnet ornament or car mascot is a specially crafted model of something which symbolizes a car company-like a badge, located on the front center portion of the hood. In the early years automobiles had their radiator caps outside of the hood and on top of the grille. The hood ornament was born as a way of decorating the cap. Hood ornaments or car mascots were popular in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s with many automakers fitting them to their vehicles. Moreover, a healthy business was created in the supply of accessory mascots available to anyone who wanted to add a hood ornament or car mascot to their automobile.
These objects were often intricate works of art and today are highly prized by collectors.
EXAMPLES OF HOOD ORNAMENTS INCLUDE
• Archer on Pierce-Arrow cars
• Crest and Wreath on Cadillac cars
• Leaping jaguar on Jaguar cars
• Lion rampant on Peugeot cars
• Ram’s head on Dodge cars and trucks
• Rocket on Oldsmobile cars
• Spirit of Ecstasy on Rolls-Royce Motors cars
• Three shields on Buick cars
• Three-pointed star surrounded by a circle on Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks
The best-known glass mascots were made by René Lalique in France, but other sellers or producers of glass mascots include Sabino in France, Red Ashay in England, and Persons Majestic in the U.S. The latter two had their products made in Czechoslovakia. The Lalique company, like Louis Lejeune, is one of the few survivors from this era of motoring.
All mascots were mounted with Breves Gallery mounts of two basic sizes- larger bases to fit the larger size mascots, and a smaller version to fit the smaller mascots.
The full Breves Gallery Knightsbridge address was always impressed on the outside of the illuminated base types. Two different mounting rings were used. Virtually all had a cut to accommodate the types of mascot that obviously were too big to allow a solid ring to pass over the body of the piece. To actually fit this ring, one has to prise the ring gently to position the ring around the base, then grip tightly and hopefully line up the ring thread to the base.
The problem is that with the mascot being glass, and the ring being made of brass, then nickel or chrome plated, it is very difficult to complete this operation without damaging the lip of the base, thus spoiling the piece forever. Simple red rubber washers were provided to assist the mascot to sit snugly on to the base, but over the years these usually perished away, and were then discarded. The danger of damage is also great when finally tightening the ring even when fitted over the base- obviously when the mascot was used on the car whilst driving on the road, the slightest pressure on an over tightened or slack mount would result in a serious base fracture. Add to this the obvious problems associated from heat generated from the inside bulb, and one can see why so few pieces actually used on cars whilst driving have survived intact. There is now a strong collectors market for hood ornaments and car mascots. Sculptors
such as Bazin, Paillet, Sykes, Renevey, and Lejeune all created finely detailed sculptures in miniature.
MASCOTS OF PARTICULAR NOTE
The first Lalique mascot was commissioned by the Citroen company in 1925, the ‘5 horses’, for the model 5CV. There followed 27 more depicting horses’ heads, various bird and animal forms,
nude figures, and even a shooting star. The mascots were made mostly in clear glass, satin finish, frosted finish, varying degrees of tinting of amethyst and pink hues, and in a variety of
colours: purple, blue, amber, brown topaz, grey, and also in opalescent glass ranging from deep blue to milky white opalescence. Sometimes a yellow opalescence was used with even a ruby topaz central core being used on the Small Cock. Sometimes staining was added to enhance the line of the piece.
Only one mascot was produced in two versions – the Horse’s head, Longchamps – unfortunately this can cause much confusion as they are actually quite different, but only one was shown in
the 1932 catalogue. The other, more angular, piece was produced later and probably in smaller numbers as very few have survived. The third horse’s head, Epsom, is one of the horse thrusting forward as if to pass some race finishing post, and obviously appealed to many ‘gentlemen of the turf’ of the time. The rarest production mascot is certainly the fox with only a few known examples surviving. The most famous and largest is the ‘Spirit of the Wind’, which epitomises Art Deco styling, and was used in the 1928 Paris Motor Salon, mounted on a Minerva. At 10in long it would grace the bonnet of even the largest limousine of the day.
The most infamous mascot is certainly the Eagle’s head, only because it was often fitted to Nazi officers’ staff cars. The Greyhound is a noncommercial model originally designed (according
to the Catalogue Raisonne) for presentation to the Prince of Wales (King Edward VIII, son of King George V, was Prince of Wales from 1910 until 1936). The example shown in the reference book by Felix Marcilhac is unsigned. The 1931 Yearbook of The Studio states that this model was designed for a younger brother of the Prince of Wales, Prince George (Albert), who later became King George VI and father to the current Queen Elizabeth II. It is the rarest of all Lalique mascots. At least two examples exist, one signed example is badly damaged on the base and foot.
The best design for illumination is the Large Dragonfly, the veining of the wings standing out particularly well when used in conjunction with a Breves mount and coloured filter. For lovers of the female form two fine models were designed, Chrysis and Vitesse. Vitesse is a sensuous nude leaning forward in the wind, symbolising speed, coming to best effect in blue opalescent glass. Chrysis is a backward leaning nude designed in sensuous abandon, her fingers entwined in her streaming hair.
