Robert White died of cancer aged 62 last year. He began in business from a small shop his hometown in Poole, Dorset dealing in new and second-hand photographic equipment.
As the company grew and developed an international reach, White’s success allowed him to assemble an impressive collection of machines and objects which reflected his passion for design and engineering.
As well as cars and motorbikes, he was also the proud owner of a vintage Boeing-Stearman bi-plane which he used to travel around Britain after learning to fly. He was described by a close friend as “a modest person who liked the best of what he liked”.
Given his interest in motoring and design, it is unsurprising White was a fan of the motoring mascot. Over 300 will be on offer at the Bonhams sale including both bronze and glass designs.
The1920s and 30s represent the heyday of the car mascot as a sign of wealth and taste with those designed in crystal by French glass designer René Lalique having particular status. Their highly identifiable Art Deco style and fashionable satin, clear and frosted-glass finishes means they have remained sought after ever since.
Today, Lalique mascots remain strong area of the art and antiques market although prices have cooled somewhat since the 1980s boom. When they appear at auction, prices tend to be based on the rarity of the model and the popularity of the different designs.
Lalique produced 29 different mascot designs before he died in 1945, most of them based on different animals. One of the rarest is the Reynard/Fox mascot (model No.1182) which can sell for six-figure sums. An example came up for sale at Wiederseim Associates of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania in November 2011 and took $175,000 (£119,000).
The highlight of Robert White’s collection is an example of the ‘Hibou’ mascot which was designed by Lalique around 1931. Modelled as a wide-eyed owl crouching ready to take flight, it is estimated at £55,000-65,000.
Robert White died in 2015 and proceeds from Bonhams’ sale of the mascot collection will be used to build new cancer facilities at Poole and Dorset County hospitals.
Motoring Mascots – a brief history
- Early classic cars tended to be built with radiator caps on the bonnet, providing a natural perch for mascots
- The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ mascot, designed by Charles Sykes and believed to be modelled on Lady Eleanor Thornton, became the emblem of Rolls-Royce in 1911. It is still used by the company today
- The increasing sophistication of cars coming off the production lines during the inter-war years inspired ever more flamboyant mascots including the Art Deco designs of René Lalique in the 1920s and 30s
- With the design of cars changing and the radiator moving under the bonnet, the use of mascots was greatly reduced. In 1974, mascots were banned from the front of cars due to concerns for the protection of pedestrians