The Majestic Lalique Mascots

By Tony Wraight

René Lalique was always experimenting-producing vases, statues, dinnerware and so on-and in the late 1920s, he added car mascots to his production. Twenty-nine mascot designs were created 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, and the Breves name was placed on the side of the mounting. Priced from two pounds twelve and sixpence (about $5) for a mounted Victoire or "Spirit of the Wind", Breves had the world rights to market Lalique mascots.

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 colors (purple, blue, amber, brown topaz, gray 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, which was used on the Small Cock mascot. Sometimes, staining was added to enhance the line of the piece.

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 epitomizes Art Deco styling and was used in the 1928 Paris Motor Salon, mounted on a Minerva. At 10 inches in length, it would grace the bonnet of even the largest limousine of the day.

A "one off" greyhound was made for His Royal Highness Prince George of England, in about 1931 for his own personal use.

Some of the mascots were used more often 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 disk and are very different from the rest of the range: the St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and possibly the commonest piece; the Archer; and the Greyhound.

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.

Mounting & Illumination. All mascots were mounted with Breves Gallery mounts of two basic sizes, and the full Breves Gallery Knightsbridge address was always impressed on the outside of the illuminated base types. Two different mounting rings were used, and virtually all had a cut to accommodate mascots that were too big to allow a solid ring to pass over the body. One has to pry the ring gently into position around the base, then hopefully line up the ring thread to the base. It is very difficult to do this without damaging the lip of the base, thus spoiling the piece forever. Simple red rubber washers were provided for the mascot to sit snugly onto the base, but over the years, these usually perished away and were discarded.

The danger of damage is also great when finally tightening the ring. While 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 problem associated from heat generated from the inside illumination bulb, and one can see why so few pieces actually have survived intact.

A 6- or 12- volt festoon bulb was usually wired directly into a simple brass plug in the side of the mount and then into the car wiring. The beauty of interior illumination was further enhanced by an assortment of colored filters available at extra charge in blue, red, green, mauve, white and amber. These were made of thick plastic, but over the years, most warped and then were consumed by heat generated by the bulb. For those wishing the ultimate in lighting spectacle, the Breves mount could be fitted with a separate dynamo, sending various intensities of light through the mascot as the car gathered speed-thus producing undoubtedly the most spectacular adornment to a car bonnet that could ever have been devised.

Many of the mascots were very large and must have given the driver quite a challenge in driving at night. In fact, I actually wired up a Victoire to the front of a 1929 Bentley 8 litre and drove this car through central London at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night to try it out. The effect was truly awe inspiring, but it was just as well there were few cars driving that memorable night.

Rarity. The actual numbers produced are unknown, with 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 worldwide, plus car enthusiasts wishing to own a part of motoring history. Sometimes, they turn up in an auction from deceased estates. But fewer and fewer are showing up in auctions, as the new owners do not wish to discard their treasured acquisitions.

The more costly pieces were those produced in lesser numbers, including the Fox, Owl, Guinea Hen, Epsom, Comet, Peacock's Head and 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.

Color and Tinting. Since very few were produced in color, 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.

Value. 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 color 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, and its value varies greatly; the most minuscule chip will take 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 to hide the damage-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 Lalique mascots, you will soon spot the vulnerable points. Since any damage on a Lalique mascot represents a factor in the final price, it is always advisable to remove a mount from a mascot to examine the base minutely for defects.

Signatures. Most mascots are clearly marked on the base with "R. LALIQUE", either molded or etched, or sometimes sandblasted onto the piece. Some of the pieces have "LALIQUE" molded; 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.
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), inexperienced collectors are sometimes fooled by unscrupulous sellers into parting with money on modern pieces worth between 70 and 150 pounds ($150-$277), which are 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 base, and the glass is usually frosted and whiter than the pre-war ones. Very easy to spot after handling pre-war examples, which have a grayer effect.

Copies. 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 U.K., 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 inferior, and none matched the perfection of Lalique production techniques and design genius. A Horse's Head, Spirit of the Wind and Eagles Head were marketed in the thirties in the U.S. by the Persons Majestic Manufacturing Company of Worcester, Mass., as a direct rival to Lalique.

These mascots were actually made under license in Czechoslovakia, and some examples also carry the "Made in Czechoslovakia" sandblasted signature. These are now collector's items in their own right and are found in highly tinted yellow/green glass.

Fakes. Be aware also today of a few modern Czechoslovakian design pieces. These are 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 ($92) 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's lower hairline curve differs totally from the Lalique original, and of course, the finish is abysmal, cheaply mass produced, badly molded, and finished in frosted modern glass.

During the past few years, a few deep purple-colored pieces have appeared at auctions in the U.K., U.S. and France. These apparently started life in Australia and filtered into these markets. This odd color was produced by sending Cobalt 80 irradiation through authentic Lalique clear glass mascots, turning them an extremely deep purple color. This was publicly exposed in London. Buyers should be very wary when they are offered perfect purple mascots. I, myself, have encountered examples produced using clear glass examples of the Cock's Head, Coq Nain, Eagle's Head, Frog, Falcon, Small Dragonfly, Sirene and the Victoire.

Should you enter into the Lalique marketplace, proceed with caution, but also with the knowledge that owning an original René Lalique car mascot, even the humblest example, is a part of history and represents the style and grandeur of motoring history never to be repeated.


Tony Wraight is a collector and seller of Lalique and other mascots from the South Coast of England, and the owner of Finesse Fine Art (www.finesse-fine-art.com). He can be contacted at tony@finesse-fine-art.com or 07973886937.

10/2005

The Mermaid was actually a paperweight, too.


Peacock's Head, extremely rare in turquoise.

Comet,
none known to exist.

 

Perch, one of a few colored mascots.

Victoire or Spirit of the Wind

Falcon, usually clear,
beware of purple examples.

Epsom, Horse's Head

Cock, in clear, amethyst and smoked with ruby center.

Examine the Dragonfly's fragile wings for breaks/chips.

The regal Hawk's Head in clear, opalescent, smoked and amethyst.

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