Well, it's been a long time now - a forty nine year love affair with SS Jaguars, mascots, Art Deco and Lalique glassware. It all began in 1967. I (Tony) saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for a 1938 SS Jaguar 3.5 litre car for £50! I called round to the address to find not one but three cars available. One complete and roadworthy, and two more for spares! I negotiated and bought the lot for £35, every penny I had in those long-haired, far away happy Hippy days! So began a wonderful period in my life.
I used the drivable car for two years, and found a great fascination for driving behind an imposing Jaguar mascot. In those days one could leave a beautiful old car anywhere, without fear of it being scratched or having its mascot stolen. One thing annoyed me about this car - in the boot was a wonderful compartment where a fantastic array of tools once sat. I was determined to complete this set, and so I advertised. I found dozens of un-restored Jaguar cars, including SS models, scattered around UK. Needless to say I soon completed the tool Kit!
I then started a little gardening enterprise and within one year employed twenty people. This gave me the funding to rent the garages I wanted, and to start buying more SS cars. Within three years I crammed about ten lock-up garages with around fifteen cars, all in various states of neglect. I'd purchased them from dusty yards, farms and even a field where I had to cut down trees to remove the car from its resting place! I remember travelling to Detling in Kent where I found a wonderful old SS 3.5 DHC covered in cobwebs. It hadn't been driven in twenty years, yet amazingly it started with just a new battery! That night I drove it the 150 miles back to Dorset. The face of the garage attendant was a picture when I filled up with petrol, as the car was absolutely filthy with forty years worth of dust and cobwebs covering its bodywork and interior. I was very happy that no policeman happened to be on patrol that night! I can report that it drove back to Dorset without any problems whatsoever.
I then employed a mechanic to work on the cars I bought, and so began a thriving business. In the course of locating the cars I encountered some amazing sights - like a man who owned nearly one hundred old pre-war Rolls-Royce cars, all lined up in dusty sheds! He just wanted to sell me his un-restored SS DHC, and showed me about twenty tea chests filled with around five-hundred old car mascots. Among them was a lovely SS Jaguar leaping Brau mascot, this I bought from him. This man owned a scrap yard, and was very secretive about owning so many great cars. He saw that I was very interested in the mascots, and took me to a walk-in safe. Inside there were even more mascots, including a number of glass ones, which I later found out were Lalique!
As I'd started selling SS Jaguar cars to enthusiasts in the UK, USA and Europe, I started advertising spare parts for them too. I soon built up a thriving trade in such pieces, including P100 headlamps. As demand for these was so great, especially from the USA, and they sold so well, I decided to employ specialists to restore them. I used to attend the RR rally and Beaulieu Autojumble, setting up a gigantic stall with dozens of restored lamps. I also started to collect rare car mascots at this time. However, I was a dealer foremost and always sold the best ones, especially Lalique as these were the easiest to sell. I never realized in those carefree days where all this would lead me. I soon started advertising not only for SS cars and lamps, but also for mascots, and started to sell worldwide.
One August I had a call from a chap called Dick Nolind, who said that his employer - Jack Nethercutt, from San Sylmar, California - was due to arrive in the UK in September, and wanted to call on me as I had some lamps he wished to purchase. With amazement I saw four chauffer-driven Rolls-Royce limousines pull up, with about ten people inside! This was the moment JB arrived into my life. JB was a lovely old silver haired man, and Dick Nolind took me to one side and told me that whatever JB wanted, he always owned. I did not dream that JB owned one of the foremost motoring collections in the world, and was actually walking through my door! I later found out that dear old JB would do the same at major USA car auctions, simply keeping his hand raised until he owned the car he was bidding on - sometimes for millions of dollars each!
He looked around at my lamps, and said he wanted everything! I had about eighty pairs of lamps and all manner of automobilia there, and he wanted it all. Dick said that there was no need for me to mention the cost to JB, as he was not really interested in that side of things, and that he would pay me a cheque and that was it!
