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Tucked away in Nantes, France, the Stella bicycle company was launched in 1909. A family business through its near-70-year-long lifespan, the brand was lifted to a new level of fame in the 1950s by three-time Tour de France winner Louison Bobet.
Long before the bright lights of fame that Bobet’s victories brought, Stella fought for buyer attention in the crowded space of French bicycle manufacturers. In the pre-World War II era, posters were an essential advertising medium. Not unlike advertising today, the gamut of promotion style was vast. Looking through our collection of original Stella posters, it appears that the brand was willing to try just about any angle to motivate a consumer to buy its bikes. There are Stella posters that look like profound art masterpieces, some rather pedestrian and yet others whimsical.
For me, the whimsical posters really set Stella apart from the majority of its competitors. And of all its output, this small poster takes top honors in the land of whacky and whimsy. The first time I ran across it at auction in Paris, I knew I wanted it—although I was not entirely sure why.
As I stared at the poster, I couldn’t help but, in my mind’s eye, see a poster artist sitting at his desk, racking his soul for inspiration on how to create a new angle to sell a poster (and a Stella bike). By the 1920s, bicycle posters had been around for more than 30 years, and thousands of posters had adorned the plaza walls of Paris and beyond. A fresh idea was a tall order.
My position is that, after an hour or two of inspiration aided by a bottle of absinthe, our intrepid poster artist decided the green fairy—a common name for absinthe at the time—was the theme to embrace. In its charming way, this poster works. The colors are bright, the graphics strong and the green fairy confidently pedals quickly past the viewer.
I didn’t buy a Stella bike, but I did acquire the poster. Perhaps it was not the purchase the brand initially hoped for, but Stella and the green fairy are still alive and well in our collection.