Book Review: ‘Automotive Jewelry, Volume One: Mascots • Badges’ by Michael Furman
Many automotive enthusiasts talk about the influential design languages behind today’s vehicles, but to some, the real artistic identity of a car is in its unique ornamentation. The nearly-lost art of car ornamentation and badging used to be a crucial part of the automobile industry since its inception. To some, these fixtures of yesteryear may seem unnecessary and trivial, but to those with an eye for seeing into the nature of things, they’re a window into the essence of a machine and its creators.
Writer/publisher Michael Furman of Coachbuilt Press spent decades preserving this artistic heritage through Automotive Jewelry. The term “jewelry” refers to any ornamentation added to an automobile for aesthetic and identity purposes, such as badges and hood sculptures. Such sculptures are rarely seen on today’s vehicles, and their significance is being quickly forgotten.
Automotive Jewelry spans two volumes, the first covering Mascots • Badges, with the second concerning Bespoke Mascots. Both are filled with luscious photographs depicting this exquisite art in fine detail, retaining the character of these unique creations while elevating them to the level of sophistication they were once at.
Automotive Jewelry, Volume One: Mascots • Badges
By Michael Furman with Robert Strand
Product Details: Hardcover, 288 pages, 12.0 x 9.5 inches
Publication Date: January 2013
Publisher: Coachbuilt Press (website)
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Automotive Jewelry begins with a preface by the book’s creator Michael Furman and an Introduction by General Motors Executive Director of Design Teckla Rhoads, who both describe their fascination with automotive jewelry and the insight it gives into the psyche of a company. This is followed by a handful of pages that discuss the purpose, progression, art, and appeal behind such ornamentation. These opening sections provide useful context and forethought to the rest of the book’s contents without being overwhelmingly detailed or intellectual.
“To describe these unique pieces of art as jewelry elevates them to a high form of personal expression. More than just shiny objects added to the vehicle, they are thoughtfully created to express personality and emotion. They are created by skilled artists, with attention to the smallest details and highest excellence,” explains Teckla Rhoads in the Introduction.
The majority of the pages focus on photographs of the ornaments–involving over 200 images–accompanied by commentaries from nearly three-dozen automotive industry executives, historians, and connoisseurs. The end of the book concludes with profiles on the commentators, other suggested reading titles, and an index of the marques featured. The models range from a 1932 Bugatti Type 41 Royale elephant to a 1928–30 Vauxhall griffin to a 1949 Pontiac Indian chief.
Automotive Jewelry is a sizable book bound in a hardback cloth cover and wrapped in a dust jacket. The dazzling front cover–showcasing one of the book’s best images–confidently exhibits the quality of photography throughout the rest of the book, begging to be opened.
Inside is a true portfolio of artistic design and skilled photography. The composition, lighting, and detail in the images are astounding, showcasing the automotive ornaments in manner they still deserve to be. Furman does an excellent job capturing the textures and forms of each subject, bringing out the glossy curves under soft lights as the rest fade into a shadowy chiaroscuro.
Each page features a large photograph of a badge/ornament, an image spread across two pages, or a short personal story from one of the contributors. The images are accompanied by brief captions identifying the year and brand behind each sculpture, and occasionally the designer and/or vehicle model. There is a lot of blank white space on the pages, but that layout maintains the sophistication of the approach by avoiding crowding the page or detracting from the photographs.
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If it’s not already obvious, I’m an avid admirer of the artistic designs behind automotive badging and ornamentation. This aspect of automotive design has been lost over the years as vehicles lose more and more individuality until they now all look the same.
Other publications have looked at the ornaments on cars over the years, but not in such a dazzling manner. Furman showcases his subjects with such care and detail that the artistic side of them can’t help but be appreciated. The quality of the composition elevates the appearance of the subjects to show them better than how most of them looked in real life.
Furman’s compendium is perfect for you or your guests to pick up, read a couple pages, and learn something new while admiring some historic craftsmanship. In essence, this is what a coffee table book should be and it succeeds at it. I wish the captions were a bit more informational than anecdotal, providing insight into the inspiration behind the figures, but Automotive Jewelry is intended to be a starting point to pique one’s interest and inspire personal research.
With a cover price of $100–double what most coffee table books are–the cost may be a sticking point for some buyers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a publication that captures the essence of automotive ornamentation as perfectly as Automotive Jewelry does. If you find this subject as fascinating as I do, though, the cost is worth the treasure trove of beautiful history you’re receiving. Automotive Jewelry does not disappoint.
Automotive Jewelry, Volume One: Mascots • Badges is available through the publisher’s website and online retailers like Amazon.
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.