Our Heroes in Bronze
This is an account of my investigation into history of the Bronze Busts of Rolls and Royce, both the wonderful original pieces and some later copies.
It all started in 1934 when sculptor and Royal Academician William McMillan
( 1887 – 1977 ) produced a pair of life size portrait bronze busts of The Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce. McMillan had been born in Aberdeen Scotland and became Master of the Sculpture School from 1929 to 1941. He was very highly regarded in his field.
This fine pair were displayed in the London Royal Academy of Art in that year. On the back of the bust his signature appears next to the year
in which they were cast.
I am unsure how many were released, certainly only a few. My interest in these splendid busts started when a pair was offered by Sotheby’s
London saleroom some 20 years ago.
First picture below is from their catalogue in 1988
Enquiries revealed that Rolls-Royce subsequently had the original Academy pair in their Derby offices but these were later transferred to the Buckingham Gate, London offices around 1978.
Rolls-Royce PLC, the Aero company
have had two pairs in their Derby HQ
and they are still in situ.
I show you here ( left ) the magnificently mounted bust of
F. Henry Royce.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars had a pair in their Crewe factory and included line drawings of them in various publications.
See two examples below.
A page, left, from the Rolls-Royce Limited
Booklet, c. 1954
“ Two Men came together ”
This from a brochure from the Silver Cloud era.
Derby City Council proudly display an original pair of the busts along with a life size bronze statue of Royce.
The statue is shown below on the cover of a Bulletin of
The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club.
Bulletin had this
picture of the bust, shown above at the Derby factory,
on the front cover.
Eventually and after much research, some 15 years ago, I managed to acquire a pair myself from a Rolls-Royce historian. I remember vividly that these busts at 26 inches tall were
very heavy indeed !
After a few years, my family persuaded me that our conservatory would benefit from their removal. In a moment of weakness I conceded and they were sold to a nearby
Fine Art family trust !
I always thought Henry was the most striking !
Later, I started to see the reproductions !
Sadly and as we have seen with the Flying Lady mascots, it is not too difficult to make copies of cast items.
The copies were all more or less the same size, the first was in a lightweight brown plastic type material. I would not have given fifty pounds for it !
The second about six years ago was with a U.K. dealer
specialising in Rolls-Royce material who made copies.
The one I inspected was in a sturdy fibre glass or resin material and whilst on first glance looked quite good, it was obvious that there was some lack of definition.
I think the price was about five hundred pounds.
The third was at a private house in Southampton about 4 years ago, this was the best copy. It was in heavy resin and the correct colour but again lacked the sharp definition of the original. You will note below the overly smooth finish.
Finally, whilst in a Fine Art Antique shop in Mayfair, London a few years ago
I found two busts.
A brief appraisal soon revealed that they were the two shown on pages 34 & 35 of the Bonhams & Butterfields Quail Lodge sale catalogue from August 2004.
They had then been estimated at $35,000 - $45,000
and not surprisingly failed to sell.
These two were offered to me for £7,000 but I declined them.
The busts were a lot smoother than the originals
and had a shiny copper tinge to them,
the modern flame mahogany
modern plinths did not help either !
So much for the life size bronzes !
In 1979 Rolls-Royce Motors Limited in Crewe commissioned
smaller copies to commemorate the
75th, Anniversary of the meeting of Rolls and Royce.
The busts were executed by Waterside Arts Ltd.,
each sculpture being cast, polished, patinated and sealed by hand.
As shown below
These are about 9 inches tall and are cold cast resin bronze, NOT true bronze. There is a lead inset in the underside of the base into which is stamped the number of the pair. Accompanying the busts would be a
certificate bearing the same number.
As well as the tag from the makers, shown here
The official Rolls-Royce dealers bought a pair each for showroom or boardroom display and the balance of the batch were sold off to employees.
I believe some 200 numbered ones were produced.
These are finely detailed, have a nice light bronze smooth sheen to them
and carry a brass plaque to the front.
As you might by now expect, these were also copied.
The Specialist referred to above made copies, as also have others.
Many of the other copies lack the detail and finish of the 1979 busts,
some of the copies I have seen have been made from
brass or bronze with the application of the traditional brown patinating fluid.
The slight difference with the many copies is the weight
and the material from which they have been made.
For example, the weight of the 1979 authentic
bust of Royce is 2240 grams or 4 pounds 15 ounces.
Having said that, some copies are quite good
and acceptable and are ideal for the study and would grace any Rolls-Royce enthusiast’s bookshelves !
a pair of the copies which I have myself.
© John McGlynn F.I.M.I.
John McGlynn is a Fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry and a former Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealership Director.
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