|Allard and Austin, Bentley, Cadillac ... through to Zeta and Zundapp, there is an alphabet of fascinating old cars. However, few of us have the necessary wealth or storage space to amass an A to Z collection of automobiles. |
Many collectors preserve parts of cars and these items are known as Automobilia and include badges, mascots, hubcaps, spark plugs and even number plates.
The names of former and existing cars can be captured in a collection of the nameplates that they once wore. More usually referred to as radiator badges or emblems, these items are often crafted with superb artistry and look good in a display.
The first automobile that had an emblem is believed to be the Panhard et Levassor of 1891, which had a brass PL on the front of the vehicle. Many of the cars of the veteran period had the name in script across the radiator. In the case of the early Autocar this script was 24 inches across!
Some veterans, such as Ford and Buick, had the name pressed into the brassware of the radiator. These are not so easy to collect apart from saving the complete radiator intact.
Shortly after 1910 most car makers started producing smaller emblems, with greater detail, in coloured enamels. These are more correctly referred to as cloisonnes. The emblems were made by pressure stamping the design into a copper plate, this left raised cloisons or dams. Molten glass of the desired colour was then used to fill the partitions. Once cooled, the emblem was ground and polished, then the exposed metal parts were often, but not always, plated with silver, nickel, chrome or sometimes even gold. Whilst pressing the copper blank, it was often shaped to have a convex profile, this added a lot of strength to the finished emblem.
Copper was the preferred metal to use as a base for enameling because there appears to be strong fusion between the metal and the glass, however some emblems were made from solid nickel and these only required polishing after the enameling was done.
The most well known emblem makers in the USA were D.L. Auld, Bastian Bros and Gustav Fox, although there were several others. In the UK many emblems were made by the companies of Joseph Fray and also Fattorini, both of which were famous producers of car mascots. The makers name can often be found on the reverse side of the emblem, but rarely on the front.
Emblems were mainly fitted to the top of the radiator, but they were also used in other locations. Some Cord and Pierce-Arrow cars had their emblems on the crank-hole cover, and some models of Cadillac, Graham and Willys-Knight had additional emblems fixed to a tie-bar between the headlamps. Buick had an emblem on the rear stop light. Those fitted to the radiator were either soldered directly on, or fitted by threaded studs or by "friction cones" on the rear of the emblem.
Many emblems are of heraldic designs, whilst others simply state the name of the marque. Emblems sometimes offered additional information such as model name, number of cylinders or horsepower rating. Advertising also appeared on some emblems. Kissell was "Every inch a Car". Elcar boasted "A well-built Car", Empire was "The little Aristocrat" and Morris Commercial told you they were "British to the Backbone" whilst Riley declared it was "As old as the Industry".
Some of the finest cars had the plainest of emblems, the quality of Rolls-Royce engineering is not matched by its emblem. But the reverse is also true; there are some cars where the best part of them was the emblem! I will not name examples as the Editor may be flooded by protests from fans of those marques!
More recent emblems are often die-cast in a base metal or moulded in plastics. However, some retain a sufficient artistic appeal to be highly collectable. But there has been a revival in the use of glass enamels on some modern day emblems: TF2000, Lotus and Chevrolet Corvette being just a few examples.
Years ago, I'm told, it was possible to build up a fine emblem collection for a low cost. Car wrecker's yards and abandoned vehicles found in the bush being the main sources. Those days have probably gone, and it is certainly a lot harder to get the emblems today. The main sources being swap-meets, auctions and antique dealers. Prices range from "bargains" to "excuse me, aren't there too many noughts on that"!
Some fine collections were built up in "the good old days", especially in the USA and in the UK, and some of these are now coming out onto the market again. So there are still treasures to be obtained. I recently purchased and amalgamated two collections, with the duplicates being passed on to other collectors and car restorers.
What and how to collect are questions that a would-be collector has to consider. Whether to collect just car emblems, or whether to collect emblems from trucks and motorcycles as well, they are all interesting. Whether to collect pre-war or from all periods. What is worth remembering is that even the modern ones will be old in time.
Some collectors only keep one emblem for each marque, either the oldest they can obtain, the rarest or most attractively designed.
Emblems from Australian vehicles would form an elite collection. It is very difficult to find the emblems of Summit (around 20 cars made between 1922-26), Australian Six (900 cars made between 1918-26) and Australian Lincoln (200 cars made between 1919-24). I only know of a few collectors that have examples from these marques. There are other early Australian emblems that I am searching for including Besst, Chic and Tarrant. It is equally hard to find the emblems of some of the more modern "Australians" such as Zeta, Buckle and Bacchus.
The best rule is to collect what you like the look of.
Collectors increasingly have to be wary of reproductions. Anything of value is now temptation for forgery. Having said that, there have been many emblems reproduced because restorers needed an emblem to complete a restoration. Harry Pulfer, in the USA, had a thriving business in reproduction emblems. Pamela David Enamels in the UK and Emblemagic in the USA are two companies that can still make emblems to order. Most emblem collectors will always prefer to have an original though, even one in poor condition.
Damaged original emblems can often be restored providing that the metal cloisons still have sufficient height. Any damage to these little walls will mean that molten enamel will flow where it is not wanted. A few people in Australia can do this re-enameling process, and from what I've seen they do it well. Never "help them out" by removing the old enamel first, as you will do more harm than good. Leave it all to the experts as they can etch out the old enamel without causing any damage to the metal. They also need to see the original colours to be able to match them.
I have had some emblems re-enamelled very successfully. I always choose not to have the metal re-plated so that the copper can tone down in time to return to the antique look. Other collectors have the full works done to their emblems and some collectors do no restoration or cleaning at all, it's all a matter of personal choice.
Emblems with minor damage can be "touched up" using the paints sold in small tins in hobby shops. A better job can be done by mixing the correct colouring into epoxy resin. This can then be applied to the damaged emblem to fill spaces where the enamel is missing. Warming the emblem with a hair dryer will cause the resin to flow like water and in this way the missing enamel can be replaced to the same height as the original. It is better to use the standard setting time resins as the 5 minute resins do not allow sufficient working time.
A tip when buffing scripts. These are very difficult to hold against a buffing wheel without bending them, or having them fly across the workshop! Try securely mounting them on a piece of plywood first, as it is then easier to hold them to the buffing wheel.
Emblems are very effectively displayed on boards covered in felt, and blue, green or dark red are good choices. The fittings can be removed from the rear of the emblems to allow them to be glued to the board. But if you wish to retain the fittings it is just a case of designing the board with adequate rear space to accommodate the fittings when they pass through the surface. The emblem's own original threaded studs are often very handy for fitting it to the board. Never drill holes into the emblem as that will reduce their value considerably. There was a famous collection in the USA containing many rare and unique emblems, every one had been drilled with tiny holes for mounting with panel pins. That was enough to bring many ardent collectors to tears!
Some collectors keep their emblems in drawers so they can be moved around in a systematic layout, such as marque, age etc. The V-shaped emblems are better stored this way as they are much harder to display on flat boards.
Personally, I prefer display boards and I mount the emblems randomly. However, I tend to put pre-war and post-war emblems on to separate boards, but that is just my own preference.
I am always interested to hear from anyone with interesting and unusual emblems for sale, either single items or collections.