Today, most luxury car owners wouldn’t dream of removing the iconic badges from their automobiles, but in the 1920’s and 1930’s, that’s exactly what they were doing. In the decade preceding WWII, the hood ornament of a vehicle became the ultimate status symbol of the aristocracy, and the glass mascots of famed French René Lalique were the most prestigious of all.
A Brief History of Lalique Mascots
The cars of the 1920’s and 30’s were built with radiator caps on the hood. Unlike later models when the radiator was moved under the hood, these early style cars offered a natural, prominent perch for hood ornaments, and with the rise of the crystal Art Deco style ornaments designed by René Lalique, they became the must have symbol of wealth and status.
These ornaments – or mascots as they became popularly called – were found only on the highest-value luxury cars, such as Rolls-Royce, Bugatti, Mercedes, Delahaye and Bentley automobiles. They were expensive at around $50 each (approximately $600 – $900 today) and they were quite fragile, so many luxury car drivers only strapped their Lalique mascots onto their radiator caps on special occasions or for car shows like the Concours d’Elegance.
For this reason, René Lalique had Breves Galleries of London design metal mounts for the mascots, so that they could be displayed when they were not mounted on the owner’s car.
The Man behind the Designs
René Lalique was a French glass designer who created everything from automobile mascots to vases, jewelry, glass art, chandeliers, perfume bottles, and clocks. Born in 1860 in a small French village called Ay, Lalique’s family later moved to Paris where René attended the Collège Turgot and began learning art and design at just twelve years of age. In the mid-1870’s he was apprenticed to Louis Aucoc, a prestigious jeweler and goldsmith and also enrolled at École des Arts Decoratifs. Later, he would spend two years at the Crystal Palace School of Art in London, where he continued to hone his craft.
Returning from London, René worked as a freelance jewelry artist before opening his own glass and jewelry workshop in 1885. He became recognized for his Art Nouveau jewelry in the 1890’s, and went on to manufacture perfume bottles to huge success, but it was in the 1920’s when he began working in Art Deco style that he became truly famous.
It was at this time that he began creating vases, statues, clocks, tableware – and the infamous crystal car mascots. By the 1930’s his company had grown to 600 employees and his glassware was being sold across Europe and the Americas.
During WWII, the Germans partly closed the Lalique factory in Wingen-sur-Moder, and the production records were lost, creating much speculation about how many Lalique mascots were actually created.
René Lalique died in May 1945, but the company continued to thrive under the direction of his son, Marc Lalique, and later his granddaughter Marie-Claude until 1994 when it was sold to French company Poche.
About The Mascots
There were 29 Lalique ornaments designed as mascots. The first was the Cinq Chevaux (Five Horses) in 1925, which was a five-horse silhouette designed for Citröen to represent the latest five-horsepower 5CV. This was the only mascot ever designed for a specific car. The 28 mascots to follow were most often animal designs, and included frogs, eagles, boars, peacocks, rams, and foxes, although there were also nude figures and a shooting star. With the exception of the Citröen and later the Levrier Mascot, which was created for the Prince of Wales, all of the mascots were produced for general consumer purchase.
In addition to the 29 statues designed specifically as hood ornaments, the 1920 Sirène – originally sold as a mermaid statue – was later repurposed as a car mascot, bringing the total to 30, although only 28 were commercially sold. Because records detailing the mascot production were lost, it is unknown exactly how many were produced, adding to the prestige of the ornaments today.
Many of the surviving mascots are discovered in deceased estates, often having been long forgotten, although fewer are being auctioned off as owners become more aware of their value. The most famous of the mascots is the eagle head, which adorned many Nazi officer cars. The fox (Renard) is widely considered to be the rarest commercially sold mascot, with few known surviving examples.
The mascots were made with glass and used satin and frosting finishes. Very few of them were produced with colors or tints. Pinks, purples and blues were often used on these versions, as was brown and gray. Opalescent glass was another effect used very rarely, giving those pieces a milky white appearance.
In addition to the mascots themselves, Lalique also designed lighting inside the base of the ornament so that it could be lit up to draw even more attention. When not in use, most owners displayed their mascots on Breves Galleries of London mounts inside their homes. Many owners also elected to use them as paperweights rather than radiator cap ornaments.
Lalique’s signature on the base of each mascot is the mark most often used to date the pieces that do exist today. “R. LALIQUE FRANCE” was used on earlier mascots, whereas later pieces were signed “LALIQUE FRANCE”.
Lalique Mascots Today
Lalique car mascots have become renowned the world over, with the rarest pieces selling at over $200,000. Sought after by antique car and glass art collectors, most surviving mascots are kept in private collections, with owners only bringing them out for events such as the Concours d’Elegance.
When the rarest mascots do appear at auction, they command worldwide attention. The world record price for a Lalique mascot was achieved at an auction in Philadelphia in 2011, where a rare Renard (fox) sold for $204,750. Only a handful of collectors are reputed to own the entire collection, which can fetch upwards of $800,000.
Many collectors pursue only mascots in perfect condition, which force the prices on the rarer examples ever higher. Value is determined by the scarcity of the model, the condition and the rarity of its color or tinting.