It’s Squirrel, Actually.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? And so it should! Who would’ve thought the thuggish American grey squirrel could do some good?

“Don’t sneeze”. (c)

Artwork has been around since man first walked the earth, from those basic but enigmatic cave paintings through innumerable differing themes, spheres and periods. Prior to the automobile entering the scene, the largest canvas one could expect to become embellished by a more detailed approach might have been a carriage, steam engine, a wagon or the mighty locomotive. With these large expanses to adorn, you could really personalise, promote your product.

JJ Deal of Janesville, Michigan was the producer of fine wagons, carriages and buggies powered by natural horsepower. From 1845 Deal swiftly gained a reputation for building not only quality products but also a highly detailed paint finish. Deal’s Chief Striper was a fellow named Andrew Mack. A perfectionist, Mack was never completely satisfied with the quality or performance of his paints and brushes whilst working at Deal, seeking better products and methods in which to attain those all important details. 

After years of experimenting with various materials, 1891 saw Mack resign his Deal role, setting up his own company, Andrew Mack Brush Co making striping brushes, the oddly named Striping Pencil being the first brush. Mack became the watchword for sword shaped detailing brushes, helping to make the carriages of the time more ornate.

A firm already employing stripers was Studebaker and one of their first options would be to offer black wheels with a red striped rim. This was on their carriages and as they moved from horse driven vehicles to, initially electric and then gasoline powered cars, the transition of those stripes was easy. The stripe helped to make Studebaker cars more prominent and therefore memorable.

A chap named O. Z. Crozier went by the nickname of The Baron; having worked for Studebaker from the early 1900’s, moving onto Ford and remaining something of a pin stripe guru for practically half a century. Then, as now, paying customers wanted a design to stand out. From contact details to patterns limited only by imagination and pretty much all done by experts such as The Baron using Mack brushes.

As cars evolved from essentially carriage type construction to more modern designs, the job of the striper became easier for a time. Lengthy saloon cars wanted for nothing more than a juicy stripe of a contrasting colour to accentuate those lines. Of course the automobile world searched for money saving ideas and just prior to the Second World War, not only had the passion for the pin stripe began to fade, modern printing techniques were becoming more available and more accurate. The days of the factory employed Mack brush wielding striper were numbered.

Mack brushes and the art of pin-striping though, were far from over. The big manufacturers no longer had a need for them but the world of the custom artist began to form after the war. The 1950’s are considered the golden era with names such as Kenneth Howard (aka Von Dutch), Ed Big Daddy Roth, Tommy The Greek amongst many others showing the way to skilfully applying slivers of paint to a side panel, hood, motorcycle gas tank or just about any surface found on a vehicle. The product of choice remained a Mack brush.

Andrew Mack died in 1946 aged 86, but wasn’t the best at keeping records. All that can be definitely ascertained are the facts that he employed plenty of females to make the brushes, and that even though known as camel hair, the brush material was that of squirrels. The reason being somewhere along the timeline, the phrase camel hair was used and it stuck. Changing it to squirrel hair might not only offend potential buyers but probably confuse them. One wonders if roadkill or breeding came into the equation. Mack continues to produce dozens of various sword style brushes for the pin striping world.

Today, modern paints once applied and dried are brushed by ostrich feathers to clear any infinitesimal grains of muck and few cars wear any kind of hand-applied pin stripe adornment. The flanks of an XJ (or any, elongated saloon), always look good with a gold line, but it’ll be machine applied, sadly. Perhaps other than Rolls-Royce, the custom world is where those with the skill to wield a Mack brush not only reside but prosper.

Von Dutch and his “Flame Mercedes.” Perhaps not… (c) Classic

Competitions are held globally in the medium, and while one could easily argue the merits for or against applying such colourful and elaborate details, you can bet your bottom dollar that design will have been painted by a squirrel based, sword Mack brush.

We end with a testimonial from the Mack catalogue of unknown year sent by the Buick Motor Company.

Dear Sir, we are pleased to add to the Mack testimony. Your goods have proved their worth over the past four years and at the present time we shall not look around too much for sword stripers. Yours, B. Rosenweig Jr, Purchasing Dept.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

7 thoughts on “It’s Squirrel, Actually.”

  1. When restoring an old motorcycle it is increasingly difficult to find someone who really knows how to apply pin stripes manually. When those stripes are applied using a pen like instrument with a rubber wheel they look different and just not right.
    When Geoffrey Robinson became managing director of the Meriden motorcycle co op (the former Triumph motorcycle factory) he discovered that there were true artists in the paint shop and he deliberately asked for designs to show off their unique mastering of the art

  2. Good morning, Andrew, and thanks for sharing this interesting history. While admiring the undoubted skill and artistry, I have to confess that the end product is often not to my taste. An elegant and subtle pinstripe can be a delightful adornment to a luxury car and the hot-rod flames is, I suppose, a classic of sorts, but that poor Mercedes looks like it has been pooped on by a pterodactyl!

  3. This takes me back to the mid 70’s when I used to add a pin stripe to my cars. Not all of them, I did add a Starsky and Hutch white line down the flanks and over the roof on my Hillman Imp 🤣. Going back to pin striping though, sadly not by a Mack brush, but buy self adhesive stripes off a roll, bought at my favoured car spares shop.

  4. in the early 70s, there was an always-warm workshop, cave really,
    in a city lane in Melbourne, where one Roy Bogner practised the
    dark arts of stove enamelling motorcycle tanks etc, and pinstriping.
    he had been in this trade, this artisanship, for many years.
    I once had the pleasure of watching him apply a gold embellishment
    to a black Triumph petrol tank, using a small brush like the Mack,
    all in one sure flowing movement, faultless, mesmerising.
    memory suggests he had a ciggy glued to his lower lip.
    he told me that black was his preferred colour for motorbikes,
    because “black reflects all the other colours”.

    1. I once visited the BMW motorcycle factory when the bikes were still hand made in Berlin-Spandau.
      It was fascinating to watch the guy who applied the lines to the large and heavy BMW tanks. Two fingers guiding his hand along the contour of the tank, two fingers holding the brush and all done in one continuous movement without hesitation or tremble.

  5. True craftspeople like these really are something else to observe when working. It somehow instils a calming feeling within me. Which leads to a wholly different feeling seeing the pterodactyl pooped flame Mercedes. Goodness, the man obviously had a great talent: what on Earth had Von Dutch been on to fashion that?

    Those bike pictures are a superb exponent for showing that a restrained result comes across far better than the garish, Gullwing blobs. To each their own but a subtle pinstripe pr perhaps small motif works best; for me.

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