Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Valentine, Saintes

Eleven minutes in Saintes, part 2 (Go to part 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

With my picture of the Dubonnet sign taken, I headed towards the bridge over the railway tracks, where I had previously recognized a sign for Valentine. As I came closer I was surprised to discover a second ghost sign, which is normally obscured by the parapet if you seat in a car (there are two, much more convenient, underpasses for pedestrians to cross the tracks, so no reason really to venture onto that bridge on foot).

Few people will notice these two signs nowadays but before the bridge was built the road led to the railway crossing at the junction with the Avenue Jourdan. Whenever the barriers were closed or the traffic light was red, drivers had plenty of time to look at these walls. Prime location!

Les belles

The origins of Valentine paint can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when Lawson Valentine, a descendant of French immigrants, joined Wadsworth, Nye & Co a manufacturer of varnish based in Connecticut. Having left his employer, he founded in 1852 the firm of Stimson & Valentine. Its name changed on various occasions as partners came and went. In 1864 it became Valentine & Co. By then it was a leading provider of varnish to coach makers across the US. When the company crossed the Atlantic to set up a subsidiary in France is unclear. However in 1925 Valentine merged its French operations with the Établissements Lemoine to form the Compagnie des Vernis Valentine, which specialized in varnish and paint for the automobile industry, supplying among other manufacturers Citroën, Renault, Pahnard or Berliet. That very year Eugène Schueller (the controversial founder of l'Oréal) became the company's managing director, a position he occupied until 1939. Under his leadership Valentine launched in the late 1920s its first range of decorative paint, which "dried in four hours only" (to quote the ad the company ran at the time). Its success, no doubt helped by the colourful, bold posters designed by Charles Loupot (the poster for Valentine is the first one of the second row), and catchy radio ads, made it a household name across France. One of those radio ads was based on Maurice Chevalier's famous songs 'Valentine' released in 1924. The lyrics were altered from
Elle avait des tout petits petons, Valentine, Valentine [She had tiny little feet, Valentine, Valentine]
Elle avait un tout petit menton, Valentine, Valentine...[She had a tiny little chin, Valentine, Valentine...]
Elle se vend en tout petits bidons, Valentine, Valentine [It is sold in tiny little cans, Valentine, Valentine]
Elle se fait dans les plus jolis tons, Valentine, Valentine... [It is available in the nicest colours, Valentine, Valentine...]
In 1934, Valentine & Co having sold its shares, the company became 100% French owned and remained so until 1984 when it was sold to Imperial Chemical Industries, the manufacturer of Dulux paint. Then in 2008 ICI became part of Akzo Nobel. It is now marketed under the name 'Dulux Valentine'.
After the Second World War the figure of the painter originally designed by Loupot was given a more modern (but much less elegant I'd say) appearance as the painted sign above shows. He remained the symbol of Valentine for several decades, before he was replaced in the late 1980s / early 1990s by a classy black panther.

To the right of the Valentine sign are the logos of the advertising companies that managed that space: SFAR and Dauphin.

The Société Française d'Affichage Routier (French Society of Road Displays) was one of several companies that appeared during the early twentieth century and brought advertising to the roadside. After the Second Word War, like some of its competitors, it was bought by Dauphin O. T. A. (itself result of the merger between Dauphin and the Office Technique d'Affichage). Founded in 1930, Dauphin expanded rapidly after the war thanks to Eugène Dauphin's refusal to collaborate with the Nazis during the Occupation and his role in the Résistance (ironically, he then used the pseudonym 'Le Duc', a lower title than his real surname. The Dauphin was the heir apparent to the throne during the Ancien Régime). This stance allowed him to win many contracts after 1945, in particular in Paris where he was given the right to use blank walls and buildings damaged during the war, and to purchase under favourable conditions some of his competitors that had behaved less honourably. Under his son Jacques the company continued to flourish, with subsidiaries opening in the Benelux countries, Spain, and Italy. Following his death, his niece and nephew took charge of the company and in the early 1990s they sold it to the US media conglomerate Clear Channel.


Location: Avenue Aristide Briand, Saintes, Charente-Maritime / Picture taken on: 06/06/2010

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