In his autobiography “A Collector’s Life (an autobiography),” Z. Taylor Vinson listed and described a handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures.” The Treasures are individual collection items that Mr. Vinson, for various reasons, was particularly proud of owning. This week, I decided to highlight one of the more unusual items from Vinson’s list of treasures: a 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio.
Delaunay-Belleville was a renowned French manufacturer of prestige luxury cars during the first half of the twentieth century. Based in St. Denis, France and originally a manufacturer of locomotive and marine boilers, the firm started building luxury cars in 1904, which were outwardly distinguishable by their round grilles and hoods. By 1914, Delaunay-Belleville cars were considered to be among the most prestigious in the world and were owned by a number of luminaries, including Czar Nicholas II and the Kings of Greece and Spain. During the 1920s, Dellaunay-Bellevelle started to fall out of favor with its wealthy clientele. In response to its decline in the marketplace, the company sought to renew interest in its line of luxury cars through some creative advertising.
The 1924 Delaunay-Belleville portfolio is a trade catalog for the firm’s 1924 model range. According to the portfolio, 3 Delaunay-Belleville chassis were available that model year: the low-end 12 CV, the mid-range 14/16 CV, and the high-end 25/30 CV. The smaller 12 CV was powered by an incline-4 engine. The larger 14/16 CV and 25/25 were powered by inline-6 power plants. All three models were fitted with custom coachwork tailored to the customer’s specifications. Like other prestige luxury cars of the day, the interiors of all three models were sumptuously appointed.
Although the portfolio does contain the vital statistics of the 1924 Delaunay-Belleville model range, it is its artwork that makes it a fascinating of automobile advertising. The portfolio was printed by Draeger, a famed Paris, France-based printing house, which was noted for printing visually striking advertising materials. It contains five plates of artwork by five celebrated illustrators of the 1920s: Georges Lepape, Eduardo Garcia Benito, René Lelong, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, and Charles Martin. The illustrations are drawn in Art Deco and Bauhaus style.
All five of the plates found in the portfolio are of Delaunay-Belleville cars. But the cars depicted in the plates are best described as “fanciful.” According to Mr. Vinson:
1924 Delaunay-Belleville: This catalogue-portfolio may be viewed as a post-war manifestation of the manufacturer’s desire to charm and amuse the reader. Certainly there has never been an item that so completely distorted the nature of what it was purporting to be to advertise, the cars impossibly elongated. The portfolio plates are by fashion artists of the day such as Lepape (whose names adorn the embossed card covers of this Draeger production), and show the cars in fanciful plaids and other impossible color treatments. The plaid car was actually produced.
Although Delaunay-Belleville succeeded in producing one of the more memorable luxury car trade catalogs of the 1920s, its use of striking visuals was not enough to ensure its survival. Due to a combination of factors that included a failure to keep up with automotive technology, competition, and the onset of the Great Depression, Delaunay-Belleville continued to struggle in the marketplace. After a slow decline that lasted many years, Delaunay-Belleville built its last car in 1950. Surviving examples of Delaunay-Belleville cars are rare collector items today.
Description Des Chassis Delaunay-Belleville 1924: Delaunay-Belleville: Trade Catalogs: Various Models, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Georgano, G.N., ed., The New Encyclopedia of Motorcars from 1885 to the Present, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1982, p. 190.
Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 320.
Solley, Thomas T., Prestige, Status, and Works of Art, Selling the Luxury Car 1888-1942, Boston, MA: Racemaker Press, 2008, p. 143-145, 150, 161.
Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library