Any Color So Long As It's Black

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“Any Color So Long as it’s Black”| by Peter Roberts. 144 pp. 12 1/2 in. x 91/4 in. (David & Charles Ltd., South Devon Howe, Newton Abbott, Devon. £5.95.)

This is a splendidly illustrated book that covers the first 50 years of automobile advertising. The theme is not new, for Lund Humphries did a similar book in 1970. But this one contains far more excellent reproductions of such advertising layouts, from the very earliest years to the 1930s. Whereas the earlier book was more concerned with the history of automotive advertising as such, the author of the David & Charles book, which is a fine “coffeetable” production in its own right, is interested in the cars which various artists have depicted, as well as with their publicity layouts and themes. While I am not normally enamoured of scissors-and-paste reproduction books, there is no other way to deal with the subject of this one, and the result is very attractive and of the greatest interest.

One would have thought that De Dion Bouton’s 1899 Wilhio painting of a woman with a baby at her breast would have shocked contemporary customers into buying elsewhere, instead of convincing them of the smooth ride obtained in a De Dion voiturette! This full-page picture, like many of the other illustrations, is in full colour. Many Ford and Fiat advertisements are used, the one of the 1923 racing Fiat that we reproduced recently and which can now be bought from Fiat, being reproduced in colour and in black and white. There are advertisements for shows and races, etc., as well as for cars, and the text outlines the history of both the motor car and its art-work, divided into periods, and concluding with a section devoted to “The World of RollsRoyce”. It will be of much interest to artists as well as to car enthusiasts.

From the formidable lady in the early Georges-Richard advertisement to the sleek advertising of Rolls-Royce in the mid-1930s, this is fascinating stuff. I am glad to see class-conscious Peerless layouts included, as undoubted period-pieces, that Packard’s twin-six joke against themselves is there, and that so are those classic Jordan Playboy layouts of which it is said Ogilvie and Mather made all their apprentice advertising executives learn them by heart, circa 1923; these have more than two pages devoted to them. Readers will want to take sides with or against the author as to whether a 1938-9 Mercedes-Benz advertisement shows an incorrect radiator grille and wrong headlamps, for its period, and perhaps take issue with him as to whether another artist had taken too much licence with an Americanised 1935 Renault he depicts.

There is something for most of us in this book—Morris enthusiasts will love the Morris taxi at a London railway terminus, patriots will enjoy the pre-war Dunlop themes, owners of the older Fords will like the cheek of some of Ford’s advertising of that period, and most of us would like to know the sophisticated young woman who had her own Fiat 509. The book belies its title in being a colourful offering, and just the thing for Christmas.—W.B.