Written by Barbara Toombs
Owning an automobile in the early days – and the components that went along with it, like tires – was an expensive proposition for many. In 1898, for example, Alexander Winton’s 1-cylinder Phaeton cost $1,000 and was equipped with a set of Goodrich pneumatic tires (with a useful life of 1,000 miles or thereabouts) costing $400.
The result? Tire companies, like automobile manufacturers, spent heavily on advertising to create demand for vehicles and to encourage owners to drive them more.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the world’s largest market for automobiles – and tires – was France. The French tire company Michelin paved the way for many other companies not only when it came to exporting its products worldwide, but also by finding creative ways to generate demand for tires.
One of the ingenious ways Michelin did this was by tapping into the rich history of poster art, often utilizing the skills of famous artists, who gave the art form credibility. These included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Cheret, Alphonse Muncha, Lennetta Cappiello, Ludwig Hohlwein and Marius Rossillon, who was also known as O’Galop.
It was O’Galop, in fact, who sketched the original Bibendum, which later became known as Group Michelin’s mascot, the “Michelin Man.” The Michelin Man first appeared as a cigar-smoking, pince-nez- and ring-wearing, champagne-drinking man-about-town, one who appealed to fellow well-off aristocratic gentlemen who would be the company’s most likely customer.
These colorful works of art have now become highly collectible commodities, embellishing the walls of many automotive museums, car collection displays and even office buildings. What is considered the world’s largest collection of vintage tire advertising posters in the world – 400 or so – was amassed by the late Bruce Halle, founder and owner of Discount Tire Company in Scottsdale, Arizona. The posters adorn the walls of the company’s headquarters and several other building in the company’s corporate complex. “There’s over 100 years of history of the industry I’m involved in,” Halle said in a 2011 interview with Forbes magazine. “They’re big, spectacular, colorful. Years ago in Europe, this is how some young struggling artists made a living.”
A number of these exquisite posters, hailing from the Doug Kotte Vintage Automotive Poster Collection, are among the 200 or so authentic pieces of automotive memorabilia on offer during the Barrett-Jackson Online Only July 2020 Automobilia Auction, July 6-9. Featuring outstanding graphics, these framed historically significant posters largely date from the early 1900s through the early 1940s, and including amazing examples from tire companies all over the world, including Michelin, Continental, Hutchinson, Vigor, Dunlop, Goodyear and Firestone.