Bicycles were the most commonly used means of locomotion during the 1950s, save perhaps motorized two and three-wheelers, both in Spain and in other countries. At that time, automobiles were luxury items and only within the reach of a chosen few. It was not until the appearance of the utility vehicle in the 1960s that we started to see the bicycle gradually replaced by the automobile. As well as providing an endless source of leisure and fun activities, it was also an important means of locomotion, and even a basic work tool which, for many, offered the possibility of earning a fixed income
TEXT: ANA SOJO Y ROCÍO HERRERO RIQUELME. FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE
This is reflected perfectly in the cinema of that era and we all remember the example of that quintessential film from 1948 Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette), an authentic masterpiece of Italian neorealism by director Vittorio De Sica. The film tells the story of Antonio, who manages to find a job which requires him to have a bicycle, but it is stolen during his first day on the job. Likewise, a noteworthy example in Spanish literature is the sincere tribute Miguel Delibes paid to this means of transport in one of his most endearing tales, Mi querida bicicleta [My Beloved Bicycle], in 1988.
Compañía Hispano Americana de Seguros y Reaseguros was founded by the Millet brothers in the early 1940s. This company, known in the insurance world as CHASYR, for its initials, would soon specialize in transport insurance. In 1943 it held third place in the ranking of Spanish insurance companies by premium volume and it was not until 1988 that the British company Eagle Star took control of the company. Insurance for cyclists was offered by most of the companies at the time. It covered the risks arising from damage that could be caused to third parties, as well as the damage the bicycle itself could sustain.
As well as a means of transport, the bicycle was a work tool and a true symbol of freedom
This poster from the Hispano Americana company was made in the 1940s, during what is known as the Spanish autarky period, when the economy suffered a severe economic depression and the living conditions of most of the population were characterized by their tremendously precarious nature, with a marked decline in overall levels of well-being. These were difficult years that lasted from the end of the Spanish civil war right through to 1959, when the National Economic Stabilization Plan was approved. The shortage of goods, the lack of production and consumption, the total absence of a middle class and international isolation defined two decades of Spain’s history. This was totally disastrous for the economy and for the country’s much-needed modernization process.
In this poor, stagnant environment, radically opposed to the normal context in which the principles of advertising operate, these posters were on display to passersby. Given these circumstances, the illustrations advertising products had to produce a “comforting” effect, with optimistic images and messages. The result, for the most part, was a prevalence of conservative themes, often based on national hobbies and pastimes, such as bullfighting, movies and nascent tourism based on religious festivals and local traditions.
-However, on observing this example of these posters, which is on show at the Fundación MAPFRE Insurance Museum, we find some exceptional peculiarities that make it a piece eminently worthy of study, given that there are several aspects that distinguish it from other advertising creations. For example, the product it advertises is insurance for cyclists. This is due to the fact that, in a Spain with its infrastructure destroyed and restrictions on the importation of raw materials, the bicycle became the transport vehicle par excellence. But, far from depicting the bicycle as a vehicle necessary for getting around, Compañía Hispano-Americana de Seguros y Reaseguros presented it as a recreational product within an absolutely rustic, and clearly idealized, setting. Moreover, the advertisement features a young woman fully dressed in pristine white: headscarf, skirt, blouse, gloves and shoes. The intention is obvious: clarity, light and safety in a Spain with an uncertain future.
We also observe how the layout coding elements have been carefully chosen. One of the fundamental principles of billboard advertising is brevity of the text, given that their natural location is on the public highway and, therefore, in a transit area. In addition, it is vital that, in a few seconds, the spectator can grasp the idea – the product being promoted – and, in order to achieve this, it is imperative that the poster contains enticing elements that fulfill two purposes: communication and aesthetic quality. This is the reason why the phrase at the bottom of the poster – “This policy will PROTECT you against ALL your RISKS as a cyclist” – is written using letters of different sizes and colors. This is because it is too long for a slogan and so the company highlighted the most important words in its message: PROTECT – a verb that verges on exaggeration, but that should come as no surprise given the historical context – ALL and RISKS.
However, strange as it may seem, the fact that it features a woman is actually nothing new. There are many advertising posters related to the world of cycling that feature a young women as the central figure. One of the most important is the Salón Pedal poster by the artist Alexandre de Riquer, in which he depicted a modern female cyclist wearing those famous baggy bloomers. With this drawing, Riquer was able to transform a not very poetic theme into a decorative work, full of arabesques and flowery details that hark back to the great Mucha or Privat- Livemont.
Women and the bicycle constitute a whole genre of early advertising. The theme is repeated because, for women, it was much more than a means of transport – it was a true symbol of freedom. The two-wheeled vehicle placed within reach of the female population the possibility of moving around independently and fairly rapidly in a world that tended to confine them to the family home. A real milestone that helped present the female cyclist as the new woman, able to conquer terrain that was previously a no-go area.
There is nothing more modern than the old. We are currently witnessing a significant boom in the use of bicycles, both as a sustainable means of transport and as a fundamental vehicle for work, leisure and sport.
Practical information on the Insurance Museum
Located in Madrid, at Calle Bárbara de Braganza 14, it has 600 pieces on display and a total of 1,300 preserved in the institution’s collection.
In addition, all of them can be viewed on a virtual tour of the museum at www.museovirtualdel seguro.com.
Free guided tours for groups may be reserved in advance by completing the form on our website.