JB was now turning his attentions to drawers, and rooms where he wanted to buy even more pieces that were not on display! He ferreted them all out, then asked if I had a garage. I rented one a few hundred yards away, and he wanted to see inside! It actually started raining, and so the chauffeurs produced umbrellas for JB and his wife Dorothy, and we all walked to the garage. Inside were packed boxes, containing lamps due for shipment. JB wanted these also, and still wrapped! Of course he ended up buying them too! He then said that he was going to visit Beaulieu Autojumble. When he arrived there he just parked on the field in his limousine and ordered his staff to buy everything he wanted! I noticed that when he wanted instruments he would just buy trays full, not single items! It was a very good autojumble for stall holders that year!
The following year JB invited me to his homes in the USA, where I saw his collection of three-hundred and fifty perfect cars and his amazing private museum, where gold leaf columns reached fifty-feet into the sky from floors of solid marble! I was to be guest of honour at his dinner table, and invited to join him on a little picnic! This was not just any picnic, but a private picnic for his friends, each of whom had their own mint vintage car plus chauffeur to transport them. This amazing picnic was more of a five-star banquette, complete with liveried chefs preparing gourmet delicacies!
JB attended the London to Brighton car rally most years. He would fly his cars in especially for the event using his own private aeroplanes! Truly a great man, a man with great style. Sadly JB is no longer with us, he will be missed.
Quite an amazing experience to start my USA travels, and my business life. This was just the tip of the iceberg however. Far more interesting adventures were in store for me!
Whilst looking round the fantastic museum of JB's, I had time to study his private collection of thousands of hood ornaments he had assembled over his lifetime. He owned many extremely rare pieces, and around 25 Lalique examples. This was the first time I had been able to study these beautiful objects close up, apart from the odd one turning up in UK autojumbles. When I took them out of the cabinets, and saw the true range, I then realised that a life long passion was started this day.
I soon found out that there were thirty different types, and I was then determined to track them all down and to build my own collection. My lamp, old car sales and restoration businesses were all steadily building up well and I decided to advertise, placing 'wanted' advertisements in all the old motoring publications - this proved to be an excellent idea, as soon I started to locate some beautiful mascots, and to buy a few Lalique variations.
My interest in SS Jaguars continued, and I found many more examples up and down the country. After about ten years, I had purchased about fifteen Lalique mascots and so I started to include them in my stock advertising. This encouraged private owners throughout the world to contact me and one day I received a call from an overseas private collector. This call was to change my life forever. The client wanted to buy not just one Lalique mascot, but all my Lalique mascots, and further decided to build on my holding of fifteen examples to achieve the ultimate collection in the world. This dream commission let me to the far corners of the world for many years ahead.
I knew straight away that there was going to be a very big problem. Hunting down the Fox. This was the rarest of all 30 pieces and all I had to go on was a rather blurry photograph in an early Lalique catalogue. JB had been unable to locate an example for his collection, and I knew that my task would prove to be very difficult indeed, as only a few examples were known to exist. I started travelling in France and soon found out apart from the more common clear Lalique 28 examples I had purchased, I found some examples of the Falcon, Large Dragonfly, Falcon, Coq Nain made in amethyst and coloured glass. These variations were also far more expensive, and with the backing of my client, embarked on a mission to locate not every example in the normal clear and frosted glass, but to also buy every example of every type of mascot in tinted, coloured and opalescent glass.
My quest led me to Switzerland where a few mascots appeared for auction, including a rare strongly amethyst tinted Eagles Head. This piece was at the time estimated very lowly, and soon I realised that other dealers from the USA, France and Japan were after it too, having themselves also spotted the auction house's mistake! Of course I had to own it for my client, and at the time set the new world record at £26,500 for this piece. It was then I started to be contacted by many collectors and dealers in France and Europe, knowing that I had set the world record price, they started to offer rare Lalique and other mascots to me. My client by this time had also given me a commission to build up a major metal mascot collection, and a choice non-mascot Lalique glassware portfolio.
After five more years, I was invited by my client to his home, and was naturally interested to see how he was displaying his impressive collection. He told me that they were kept in a cage! He led me over to a large garage complex, and in one corner was a large metal security walk in safe, and inside stacked up to the ceiling were hundreds of unopened boxes. I persuaded him to start opening the boxes and to display them properly. He took my advice, and when I next visited him, he had removed the pieces, but simply stacked the Lalique pieces into a large glass display cabinet in his office. This was rather daunting to say the least, as I realised that here on three shelves sat the very finest Lalique mascot collection in the world!