Some of the mascots were used more as paperweights. The Small Cock is actually far more suited for this purpose as the claws extend over the base, thus making it very difficult to fit to
the Breves mounts. Three pieces were produced in a flat disc plane, and are very different from the rest of the range: The St. Christopher, of course, the patron saint of travellers and possibly the commonest piece; the Archer; and the Greyhound. All three of these have the smaller base size, and would use a split collar mount. René Lalique used much insight in producing
such a wide range to choose from. One can see that the Boar was obviously meant for the hunting fraternity. The Fish for the fishermen, and so on, but some were very odd choices, like the
Frog; but again, the humorous and fertile mind of René Lalique was used to continue to interest potential clients with very unusual adornments to their cars.
The actual numbers produced are unknown, with, unfortunately, no records existing at the present day Lalique factory. Over the past decade, many have turned up at auctions or in antique
shops and are now eagerly sought after by glass and decorative art collectors world-wide, plus car enthusiasts wishing to own a part of motoring history. Often they turn up in auction from
deceased estates, having lain in dusty corners in lofts or motor houses when the once proud owners no longer had need for them.
Nowadays, they are very rare indeed and fewer and fewer are turning up in auctions, as the new owners do not wish to discard their treasured acquisitions. As the range was great in the 1930’s, the original purchaser had a large choice, and, of course, in their day they were expensive. The more costly pieces were obviously produced in lesser numbers, including, of course, the fox, the owl, the guinea hen, the Epsom, the comet, the peacock’s head and the ram’s head. All others were bought in greater numbers with possibly the falcon, boar, St. Christopher and the small cock being the most common.
COLOUR AND TINTING
As so few were produced in colour, the chance of obtaining one is very minimal and it is a quest that could go on for a lifetime. Slightly easier to find are the tinted examples, though
again few were very strongly tinted. Not many were made in opalescent glass, though again here the subject matter is the deciding factor in present day prices. When two pieces sometimes
found in opalescent glass differ greatly, i.e. the humble fish and the stylish Vitesse, then obviously the Vitesse is the greater prize, and the value considerably higher.
As they are so beautiful and rare compared with today’s mass production, these mascots are greatly sought after by fastidious collectors who seek only perfect examples – this is now beginning to force the rarer examples to higher levels. Three factors govern their value – the rarity of the actual piece, the colour or tinting factors, and, of course, the condition.
As the mascots were made specifically as car ornaments and not as paperweights, and were usually mounted on the radiator, many were damaged by careless owners opening their bonnets without care and thus chipping the piece. The Spirit of the Wind hair tip is especially vulnerable in this area and its value varies greatly with even the minutest chip taking many hundreds of pounds from its value. Many pieces have suffered damage in their lives and many have been ground by skillful hands over the years, and it takes an experienced eye to spot this. Sometimes pieces turn up for sale offered as perfect by their owners, who are quite unaware of their imperfections; it is wise to tread carefully when contemplating a purchase. In time, if you are lucky enough to handle these at auctions or from antique dealers, you will soon be able to spot the vulnerable points. Usually the piece most likely to have had some damage or grinding are those pieces designed originally with delicate points or thin edges.
Most mascots are clearly marked on the base with ‘R. LALIQUE’ either moulded or etched, or sometimes sandblasted on to the piece. Some of the pieces have ‘LALIQUE’ moulded; the Small Dragonfly is one such example. Post-war Lalique car mascots were also made by the Lalique factory, the glass usually frosted and ‘LALIQUE’ sandblasted onto the bases; sometimes ‘FRANCE’ was also used. The Chrysis and Perch are very commonly found but were really sold as paperweights and not for use on cars. In this respect, the Chrysis soon had the mounting base made totally solid without the need for an insert ‘ring’ in the glass; the pre-war examples needed this for use in conjunction with the Breves mount.
As the Lalique factory still produces seven paperweights today, which were originally made as car mascots – Chrysis, eagle’s head, small cock, boar, perch, St. Christopher, and the cock’s
head – then inexperienced novice collectors are sometimes fooled by unscrupulous sellers into parting with money on modern pieces worth between 70 and 150 pounds, and available from high quality glass retailers. They are of course all marked clearly by the Crystal Lalique factory ‘LALIQUE FRANCE’ in script lightly etched on the bases of the pieces, and the glass is usually frosted and whiter than the pre-war ones. Very easy to spot after handling pre-war examples, which has a greyer effect. One exception is the St. Christopher made in the 1930’s in clear glass with the ‘R. LALIQUE’ moulded signature, but still continued in production until 1987. This was still using the same moulded signature with the addition of the modern etched signature as well. It is now produced from a new mould in the same design but, luckily, without the moulded signature – these are also slightly thinner than their pre-war counterparts,
and of course made from modern crystal glass.
As with all successful products, it was not long before other rival firms decided to cash in on Lalique’s success, sometimes blatantly copying his designs. In the UK. Red Ashay and Warren
Kessler produced their own designs, some being loosely based on Lalique pieces – the Red Ashay Vitesse being an obvious example.
