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Ornaments were attached to horses and carts as good luck charms. At the dawn of motoring, ornaments became mascots mounted on external radiator caps. Mascots were fashionable from the 1890s through the mid-1930s with over 7,000 different mascots manufactured. Nearly 500 companies designed, fabricated, or sold mascots. Almost any topic could be an inspiration: Greek and Roman mythology, comic characters, and animals. Even a paper weight or flagpole finial could become a mascot. Many US mascots were used to identify a specific car brand.
Mascots were sometimes designed by famous sculptors or companies, especially in France, such as Lalique. Finer mascots were cast from bronze and brass in France or the UK and often plated with silver or nickel, later with chromium. Later mascots were made of metal such as zinc alloy for mass production. Mascots were usually sold through jewelry stores and specialty shops. Mascot designers or manufacturers are not always known. Often, mascots do not have identifying markings. There are also unofficial copies with only minor changes.
By the mid-1930s, mascots began disappearing, largely because auto companies began installing radiators under the car’s hood. The companies turned to more streamlined and cost-effective mass-produced hood ornaments to identify their brands. Today, only Rolls-Royce still uses a mascot, the famous Spirit of Ecstasy.
Saint George and the Dragon
Carl Thenn (pseudonym for Carl Kauba, 1865-1922, Austria) designed this mascot around 1920. It is nickel plated bronze, 219mm high with radiator cap, 145mm wide. This is a large, heavy, and very finely detailed figure of a fully dressed knight with a flowing cape riding an armored horse that is rearing over a semi-supine, writhing dragon. The helmed knight wields a sword in his right hand and holds the horse’s reins in his left. The dragon’s mouth is wide open exposing its teeth and long tongue. The dragon has been pierced through by a lance and has it forearms drawn back wide. The dragon and horse are set on a rocky outcropping which is mounted on a period radiator cap. C. Thenn is signed on the base’s right side. A “Thenn copywrite Vienna foundry” mark is a stamped on the rocky outcropping front. The radiator cap is mounted on a turned wooden base.
Saint George and the Dragon continues to be a very popular subject, especially for desk art. The legend of Saint George, the patron saint of England and other countries, says he was born in Cappadocia (Turkey), miraculously survived many attempts on his life, and lived in Palestine during the 3rd century where he died by beheading defending his religious beliefs. He may never have been to England. This figure is an example of fine art that has been repurposed as an automotive mascot.
Mascots are added to Miles Collier Collections on a regular basis. Normally, the pieces are acquired through auctions to help build a first-class collection. The mascot is accessioned into the Library, photographed, and tagged with an identifying label. Volunteers research details about the mascot using books, the internet, and sales literature. In some instances, outside experts may be contacted for additional information.
An electronic catalog record is created, building on the accession information. It summarizes the physical description of the item and the research including stories associated with the mascot. The description notes signatures, foundry stamps, special details, and any other markings. Some mascots are then scheduled for display in the museum’s permanent exhibit.
There are over 240 examples of automotive mascots in the collection. This is Coiled Serpent, from 1930 by Desmo, a well-known British motor accessory company. Although animals were common inspirations for automotive mascot designers, the serpent is somewhat unique.View a closeup of Coiled Serpent