Don Sommers American Arrow Corp
AMERICAN-MADE HOOD ORNAMENTS IN STAINLESS STEEL
If you are investing in a radiator mascot for your classic era motorcar, you should consider your choice carefully. Be sure of the material before you buy. It is false economy to buy an inexpensive mascot from zinc or similar metal as it will break or pit after a short period of time. There are no short cuts to making quality mascots. The only durable ones are from brass or stainless steel. (Silver or gold would also work.)
These metals melt at 2000° or higher and can be cast by sand casting or lost wax. Sand castings are suitable for simple parts with little detail and no reverse draft. Lost wax casting is the only way to capture the beauty and detail of your radiator mascot.
The auto companies originally used zinc because it was inexpensive, copies well and lends itself to mass production. They have no concern over durability except for the few short years of the life of a normal car. You can currently buy some mascots in zinc from your local hot rod shop for under $10. I could cast them in the same molds I cast my wax patterns and sell them at a ridiculously low price, but I won’t. I only make quality parts. A car worth restoring is worth a good mascot.
My lost wax castings in stainless steel are miniature sculptures. They are worked by hand both in the wax form and after casting. Because of all this hand work, you can expect slight differences between mascots. This is one of the reasons they are unique and they are already becoming collectors items.
To make these mascots, a mold is made using an original as a master. Wax patterns are then made from the mold. These waxes are then mounted on a casting tree and coated with ceramic. One wax is required for each mascot. The wax is melted out and stainless steel is poured in at 2800° F – 3000° F. This process is expensive, but copies detail very well. With this process, shrinkage is .030” per inch. This means that a 1” thick mascot would be .970” when cast and a 3” long piece would be 2.910”. This is not noticeable on a mascot. Caps and tight tolerance parts are machined after casting to insure proper fit. (Originally, a hand-made over-sized pattern was used; the cost of which would be prohibitive now.) The stainless steel castings are machined,
polished and flash chrome plated. (Polished stainless looks much like sterling silver; the flash chrome gives it a blue lustre.) A small loss in detail occurs (about 5%) during polishing, however, this is a small penalty to pay for the superior strength and aging properties of stainless steel. They are offered on an unconditional 10-day money-back guarantee. Some of you might wonder why “stainless steel” is used and not brass. I have found that stainless gives more consistent detail despite the fact that it is harder to work.
In the years to come, my stainless steel mascots will become collectors items just as Laliques are today.
Mascots make an interesting collectable and prices have escalated sharply in recent years. The mascot era began, with some notable exceptions, in the midtwenties when motometers replaced the dash mounted temperature indicators. The first mascots were on radiator caps and after about 10 years the radiator filler was put under the hood and mascots became hood ornaments. The hood ornament era lasted about 30 years, ending in the 56-58 period.
The plain cap over the radiator filler wasn’t particularly attractive so some enterprising designer developed a statue-like figure to adorn the cap. Not only did it enhance the appearance but also became a profitable accessory. Mascots became some of the most fascinating sculptures of the “Art Deco” era. They came as dogs, birds, lions, elephants, naked ladies, clothed ladies, airplanes and an unlimited variety of subjects.
I became interested in collecting mascots in the late 60’s but wasn’t smart enough to collect the really great European ornaments and rare Laliques. I remember once buying a collection of 11 Laliques for $1800 and reselling them for $2300 because I couldn’t afford them. Beginning with the winter of 1963 issue, the “Classic Car Magazine” a series of articles by “Doc” Mundhenk on mascots appeared using examples from the great Al Thurn collection (now at Merle Norman). This generated considerable interest and the Williams book was also a great help.
When I started collecting I would see a great number of good prewar mascots at every flea market and now you see few. I remember going on vacation to northern Michigan and stopping at junk yards and spending much of the afternoon taking off hood ornaments until my wife would get angry waiting in the car. I believe the fellow used to charge a sum of $3.00 for a bucket full of mascots. In all, I must have at least 3000 original ornaments and mascots. Mascot collecting has been fun, and led to some interesting experiences. I once put up a display at the Greenfield Village old car festival. They let me put up a “Wanted mascots” sign. A fellow came up and said Uncle Bill had died and left quite a few ornaments and would I be interested. Uncle Bill apparently worked at a mascot factory and had a big lunch bucket as I got several hundred new unmachined and unchromed ornaments, including five Austin Bantam Roosters and a dozen or so ’34 Plymouth ships from him.
The two great U.S. mascot makers were Stant of Connersville, Indiana and Ternsdedt Division of GM. Years ago I visited Stant and the Chief Designer said that the Whippet Dog was the best first mascot they made. He told interesting stories about using real live quail for models, and showed me drawings for a beautiful ’35 Ford ornament where the dog was integral with the hood piece.
Because some mascots are so beautiful, I decided to make them oversize as sculpture. I used about a two times scale which is a nice size for your desk or table and also a great trophy. They are made from patinaed bronze or polished stainless steel. Stainless steel is a sculpture medium which few can successfully do, and if polished properly is absolutely beautiful.
For many of you, my mascots mounted on marble or my oversize mascots make an attractive decoration for your office or den. My ornaments are art quality statues. Some of you have asked me to pick the 15 most beautiful mascots. I realize that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but my personal choices of American mascots would be: Big Willy’s Knight; Wills St. Clair wings up goose; Pierce Arrow bare headed archer; 32-37 Packard Goddess (Doughnut chasser); 32-37 Packard Cormorant; 29 Packard Sliding Boy (Adonis); 34 Ford Dog; Ford Quail; Chrysler Gazelle & cap; 30-32 Cadillac Goddess; Cadillac Herald; 30-32 Buick Mercury; 31-34 Auburn Man; 27 Chevy
Spirit of St. Louis Plane; and Hudson Man.
The mascots we currently offer are listed in this catalog. Not all of them are in stock at all times.