Anyway, he soon started to greatly appreciate his collection, and then built long shelves in his garage to display his gigantic metal mascot collection, which by now was also building into the world's finest as there were close to 1400 fabulous pieces just in this area. He then purchased wonderful extremely rare French Art Deco cabinets to house his fabulous Lalique collection in great style. It had taken me fifteen years of hunting to track them all down, and as I had purchased them all personally, and examined each closely, I had gained much experience which helped me greatly over the next fifteen years.
I had always dreamt of handling the ultimate Lalique pieces, and from the moment I purchased my original 1932 Lalique catalogue and realised just how many beautiful objects were designed by René Lalique. I have been very lucky to handle the finest of these over the past decades. As the Lalique collection grew, still one piece eluded me.! The Fox!
This situation was to change in the mid 1980's when one evening at midnight I received a call from a dealer in Paris. He said that he knew of one that had just been purchased by another dealer. He said that if I could arrive in Paris the following afternoon it could be mine. I did not sleep that night, knowing that it existed and that it would hopefully be mine the next day. I also realised that as it was an extremely rare piece, and if anyone else knew its exact whereabouts it could be lost forever as I knew other collectors who all wanted an example. I flew to Paris and the piece was indeed there. I was amazed by its size and detail, and spent many happy days photographing it before it went to my client, who had now managed to achieve his dream collection.
There were apparently only six Foxes known to exist in the world in the late 1980's. Since then I have located four more perfect examples and four more in damaged condition, one missing a base, another with badly damaged ears and another broken in half and glued together. So just how many were actually made? Where will I find the next one? A lifetime's quest for me!
Through the 1980's I found that the prices of Lalique and rare metal mascots were starting to reach very high levels, culminating in 1989 with tremendous auctions held in Monaco and Paris, where rare metal mascots were starting to reach well over £5000 each and an example of the Bugatti Royale without the important foundry stamp also claimed the world record price for a metal mascot at £33,000. This was yet another milestone I had yet to reach, but within three years I tracked down a superb Bugatti Royale mascot in an obscure country auction in France and purchased this example, which luckily also had the Valsuani Cire Perdue foundry stamping still intact.
In 1989-1990, the world economic climate changed, and with the Iraq crisis, the Japanese buyers lost interest in Lalique collecting, so the marketplace fell, then steadied to a lower level, taking a further five years to regain ground, and at long last it returned to 1989 levels by around 1999. The marketplace today is also extremely selective with the rarest pieces achieving premium prices. It is ever more challenging, but one thing remains constant - the rarest pieces are even more difficult to locate.
The elusive Fox has now been joined in his lair by the Owl and the Epsom. I am spending far more time lately tracking the rare pieces down and I am still building up metal and Lalique glass collections for my world-wide clients.
I have noticed that the rarest and top mascots are still greatly appreciated by wise collectors, as witnessed by a Bugatti Royale silver plated standing Elephant mascot achieving an amazing record for a metal mascot selling for an amazing £210,000 at an auction in Molsheim, France in 2010. Last time an example appeared, in May 1990 at Christies in Monaco, it achieved a world record price then at about £33,000. No sign of a financial recession at that Molsheim auction ! In 2011 a damaged and unsigned Lalique Fox mascot sold for $205.000 - in 2012 another example in good condition sold at Bonhams for $338,500 on 16th August 2012 What price for the next signed perfect one?
It never ceases to amaze me that I am still able to find such rare and beautiful works of art in 2012 and the thrill of tracking them down is still as great today as it was when I found my very first Lalique Falcon all those years ago.
Doubtless you will like to know which piece is my favourite at this time? It is extremely difficult as I love so many, but is has to be my 1923 unique solid silver 'Dove of Peace.' (see Tony's thumbnails page 1, location A1) This mascot sums up everything about a truly great mascot - It is unique, has true style, commissioned by a famous person, embodying a beautiful dove holding the olive branch of peace, carrying his family crest and made by a master craftsman in solid silver.
Happy mascot hunting to everyone.