c.1899 French Automobile Race Course in Original Wooden Box

c.1899 French Automobile Race Course in Original Wooden Box

This very early French-made automobile racing toy was probably produced less than five or six years after the automobile was invented. Called "Course, D'Automobiles Jeu de Societe (or Toy Automobile Racing Game) it's truly an historical museum piece. I've never seen it before. I could find no reference for it. And I have no idea about the company that produced it. It is complete and actually works! 

Because of it's age and uniqueness it's tough to assign a grade to it.  Using contemporary criteria it would grade excellent+.

Basically it's a car race track toy. It's contemporary equivalent would be with a modern electrically controlled racing set. But in this case it does not use electricity. It doesn't even use a motor.

The "Course D'Automobiles comes completely self contained. Everything fits into one large fold-away wooden box. The entire race course with its rocky hills are permanently connected to the inside of the box. The gates are removable. Because of its size it was designed to fold in half at the center. This allows to be moved easily.

When folded and closed it just looks like a box folded over onto itself. The exterior was covered with red crepe paper or some other thin textured paper. A huge illustrated sepia colored print covers almost the entire cover. It shows a scene which is long, long gone; that is several motorized horseless carriages slowly making their way through a small village. It was done in blue sepia tone and obviously represents a rural French countryside. It's one of the best things about the toy.

The box is hinged in the center and unfolds to double its closed length which is approximately 5ft. A four lane track is permanently fixed to the box interior. Each track shows rocks and stubble along the way. Strips of green material representing grass separate the contestants. 

Once it's been unfolded a small wooden support folds down from one end. This provides the needed incline which starts the vehicles on their journey. A starting gate building is assembled on one end which comes complete with hand painted tin crossed French flags and cloth flowers. An automatic mechanical spring-loaded finish mechanism is set up on the other end. At the center point are three maple flagpoles linked together with opalescent glass beads. 

The cars are early horseless carriages produced by Meier in Germany. Each has a single driver. The cars are lined up at the starting gate by clipping the rear axle onto a metal ribbon. A small ring lever on one end of the box lowers all the gates simultaneously thereby releasing the vehicles at the same time. Once at the finish line the winner is determined using a clever, spring mounted mechanical score board. A vehicle at the end of its run strikes a wooden pad which releases the spring. Automatic placement position of 1,2,3, 4 plus randomly generated points are given to determine the winner.

All parts of this toy are original except for the five French flags which are replacements and the four wooden disks (pads) at the finish line.

Size: Track open approx. 60" long. Cars 3" long. 

Sold: Mar. 2012

Price Sold: $ 3229


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Subject: c.1899 French Automobile Race Course in Original Wooden Box

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