What is a Mascot?

1920 Mercer<br />

1920 Mercer with MotoMeter mascot.

Automotive mascots got their name from the French word mascotte, which is derived from the Provençal word mascoto, which in turn is derived from the Latin masca. Over time, these words gave rise to words meaning “specter, nightmare, witch, wizard, and sorcerer.” Ultimately, the word mascot eventually came to refer to any object that was thought to bring good luck or to symbolize a group like a sports team, company, or organization.

Spirit of Ecstasy IV, circa 1920s<br />

Spirit of Ecstasy IV, circa 1920s.

Mascots have been called “hood ornaments,” but it is unlikely that the ones at the Revs Institute from the Miles Collier Collections were ever mounted on the hood of a car. They were most likely mounted on a car’s external radiator cap or even on the dashboard. Mascots became quite popular during the early 1900s through the mid-1930s because of their association with good luck; many automobiles at the time were not considered to be the most reliable, and drivers hoped a mascot would bring them better luck with their car. In seeking these good luck charms, drivers were able to find or make mascots with special personal meaning that they could put on their car.

Leaping Cat Old, circa 1938<br />

Leaping Cat Old, circa 1938.

Mascots soon were not only good luck charms but a way for drivers and owners to be able to personalize their car. Later, car companies would embrace the idea and create corporate mascots to represent their brand, so the public could easily identify a specific marque or model. Many of these corporate mascots have become iconic over time, such as Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy, Bentley’s Flying B, and Jaguar’s Leaping Cat.

Boyce MotoMeter on 1912 Mercer 35-C Raceabout<br />

Boyce MotoMeter on 1912 Mercer 35-C Raceabout.

Mascots were not just ornamental, some mascots were utilitarian and served a specific purpose. The Dodge Brother’s Boyce MotoMeter was designed to monitor engine coolant temperatures. Many early automobiles did not have standard temperature gauges for their engines, so the Boyce MotoMeter was a unique and valuable piece of equipment that helped to prevent engine failure. Some consider these types of engine gauges a type of mascot as they could be intricate works of functional art, such as the Gidelite.

Gidelite, circa 1920s<br />

Gidelite, circa 1920s.

As the mascot craze grew, different types of mascots were being created. While most mascots were made from metals such as brass, bronze, aluminum, or zinc alloys, some were even made from glass. The materials mascots were made from varied over time as well as whether they were handcrafted by individual artists or mass produced by companies.

Flying B Dual Side Wings, circa 1923-1931<br />

Flying B Dual Side Wings, circa 1923-1932.

Most metal mascots were created using the lost-wax method. The lost-wax method has been used to create objects since approximately 4500 BCE. The casting process is, to a certain degree, standardized, but each foundry may have a variant of the overall method depending on the designs they are creating and what materials and metals they are using.

The process begins with an artist creating an original model out of wax or clay, then making a mold of the original model. Once the mold is complete, molten wax is poured into the mold, and this hollow wax copy is removed from the mold when the wax has hardened. The wax copy is then dipped into a “slurry” of a ceramic-like material and left to dry. The ceramic shell is then placed into a kiln where the wax melts and drains out, leaving a negative space in the design that the wax created in the shape of the original model. The ceramic shell is then filled with liquid metal, such as bronze, and when the metal has cooled and hardened, the ceramic shell is chipped away to reveal a metal version of the original wax or clay model.

The lost-wax process can be refined to show even the smallest details that the artist wants to include.