The Spirit of Ecstasy

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I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

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The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

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Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

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By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

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Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

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As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

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Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

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Monopoly – 6th February 1935

Occasionally, we like to make the point that for an object, product or brand to become “iconic” it is often requires time, allowing it to deepen into the public’s consciousness  thereby confirming its status. One such product is “Monopoly” – which you’ll know from our previous posts iOS a firm favourite – please see here Monopoly board game

The “Monopoly” board game first went on sale on this date, February 6th, in 1935 – that’s 82 years ago! Happy Anniversary Monopoly.

Monopoly – an update

I have been reading about an exhibition – “Game Plan – Board Games Re-discovered” – and excellent show at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green (East London) which runs between 8 October 2016 – 23 April 2017.

As our regular readers will know, my family and I have a very healthy Monopoly habit that has been known to dominate our Christmas and New Year celebrations.

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“Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered will celebrate the joy, excitement and occasional frustration of playing board games. This will exhibition include some of the most iconic, enthralling and visually striking games from the V&A’s outstanding national collection of board games. Alongside current family favourites such as Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit, and traditional games like chess, the exhibition will look at historical board games including The Game of the Goose and other beautifully designed games from the 18th and 19th centuries.”

http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/exhibitions/gameplan/

V&A Museum of Childhood is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45

Monopoly board game

At Christmastime, probably in the early evening on a cooler winter’s evening, one of my kids will say “Who fancies a game of Monopoly?”

We actually have three Monopoly sets, an old “back-box” set dating from the 1940’s, a newer London set and a Paris set from the early 1980’s – a long story – but particularly the black box set with its quarter folded board always sends me spiralling back through to my early teenage years. My family loved board and similar games.

My mother’s Mother, particularly loved Monopoly – in fact the 1940’s set was hers – but also, when we were much younger, we’d play Mousetrap, Cluedo with her, and a game she called “Halma” – which we knew by the name of a variant “Chinese Chequers” – that was invented in 1883/4 by George Howard Monks, a US thoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School. She was a devoted and hugely patient Grandmother.

Later we graduated to Scrabble and Mahjong – an aunt had bought back a set for her brother, my Dad, after being stationed with the RAF in Singapore.

Drinks would be served and an old green baize card table was a perfect playing surface.

I can still hear my Mother’s groans, when someone suggested a game of Monopoly. She wasn’t that fond of the game and above all, as a mother, she really didn’t like the slavering capitalism, collusion and cheating (or should I say “house-rules”) that the game seemed to provoke in some though, of course, not me, of her relatives and offspring!

My sister and I loved the increasingly less crisp bank notes and novel playing tokens which I suspect were cast in poisonous lead – a Brookland’s Bentlyesque car, a thimble, a boot and a top-hat. The earlier Monopoly set had green and red wooden houses and hotels that we would accumulate on our acquired properties and we’d take great pleasure in charging other players through the roof once hotels had been constructed often taking the title deeds to neighbouring properties in exchange for the charges levied where the former owner could not afford to settle them.

The railway stations and the utility companies were nice cash cows and, above all, we hated going to jail unless we had been lucky enough to acquire a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card or to have bought one from a less minted player.

The enduring challenge of Monopoly continues to capture the imagination of my family today and I wanted to take a look to see what I could find out about this iconic board game.

There seems to be some level of mystery – and vested interests – but the received knowledge is that Monopoly originated in the United States in 1903, devised to demonstrate how an economy rewards wealth creation as opposed to the stifling of enterprise under monopolistic conditions. First patented in 1904 by American anti-monopolist Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips as “The Landlord’s Game” it was released in early 1906 with variants of the original game being developed until the early 1930’s including a version by contributor, Charles Darrow.

The most recognised current incarnation of Monopoly was first published by Parker Brothers in 1935 – having been developed in 1933 – and subtitled “The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game. Launched on February 6th 1935, the Parker Brother’s version, in my view, seems to sit at odds with Ms Magie’s vision of the game; as it is now won by acquiring the most property and driving all other players into bankruptcy!

The original name of the dollar waiving little Mr Monopoly character on the black box was “Rich Uncle Pennybags”

In early 1935, before the game had been put into production in the US, Parker Brothers sent over a copy of Monopoly to John Waddington Ltd., a firm of printers from Leeds (Yorkshire) who had the ambition to branch out into card games. Norman Watson, the son of the then Waddington’s MD, was so impressed by the game that he persuaded his father to telephone Parker Brothers in the US – at a time when transatlantic calls were very rare. This call resulted in Waddingtons being appointed a Parker Brother’s licensee tasked with producing and marketing the game outside of the United States and to devise a London-version of the Monopoly board with London’s landmarks, railway stations and street names.

Since the board game was first commercially sold it has firmly become part of popular culture – and my family’s Christmases. It has been licensed in more than 103 countries, printed in more than 100 different editions and in more than thirty-seven languages.

 

Despite its court tested nature as ‘generic’ Parker Brothers and its current parent company, Hasbro, holds valid trademarks for the game – and consequently the word – “Monopoly”.