The Michelin Man: An Unauthorized Advertising Showcase
by Rudy LeCoadic
“Collecting Bidendum differs in many aspects from collecting other advertising memorabilia, so you may find yourself relearning or changing your mind about some points that you felt very strongly about.”
If you think a Micheline is the female version of a Michelin Man you better get this book!
To most people, Michelin means car tires but did you know they made tires for pretty much any form of transportation including a rail car (which is what the Micheline is), and that they also carried all the bits and bobbles that go with tires, from tube patching paraphernalia to air compressors, even cast iron stoves? All of that and of course examples of advertising, promo, and showroom material is discussed here. And let’s not forget the famous Guide Michelin maps! (Fun fact: the US War Department issued them to troops ahead of the Normandy landing in 1944; LeCoadic rates them a “9” on his 1–10 rarity meter.)
Known in his native France as Bibendum, after the Roman poet Horace’s verse Nunc est bibendum (“Now is the time for drinking”), you’re probably asking yourself why the famous puffy tire man would be advocating drink when road safety is his mission. Well, it’s because he was originally created for a German brewery—they used the slogan but rejected the image. The Michelin company, founded in 1832, was already 60 years old when the two brothers who ran it then saw inspiration in a stack of tires and turned to an artist to realize the idea, and that’s the fellow who then dusted off his unused Bibendum concept. It is not recorded exactly who had the idea of staying with the image of drinking but early advertising posters and displays for years had Bib about to down a goblet filled with nails and broken glass to make the point that Michelin tires were so tough that they could take the punishment. Clever, and that was only the beginning.
That the book is written by a photographer who is also an advertising dealer and collector is a happy coincidence. A coincidence too is how he found his his own way into the Michelin world, in the 1980s. The book title may be a bit too circumspect so do realize that while the book covers some very basic Michelin history, it is intended as a collectors guide, with a focus on collectabilty, authenticity, and price. It was published in 2005, and price data does not age well but it is safe to say that gas and oil collectibles had by then already become a hot ticket and remain so.
Preceding seven chapters of different categories to collect are some useful preliminaries such as Rarity v. Condition and Foreign v. American. Foreign here does not only mean France, Bibendum’s (and the author’s) native land, but the many countries in which Michelin did business. One of these was England (1904) which is why one of the closing chapters is devoted to a famous London landmark, Michelin House, the firm’s UK headquarters, depot, and showroom—and latterly, since 1987, a (Michelin starred, bien sûr) restaurant and multipurpose space owned by Sir Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn. (In fact it was the December 2022 Bonhams auction of the late Conran’s estate, which included Bibendum and Michelin memorabilia, that prompted us to finally present this book.)
If you are looking for a bit more than this book has on the corporate/historic side it’s slim pickings. We should mention Herbert R. Lottman’s 2004 book The Michelin Men: Driving an Empire (I.B. Tauris, ISBN 978-1860648960) because it may have been too new to have been included in the Bibliography here. As the author of quite a number of very readable biographies Lottman is familiar with the genre so the fact that his book was “unauthorized” is no demerit and, in fact, has its advantages. If it’s the restaurant that caught your attention look no further than The Bibendum Cookbook (Conran Octopus, ISBN 9781840915051) from 2008, easy to find and super cheap.
Speaking of cheap, the LeCoadic book was just that when it came out lo these many years ago—and publisher Schiffer not only keeps it in print but is still selling it at the same price! (They don’t do books on economics . . . better let sleeping dogs lie, eh?)
Copyright 2023, Sabu Advani (Speedreaders.info)