Most of us are quite familiar with the popular Tour de France bicycle race, which began in 1903, and continues through the present day, enjoying world-wide coverage for its annual three week marathon. Less widely known is the automobile racing version of the Tour, which began in 1899, but languished until it was resurrected in 1951.
Like the cycling race, the Tour took place in several stages, in a variety of locations, over several days. Classifications were divided into Touring and GT cars, with all the great marques participating; Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Osca, Jaguar, Cooper, Ford, Cobra, Triumph, MG and Renault. The winners were determined by total distance traveled in the allotted time, much like the famed 24 Hours of LeMans.
Our Tour de France medallion dates from 1956, the fifth running the the 'modern' era race. The gear-shaped outer rim measures 3 1/2 inches in diameter, surrounding a raised map of France with the Tour's route incised into the surface. A checkered flag represents Paris' location on the map. Four coats-of-arms depicting Nice, LeMans, Vichy, and Paris are arrayed across the top quarter, and the text 'V Tour de France Automobile, 1956' crosses the center section. The coats-of-arms and colored lettering are all cloisonne, not painted, and are in perfect condition with no losses. At the very top of the medallion, sits the Shell Oil Company logo. Along the lower perimeter are three recesses which contain the letters 'FFSA', which represents 'Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile', 'L'Equipe', the French sport-themed newspaper, and 'ASACN', which is unknown.
On the verso are three thin metal bands which serve as mounting points to attach to an automobile grille, or the included bespoke leather-clad display stand. The maker's stamp 'Fraisse Demey, Paris' appears at the lower edge. Fraisse Demey was a very prominent foundry specializing in sculpture, bronze commemorative plaques, and medallions.
This remarkable 1956 Tour medallion is sourced from a significant private collection, which incidentally once held a genuine 1956 Ferrari Tour de France, one of only nine ever built. It is a marvelous touchstone of international motor racing and will provide much pleasure and pride of ownership.