Lalique car mascots
By the time Lalique opened his first factory at Combs La Ville, forty miles east of Paris, his order books were full of notable clients. The factory closed during World War 1, but with its reopening at the end of the war came worldwide recognition that his creativity and style were unique amongst fine glass designers.
Lalique was always experimenting, producing vases, statues, dinnerware, etc., and adding mascots to his production in the late twenties. A full range of twenty nine mascot designs was produced to grace the sleek cars of Hispano Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Bugatti, Bentley, etc. All were made from high quality glass, and provision was made for them to be illuminated by special metal mounts. The popularity of the car mascots was such that Lalique commissioned the Breves Gallery in Knightsbridge to supply them to British customers, with their name placed on the side of the mounting. Priced from 2 pounds twelve and sixpence for an unmounted frog, to seven pounds seven shillings and sixpence for a mounted Victoire or ‘Spirit of the Wind’, Breves had the world rights to market Lalique mascots. They offered the pieces as follows:
The first Lalique mascot was commissioned by the Citroën company in 1925, the ‘5 horses’, for the model 501. 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 opalescent 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.
When lit properly through the Breves mount, even those manufactured in clear glass would take on a totally different look. They could be further enchanced by an assortment of coloured filters available at extra charge in blue, red, green, mauve, white and amber. For those wishing for the ultimate lighting spectacle, the Breves mount could be fitted with a purpose built dynamo, varying the intensity of light through the mascot as the car gathered speed; thus producing undoubtedly the most spectacular and awe inspiring adornment to a car bonnet that could ever be devised. If one can imagine the effect produced for both the driver of the car and to opposing traffic on the highway, it is little wonder that few were actually used on a regular basis. Many of the mascots were also very large and must have given the driver quite a challenge in driving the cars at night. A truly awe-inspiring sight indeed. The rarest 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. A ‘one off’ greyhound was made for His Royal Highness Prince George of England, in about 1931 for his own personal use.
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. When produced in blue opalescence this piece must have portrayed ultimate flamboyance and sensuous provocation, and would undoubtedly have raised many eyebrows. The drive in the country for the privileged car owner of the day with his female co-driver must have caused quite a stir while driving through the small country villages, and doubtless led for a pleasant evening’s entertainment to the lucky couple.
Though the range of car mascots numbers 27 in the 1932 Lalique catalogue, Breves Gallery offered the Small Mermaid in their own catalogues as a car mascot, and also are believed to have offered the larger Mermaid, making a total of 29 in all. These two pieces were actually offered as paperweights from Lalique, but the bases are exactly the same two sizes as all others in the range, and appropriate for use with any fine car; these are especially pleasing in opalescent glass.
Only one mascot was produced in two versions – the Horses’ 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 horses’ 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.
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 edge of the base, thus making it very difficult to fit to the Breves mounts. Three pieces were produced in a flat disk 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. Some mounts were made just to fit certain types – some were suited for a solid collar, like the five horses, where the collar could just fit over the leading horse’s hoof to then fit the base snugly. Actually it takes a steady hand to position some of the collar mountings, and often this is where small chips could be caused, thus spoiling the piece forever.
Rene 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 Rene Lalique was used to continue to interest potential clients with very unusual adornments to their cars.
As they are so beautiful and rare compared with today’s mass production, these mascots are greatly sought after by fastidous collectors who seek only perfect examples. This is now beginning – – – factors govern their value: the rarity of the actual piece, the colour or tinting factors, and of course the condition.
The actual numbers produced are unknown, with unfortunately no records existing with 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 worldwide, 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, 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 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 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 may have been ground by careless or skilful 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 damage and grinding is a piece designed originally with delicate points or thin edges. The Breves mounts were also the cause of many problems as it needed careful handling to fit the mascot to the mount and then onto the car; many owners unfortunately tightened the metal collar too tightly onto the mount, thus causing damage to the base of the piece. Also, when used on a car in their appropriate manner, now and again they loosened in the mount and when the car passed over bumps, many chips occurred to the base.
Of course, damage on Lalique also represents a factor in the final price of the piece, so it is always advisable to remove bases from mascots to examine bases minutely for defects there. It is actually a miracle that some survive in perfect condition to the present day.
Most mascots are clearly marked on the base with ‘R LALIQUE’ either moulded or etched, or sometimes sandblasted onto the piece. Some of the pieces have ‘LALIQUE’ moulded; the small dragonfly is one of these examples. Postwar 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 fish 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’ or glass: 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, 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 frosted and whiter than the pre-war ones but very easy to spot after handling the pre war glass, 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 which still continued in production until 1987. This was still using the same moulded signature, but 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 of modern crystal glass.
Be aware also today of a few modern Czechoslovakian design pieces these are being imported into department stores worldwide 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 it 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. 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 copy of Lalique’s Vitesse. In France the Sabino, Etling and Model companies were also starting to produce glass mascots in smaller numbers, but they were all again totally inferior and one missed the perfection of Lalique production techniques and design genius. Another variation is also sometimes encountered, but this is probably as rare as some of the rarer Lalique pieces themselves. This is a horse’s head that was made in the thirties by the ‘Pearsons Majestic Manufacturing Company’ from Worcester, Massachusetts USA, as a direct rival to Lalique and for the US market.
These are now collectors’ items in their own right, and tend to be found in yellowy green highly tinted glass, sometimes with spurious Lalique signatures.
With items as desirable as Lalique mascots, there are bound to be attempts made to copy his mastery of fine glass, and last year 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, so designed his own ram, complete with similar style to the horns and even encased the lower portion of 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 reappear.
Should you wish to enter into the Lalique market place please proceed with caution, but also with the knowledge, should you be lucky enough to own an original Rene Lalique car mascot, that even the humblest example is a part of history and represents the style and grandeur of motoring history never to be repeated.