All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
Early on, while still living on 28th Street, I discovered another Object Trouvé, at a furniture store a block away, a perfect sculpture, a Readymade! I moseyed by the shop, one day, looking for a round wood table with lions feet. The store specialized in these. Trucks pulled up each weekend, and unloaded tons of them, all, whether plain or fancy, were $45 each. And there IT was, a stunning electric tire pump! The owner was sort of into these. He had picked it up in France. The price was thirty bucks. Astride it, was Bibendum, the Michelin Tire Man. This object, simply, had everything! Like Mickey, Bibendum’s multi-layered body, made up of entirely of tires, was pure abstraction. His small and perfectly formed human hands presented just the right note of reality, gesticulating with a flourish, as he held the hose up to his mouth, prepared to inflate tires. The object had weight and substance, cast iron, and an interesting patina, the signs of age and the chipped paint were just right. They told a story that being mint could never relate. The tire gauge, with its delicate graphics and yellowing celluloid lens, was like a jewel. I fell in love with this eye opening object, at first sight, and lugged it home, giddy with delight! If not for it, weighing me down, I might have taken flight.
And so, Bibendum, “Bib,” the Michelin Tire Man, became, in a single day, an object I would seek and respond to, always. Back then, in 1968, Bib's past was still present, and great images of him could still be found. And I discovered that he had a history that was much better than his future. At one time, in France there had been whole Michelin Parades, with massive floats, and images of Bib, inflated, many stories high.
Auction Acres, was just a one day show, back then, but what a day it was! Those glorious 12 hours proved long enough to hold a lifetime of adventure, intense excitement, and intoxicating pleasure. And when the day was over, both my money and my energy were spent. But, ah! My vehicle was overflowing, brimful of Brimfield treasure. And this exhilarating event, this best Christmas morning ever, took place three times a year. With each passing season, it grew bigger and better, and we allowed ourselves to believe that this tri-annual source of predictable nirvana would go on, year after year, forever.
Over the years I obtained a few more interesting Bibs, but never another as spectacular as this. Unfortunately, the Michelin Man, when seen at all, was still evolving visually, and not for the better. Of course, I would say the same of Mickey. And, in a way, they are very similar. Both are pure abstractions, made up of geometric shapes. And, like Mickey, Bib’s best days are behind him, maybe.
Here is a charming little movie that depicts the Birth of Bibendum. He starts out as a stack of tires that, as the legend goes, come magically to life. As he pumps himself up, he grows larger, until in his enormity, he floats into the sky, taking the whole house with him. There, he frolics among the stars and comets, until, in the end, he falls apart, covering the entire Earth with tires by Michelin.
In the years that followed, Bib’s popularity waned. But, now, thanks to computer animation, he is coming back again, radically changed, and yet, the styling, really, isn’t bad. Although, his origin as a stack of tires has been lost in translation. In fact, I could swear he’s morphed into a Teenaged Mutant NinjaTurtle.
And as his styling became more “up to date” my interest in him began to fade. But I still managed to find a few vintage things. This large latex figure, for one. He was designed to sit atop a truck. Similar images are still made, today, but they are not the same. More recent versions are stiff, slick, and robotic, molded out of glossy plastic. This guy, on the other hand, is warm and friendly, with a great big winning smile, and a twinkle in his curiously configured pie-cut eyes. He appears to be enjoying the performance of the attractive young lady, whose image is reflected in the frame. I swear I didn’t set this up! It is pure accident! I didn’t notice it, until I blew the photo up. Nor would you, if I didn't point it out! Mickey seems slightly verklempt. "What's she doing in my cel?"
I have seen only one modern piece that I had any desire to obtain. it sits on my desk, today, to hold my better brushes.
Here is an almost great object, a solid heavy rubber toy, and its original box. The box, roughly translated, reads, “Merry Christmas! Bibendum interrupts this Michelin commercial to offer this "Babybib" to your small children.” On his chest it says, “No too small tires allowed!” In his hand he holds an object that is impossible to identify! An updated vinyl version is on the right.
At one time, Bakelite ashtrays like this one were all over the house. Alas, I used them. The seated image of Bibendum is actually quite nice. One, occasionally, sees fake hood ornaments cast from these. Putting these three together, I noticed that one is higher quality. Looking closer I discovered that the better, crisper one, in the center, was made in England, the others, in the USA.
Speaking of Radiator ornaments, here is a real one.
High in the rafters, is a rather nice tin sign. The image of Bib captures him in his prime, straight forward and iconic. I believe that this, too, comes from France.
Likewise, is this tire repair first aid kit, everything one needs to administer care to ailing tires and punctured inner tubes.
And here is the companion piece to the small tire pump, with which my interest in the Michelin Tire Man began. It too was imported from France, As an object it is, somewhat, more industrial than sculptural, but, nonetheless, it has a certain complex charm. And the large figure of Bibendum is, once again, made of cast iron.
And then there are the posters! I have been presented with the opportunity to own them all, over the years, but three, in particular, attracted me. The first, sort of just came my way at a local auction. Here we see Bibendum, riding a bicycle. This is so delightfully surreal! He is removing parts of his anatomy, the spare tires from around his waist, (would that I could do the same), and sailing them at the viewer, one at a time. I love the totally surreal way the upper half of him continues to float in space.
This second poster is printed on some sort of glossy medium that I was warned was years ahead of its time in vibrancy, but is highly vulnerable to light. So, it is kept in a dark hallway. In fact, on the bottom of the poster, in rather large type, it reads, in French: “This poster is to be displayed in interiors only!” The art is most fanciful. Bib is riding a bicycle, through fields of broken glass, with Pierette, clinging to his back, lovingly. She waves "Adieu" to poor Pierrot, who, in hot pursuit of his fleeing lover, is tumbling off his bike. The possibility that it is not equipped with Michelin tires is implied. The Man in the Moon looks down on this dramatic scene, and smiles.
And last of all, is a poster I once saw pictured, thumbnail size, in an ad brochure, years ago. And for many years, thereafter, I asked every poster dealer I encountered, if they knew it, or could get it for me. Finally, after years of inquiry, one poster specialist, who came from France to Atlantic City, annualy, got it for me. This Poster is amazing! It foretells the imagery of King Kong and Fay Wray, a quarter century before the film was made. A giant Bib, leering, in the background, and puffing on his cigar, holds a luscious Art Neuveau lady in his enormous hand, as she caresses a "Pnew Michelin."
Another interesting novelty is this Bibendum jumping Jack MOUSE OVER
In 1968 there were still great images of Bibendum to be discovered, although, most were imported. That is not to say he didn’t, also, have a legacy, here, in the USA. One of the best examples of that is this massive plaster statue that I discovered one May morning, in Brimfield’s earliest days. Minutes into the unpacking, with few vehicles in place, I spied a monumental statue of Bibendum, emerging from an isolated station wagon, several thousand feet away. I flew across the still nearly empty field, dodging moving vehicles on the way, and captured it, before it could escape. What a wonderful way to start a day of high adventure. Fueled by pure adrenalin, I carried the massive, yet fragile, plaster figure, across the field, and deposited it in the safe haven of my station wagon.