November 2016

I am Gillian Bardsley, the BMIHT Archivist, and at this time of year it’s always interesting to look back on the ‘corporate’ approach to Christmas. Traditionally, all branches of industry and commerce use the festive season as an opportunity to connect with their customers, and the motor industry was no exception. So we have a wonderful collection of the corporate calendars and Christmas cards sent out by many of the companies who feature in our Archive Collections, displaying seasonal motoring images and best wishes for Christmas and the coming year

Why This Document?

 

The example I have chosen for this month’s document is particularly interesting, in that it is a combination of the corporate and the personal. 2016 marked the Centenary of the birth of Herbert Austin, and also 80 years since his elevation to the peerage as ‘Baron Austin of Longbridge in the City of Birmingham’. This Austin Christmas card is from the same year, 1936.

There are no santas, reindeer or sprigs of holly. Instead, the topic is the elevated status of the founder and Chairman of the Austin Motor Company. On the front of the card, the centrepiece is a personal message which reads ‘This card contains a token of my hope that you and yours will enjoy a right merry Christmas – one so outstanding that when in time to come you recall Christmas 1936 your mind will glow with happy memories’. It carries his signature, simply ‘Austin’ as befits a Lord. Above the message is his coat of arms featuring the ‘winged wheel’ which was the logo of the Austin Motor Company at the time, over a wheatsheaf to symbolise his humble origins as a ‘farmer’s boy’, a nickname he often applied to himself. The motto is ‘Forward, Inspire’. Underneath the message is a picture of the Houses of Parliament where he had already spent some years as the Conservative MP for Kings Norton between 1918 to 1924. Inside is a colourful picture of the House of Lords, with its red upholstery and plush panelling. There is also a useful calendar for the coming year with the reminder ‘Make it an Austin Year again’, all a rather big hint that the recipient might want to keep the card on his or her mantelpiece throughout 1937.

Sadly, Lord Austin would not enjoy his peerage for long. He died at his home, Lickey Grange, in May 1941 aged 75 following complications from pneumonia.

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