For as long as automobiles have existed, their owners have looked for ways to personalize them. One such automotive accessory was the mascot, a radiator cap which also doubled as a small sculpture of self-expression. While mascots surged in popularity after the invention of the automobile, they all but disappeared by the 1940s thanks to streamlining and would only later return as an extension of trim.
While Lord Montagu of England was the first known person to place a mascot on their car (an 1896 Daimler), a growing number of resourceful people used their own materials to give their car a unique touch. Club badges, paper weights and ashtray sculptures were among some of the objects affixed to radiator caps. Even eagles from flagpoles were sawed off to serve as mascots.
In the years that followed, entrepreneurs began manufacturing mascots to meet the needs of a growing niche market. Up into the 1920s and 30s, manufacturers in France and England gained a reputation for high quality mascots which were often cast in silver or bronze. Lalique of France even produced fine pieces made of glass. By contrast, most American mascots were considered of lesser quality, usually made of pewter or pot metal. While quality was sacrificed, mass production through die-casting meant that many mascots were well within reach of the general public.
Aside from a few instances, it wasn’t until the 1920s before automobile manufacturers began offering their own mascots for their cars. Most of these were sold as optional accessories. Subjects symbolizing speed were frequently used, such as birds and mythological figures. Still, others chose to use their company’s logo.
By the 1920s, motometers were widely used to cap the radiator and gauge its temperature. The location of this device marked a decline in mascot production. However, some companies like Boyce worked around the issue by creating pieces which integrated the motometer into their design.
Once car manufacturers began placing the temperature indicator on the dashboard in the late 1920s and 30s, there was a short-lived resurgence of mascots. During this period, however, streamlining lead to a decline in the mascot’s use as a form of self-expression. Matters were worsened by the fact that safety experts in the U.S. government believed mascots were potentially hazardous. By 1942, mascots had been almost completely phased out.
While there was a renewed interest in mascots beginning in the 1970s, they were mainly used to accent the trim. However, this change has had little impact on the mascot’s current desirability as a popular collectible.
The AACA Library has a wealth of information on mascots & radiator caps in our uncataloged files. While you won’t find listings in our online catalog simply contact us and we will search through our ads, sales brochures, parts catalogs, photos, and reference books to find exactly what you are looking for.
AACA Library 717-534-2082