Sunday, April 7, 2013

The 1920's: Embossed Gauge Panels

The late-Twenties were the last hurrah for  stock market instant fortunes, flappers, and the celebrations dedicated to the fading memory of the "War to End All Wars". 
It was also the brief, shining moment that artisanal etching and embossing of car gauge panels reached it's peak. It would flutter on for a few years in the marine dash field, really hitting that zenith with some gorgeous seascapes on metal, but then it would go away, and it's our loss.

In the closing days of the 1920's, the car to have was the Stutz. It was fast, beautiful, and exclusive. One of the flourish's added to the Sports Tourer interior was this gauge panel. The gauges were a soft ivory face-color, but the surround was golden and magnificent, with the winged-helmet Sun God Ra framed by intricate etching.


1928 Stutz Gauge Panel





It garnered plenty of company. Check out this Kissel panel.



The vine and leaf design was immensely popular. But so were animal motifs. Here's a 1928 Reo set.



1928 Reo gauge panel


Absolutely stunning. Even in plain-jane firetrucks, like this early Prospect truck, the gauge panel is fancy.

Prospect Firetruck Dash
In the auto world, the embossed style seemed to blow out with the 1929 Hudson and Essex panels. Again, the vines, flowers, and even pinecone patterns lent themselves well to edging and swirling around the gauges. Here's the 1929 Hudson, 29 "Greater" Hudson, and 1929 Essex gash clusters...



The 1929 Hupmobile Opera Coupe panel featured Griffins and a chariot...

1929 Hupmobile

And so it was left to the boat industry, where the sentimental ideals always lasted a bit longer than in the car business, to keep the embers going. They riffed on ocean and maritime imagery, expanded on the advances in imprinting pictures, and created some truly gorgeous pieces.

Here's the 1930 Dodge boat Runabout cluster, splashed with sun rays and bare-breasted mermaids in polished chrome...

1930 Dodge Runabout Boat gauges


It was Chris Craft who finally reached the apex of this scheme. Their etched scenes of storm-tossed waves and small ships was evocative and meaningful. They began as the others waned, first with the standard motifs of the era...






But then, as I mentioned above,  the later styles are breath-taking.





For a few years, there was the occasional stamping of logos or brand name on the panels by both car and boat makers, but it was desultory and half-hearted, like the Nordberg panel below.


Or La France firetrucks, although they really went the extra-mile with the stylized Maltese Cross emblem writ-large...


Then the art faded away. The newest trends eschewed "frills", and mid-Century modernism raised it's ugly no-nonsense head in the Fifties.

However, for a few years, car and boat designers embraced their inner sculptors, and really stretched the boundaries of panel design, and left us with these and other beautiful reminders of the Jazz Age.

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