. . . says Tony Wraight of Finesse Fine Art in Dorset
I purchased the registration 1 TVW many years ago. It used to belong to Westward TV before they went into liquidation. I was extremely pleased to finally obtain it and I have placed it since on a succession of Mercedes cars – at present it is fitted to my latest silver Mercedes S class limousine.
Amazingly I also located TVW 2 last year. This was on an old VW camper van just 25 miles from my home but I had absolutely no knowledge of it as it was laid up and seldom used by the owner. It was being advertised in the Times and the only reason the owner wished to sell the registration was because he was immigrating to Australia with the camper but did not require the number. I was very lucky to find this one and rushed to buy it at 7am on the Sunday morning as soon as it appeared in the paper. I have since fitted it on my latest silver Mercedes SL500 sports car. My good friend and business partner Bill also has his own number plate 1 WJF (William John Flint). This is on his silver Mercedes E class estate and was purchased from Regtransfers.co.uk.
I spend my time travelling to auctions in UK and around the world buying fine Lalique glassware rare motoring artefacts and quality Art Deco bronzes. I am now the World’s leading specialist in rare mascots, having put together many fine collections on behalf of important clients and collectors around the world.
Motoring mascots are one of the few ways anyone can now adorn their vehicles to make them look special. It’s been a 40-year love affair with SS Jaguars, mascots, Art Deco and Lalique glassware.
It all began in 1965 when I saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for a 1938 SS Jaguar 3.5 litre car for just £50. I called round to the address to find not one but three cars available – one complete and roadworthy, the other two more for spares. After negotiating, I bought the lot for £35 – every penny I had in those long-haired, far away happy hippy days.
In the boot of the drivable car was a wonderful compartment where a fantastic array of tools once sat. I was determined to complete this set, and so I advertised. I found dozens of un-restored Jaguar cars, including SS models, scattered around UK. Needless to say I soon completed the tool Kit.
So began a wonderful period in my life. I used the car for two years, and found a great fascination in driving behind an imposing Jaguar mascot. In those days one could leave a beautiful old car anywhere without fear of it being scratched or having its mascot stolen.
I then started a little gardening enterprise and within one year employed twenty people. This gave me the funding to rent the garages I wanted, and to start buying more SS cars. Within three years I crammed about ten lock-up garages with around fifteen cars, all in various states of neglect. I’d purchased them from dusty yards, farms and even a field where I had to cut down trees to remove the car from its resting place!
I remember travelling to Detling in Kent where I found a wonderful old SS 3.5 DHC covered in cobwebs. It hadn’t been driven in twenty years, yet amazingly it started with just a new battery! That night I drove it the 150 miles back to Dorset. The face of the garage attendant was a picture when I filled up with petrol as the car was absolutely filthy with forty years worth of dust and cobwebs covering its bodywork and interior. I was very happy that no policemen happened to be on patrol that night and I can report that it drove back to Dorset without any problems whatsoever.
I then employed a mechanic to work on the cars I bought and so began a thriving business. In the course of locating the cars I encountered some amazing sights, like a man who owned nearly one hundred old pre-war Rolls-Royce cars all lined up in dusty sheds. He just wanted to sell me his un-restored SS DHC and showed me about twenty tea chests filled with around five hundred old car mascots. Among them was a lovely SS Jaguar leaping Brau mascot that I bought from him. This man owned a scrap yard and was very secretive about owning so many great cars. He saw that I was very interested in the mascots and took me to a walk-in safe. Inside there were even more mascots, including a number of glass ones, which I later found out were Lalique.
As I’d started selling SS Jaguar cars to enthusiasts in the UK, USA and Europe, I started advertising spare parts for them too. I soon built up a thriving trade in such pieces including P100 headlamps. As demand for these was so great, especially from the USA, and they sold so well, I decided to employ specialists to restore them. I used to attend the RR rally and Beaulieu Autojumble, setting up a gigantic stall with dozens of restored lamps. I also started to collect rare car mascots at this time. However, I was a dealer foremost and always sold the best ones, especially Lalique, as these were the easiest to sell.
I never realised in those carefree days that there were thirty different types. When I eventually found out I was determined to track them all down and build my own collection. My lamp, old car sales and restoration businesses were all steadily building up and so I decided to advertise. Placing ‘wanted’ advertisements in all the old motoring publications proved to be an excellent idea as I soon started to locate some beautiful mascots and to buy a few Lalique variations.
My interest in SS Jaguars continued and I found many more examples up and down the country. After about ten years I had purchased about fifteen Lalique mascots and so I started to include them in my stock advertising. This encouraged private owners throughout the world to contact me and one day I received a call from an overseas private collector. This call was to change my life forever. The client wanted to buy not just one Lalique mascot, but all my Lalique mascots, then further decided to build on my holding of fifteen examples and achieve the ultimate collection in the world. This dream commission led me to the far corners of the earth for many years afterwards.