In France the Sabino, Etling and Model companies were also starting to produce glass mascots in small numbers, but they were all again inferior and none matched the perfection of Lalique
production techniques and design genius. Other variations are also sometimes encountered, with some as probably as rare as some of the rarer Lalique pieces themselves – there is a Horses
head, Spirit of the Wind and Eagles Head that was marketed in the thirties by the ‘Persons Majestic Manufacturing Company’ from Worcester, Massachusetts USA, as a direct rival to Lalique
and for the US market. These mascots were actually made under licence in Czechoslovakia at the time, and some examples also carry the ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ sandblasted signature under the base. These are now collectors items in their own right, and are found in highly tinted yellow/green glass. They have ‘Persons Majestic Company, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA’ in a raised moulded factory stamping around the top edge of the base, and have a most noticeable cut out on the base section of the Victoire version, where the shape of the lower edge of the hairline is noticeably different where it meets the neck.
Be aware also today of a few modern Czechoslovakian design pieces – these are being imported into department stores world-wide and are loosely based copies of the original Lalique designs. So far two types – horses heads and Spirit of the Wind – have appeared, always mounted on black square resin bases and priced at around 50 pounds each. Of course, even here devious dealers have removed the glass from its base, added spurious Lalique signatures and tried to pass them off as genuine. Luckily the Spirit of the Wind lower hair line curve differs totally from the Lalique original, and of course the finish is abysmal, cheaply mass produced, badly moulded and finished frosted modern glass.
With items as desirable as Lalique mascots, there are bound to be attempts made to copy his mastery of fine glass, and in 1990 saw the first; a ram’s head in a multicolour opaque glass with even an ‘R. LALIQUE’ moulded signature inserted in the glass. The designer of this piece obviously did not know how to produce an exact copy of Lalique’s version, so he designed his
own ram, complete with similar style to the horns and even encased the lower portion of the glass in a metal mount. Luckily this piece has now been examined by a reputable auction house
and it is doubtful if similar items will ever appear.
During the past few years, a few deep purple coloured pieces have appeared at auctions in the UK, USA and France. These apparently started life in Australia and filtered into the French, Japanese, USA and UK trade. This odd colour was produced by sending Cobalt 80 irradiation through authentic Lalique clear glass mascots, turning them into an extremely deep purple colour. This was publicly exposed in a High Court action on 14-12-98 in London. Buyers should be very wary when they are offered perfect purple mascots.
It all started with the use of a leaping cat in the 1930s, after William Lyons renamed the Swallow Sidecar Co. to Jaguar. Some owners had their own mascots made, as hood ornaments became known after they stopped being radiator caps. Lyons disapproved, and I can see why. Appropriately aggressive, but Jaguars are known for grace and it’s not quite graceful. Some artists have trouble capturing the big cats. Lions are a popular motif in judaica, often flanking the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Soon after, Lyons had automotive artist F. Gordon Crosby design an official mascot, which has become known simply as the “leaper”. Today it’s the symbol of the company, gracing its cars in one way or another (its profile currently adorns the rear decklid of the XF and XJ), its logo, and its buildings.
Of course Jaguar was not the only company that used hood ornaments. There were Plymouths with sailing ships, Chryslers with wings, and Packards with cormorants. Figurines like Rolls- Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy or Packard’s earlier Goddess of Speed were an important way of establishing a brand identity. As he started to plot Lincoln’s brand, Edsel Ford decided to let
Lincoln go to the dogs.
Until the mid 1920s, Lincoln offered a variety of radiator caps/hood ornaments. It was a time when car owners would also fit their own mascots, like those made of glass by Lalique. As Edsel Ford got more involved with Lincoln, though the company continued to use Leland designs and engines into the 1930s, he wanted to give the company his own stamp, so he commissioned
Gorham silversmiths to design Lincoln a greyhound hood ornament. Production ornaments were made using the lost wax method, just as Rolls-Royce did with their mascots, cast in brass and then chrome plated.
Edsel specifically chose a greyhound because in his mind, and in many potential consumers’ minds, the breed stood for speed, stamina and beauty. It might not have the poetic ring of Jaguar’s “grace, pace and space”, but speed, stamina and beauty have sold a lot of cars. Collecting motoring memorabilia – anything from mascots and badges to headlights and horns – is
one of the fastest growing hobbies today. Visit antique fairs, auctions & build a relationship with antique dealers to source rare pieces to start a collection or to add to an existing collection.
Car mascots have become the apex of collecting, particularly in terms of desirability & price. The most collectables adorned car bonnets come from the 1910’s to the 1930’s. Most collectable mascots include: animals, characters & figures, manufacturer mascots such as Rolls Royce’s legendary “Spirit of Ecstasy” and advertising mascots such as Michelin’s “Mr Bibendum.”
Lively, characteful or dramatic poses are particularly sough-after. Early mascots were usually made from brass, bronze and alloys having come in later A good level of detail and original plating with good patination increases desirability.