I went to an antiques flea market recently and saw a very weird contraption like an ancient vacuum cleaner with a roly poly figure sitting on top. It was the Michelin Man!
I rather like the Michelin Man so I asked “combien” of the little boy who was minding it while his dad was off having a glass of red wine in the bar behind. Quick as anything he came back with a cost of €400! We bartered – as best as you can when you’re dealing with an 8 year old who doesn’t really know the difference between 400 and 4000 and his Dad came out to see what I was laughing about. He did actually want €40 and explained that this was a rare something or other that didn’t impress me as I don’t really understand much about 1930’s pumps but he did call Michelin Man a prime example of early Monsieur Bibendum.
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. When I was a baby I was extremely chunky shall we say, and my family nickname was Michelin Man. I’m not actually sure I should have told you that but there it is. I suppose I’ve always had a bit of penchant for Michelin Man since then but it turns out that is not his real name.
Monsieur Bibendum is his true moniker and he is, as we all know, the symbol of the Michelin tyre company. He was introduced to the world in the 1890’s by the Michelin brothers and is designed apparently to look like a man made of a stack of tyres. It seems ancient tyres were originally a lighter colour than they are today hence his pale colour when we now have black tyres.
The name comes from Latin for “drinking to be done” since Michelin tyres could “drink up” obstacles according to the early marketing ploys.
Michelin Man is one of those iconic symbols that have passed into daily life and language thanks to his distinctive look and early marketing campaigns which saw him smoking cigars, ball room dancing and even kick boxing!
Well, it does seem no matter how old you get you learn something new every day and I am now on the lookout for Monsieur Bibendum at the flea markets – at the right price!
In case you’re wondering – my family nickname is no longer Michelin Man – it’s… for another day!