I started by travelling in France and soon found, apart from the more common clear Lalique 28 examples I had purchased, some examples of the Falcon, Large Dragonfly, Falcon and Coq Nain made in amethyst and coloured glass.
These variations were also far more expensive and with the backing of my client I embarked on a mission to locate not only every example in the normal clear and frosted glass, but to also to buy every example of every type of mascot in tinted, coloured and opalescent glass. My quest led me to Switzerland where a few mascots appeared for auction, including a rare strongly amethyst tinted Eagles Head. This piece was, at the time, estimated very lowly and soon I realised that other dealers from the USA, France and Japan were also after it, having themselves spotted the auction house’s mistake. Of course I had to own it for my client, and at the time it set a new world record of £26,500 for the piece. It was then I started to be contacted by many collectors and dealers in France and Europe.
Knowing that I had set the world record price, they started to offer me rare Lalique and other mascots. My client by this time had also given me a commission to build up a major metal mascot collection and a choice non-mascot Lalique glassware portfolio.
After five more years my client invited me to his home and I was naturally interested to see how he was displaying his impressive collection. He told me that they were kept in a cage! He led me over to a large garage complex in one corner of which was a large metal security walk-in safe and inside, stacked to the ceiling, were hundreds of unopened boxes. I persuaded him to start opening the boxes and to display them properly.
He took my advice and when I next visited him he had removed the pieces but had simply stacked the Lalique pieces into a large glass display cabinet in his office. This was rather daunting to say the least as I realised that here on three shelves sat the very finest Lalique mascot collection in the world. Anyway, he soon started to appreciate his collection far more and built long shelves in his garage to display this gigantic metal mascot collection which by now was also building into the world’s finest as there were close to 1400 fabulous pieces just in this one area. He then purchased wonderful, extremely rare French Art Deco cabinets to house his fabulous Lalique collection in great style. It had taken me fifteen years to track them all down and as I had purchased them all personally, and examined each closely, I had gained so much experience that helped me greatly over the next fifteen years.
I had always dreamt of handling the ultimate Lalique pieces from the moment I purchased my original 1932 Lalique catalogue and realised just how many beautiful objects René Lalique had designed. Over the past decades I have been very lucky to handle the finest of these. But, as the Lalique collection grew, one piece still eluded me. The Fox!
This was the rarest of all 30 pieces and all I had to go on was a rather blurry photograph in an early Lalique catalogue. The situation was to change in the mid 1980’s when one evening at about midnight I received a call from a dealer in Paris. He said that he knew of one that had just been purchased by another dealer. He said that if I could get to Paris the following afternoon it could be mine. I did not sleep that night knowing that it existed and that it would hopefully be mine the next day. I also realised that as it was an extremely rare piece and if anyone else knew of its exact whereabouts it could be lost forever to other collectors who also wanted an example. I flew to Paris and the piece was indeed there. I was amazed by its size and detail and spent many happy days photographing it before it went to my client who had now managed to achieve his dream collection.
There were apparently only six Foxes known to exist in the world in the late 1980’s. Since then I have located four more perfect examples and four more in damaged condition, one missing a base, another with badly damaged ears and another broken in half and glued together. So just how many were actually made? Where will I find the next one? A lifetime’s quest for me! Through the 1980’s I found that the prices of Lalique and rare metal mascots were starting to reach very high levels, culminating in 1989 with tremendous auctions held in Monaco and Paris, where rare metal mascots were starting to reach well over £5000 each and an example of the Bugatti Royale without the important foundry stamp also claimed the world record price for a metal mascot at £33,000.
This was yet another milestone I had yet to reach, but within three years I tracked down a superb Bugatti Royale mascot in an obscure country auction in France and purchased this example, which luckily also had the Valsuani Cire Perdue foundry stamping still intact. In 1989-1990 the world economic climate changed and with the Iraq crisis the Japanese buyers lost interest in Lalique collecting and so the marketplace fell before steadying at a lower level. It took a further five years to regain the lost ground and at long last it returned to 1989 levels around 1999.
The marketplace today is also extremely selective, with the rarest pieces achieving premium prices. It is ever more challenging, but one thing remains constant – the rarest pieces are even more difficult to locate. The elusive Fox has now been joined in his lair by the Owl and the Comete. I now spend far more time tracking the rare pieces down and I am still building up important metal and Lalique glass collections for my world-wide clients.
More great examples of businesses taking advantage of the marketing power of private number plates: