canned pyramids: american sales polish

by Art Chantry (

i think it’s high time we talked turkey about auto polish, don’t you? i know that you do….

for along time, i’ve encountered these crazy auto polish canisters (all dated from the 50′s and early 60′s. i’ve picked them up and accidentally grown a rather nice little collection of these crazy things. have you ever seen more ridiculous packaging? these quick flatbed scans really don’t do them justice (the color is way off, the metallic sheens don’t translate and they’re slightly out of focus). but, t=you get some hint of what i’m talking about.

i assume all the actual auto polish in these cans are identical. the only difference is the packaging. i have visions of a mad laboratory in new jersey with huge vats of bubbling stinky viscous fluid s being funneled by sleazy looking crooks into all these different colorful happy-looking little cans.

---AC:the LaSabre is the correct name of this car. and it was the first tail fin and it was harley's work and he did drive it around trying to pick up chicks. that's the important part to me.

these are pyramid schemes. all of these wacky cans are different because different hustlers sold it off. the basic idea is like amway – a main supplier starts people and groups (cub scouts, churches, high school pep bands) selling this stuff door to door (or in front of supermarkets) at the cover price. they have to buy it from the supplier at at a lesser price. when they sales reach a certain level, they get prizes and bonuses. classic ponzie stuff. the money in reality only flows into the hustler’s pocket. then they vanish and produce a new auto polish.

so, cans, even full crates of this stuff languished in garages and and basements for decades. people will buy it out of civic duty, but never get around to using it. eventually i find it in a yard sale or a garbage dumpster. they’re easy to spot – their neon crazy fake-modernist madcap appearance shines out like a flashing casino advert.

i love the names! “plastone! with “hi-Fi” color guard!” and (oh, man!) “liquid class!” ‘first ribbon auto polish – i’m the “greatest!”‘ can it possibly get any better?

and what red-blooded american male can resist those cars! i’ll bet they couldn’t WAIT to rub this slime on their hot rods, eh? one of them even has a nekkid lady posing over it! hubba hubba! the car on the ‘liquid class’ can (on the right) is actually the infamous “firebird” dream car designed by harley earl (head of design at GM). it was the very first car ever to sport TAIL FINS! yes, this is where it came from!

the firebird dream cars (the first of several) had so many novel new features on it that it became a laboratory of things now taken for granted on modern auto designs. harley used to actually drive this car as his personal transport around town (with e convertible top down) cruising town, looking to impress the chicks. try to imagine ol’ harl waving at you as he slipped past in this space age moderama fantasy rocketship. i’m sure he had a big ol’ stogie slapped between his leering lips.

if you look at the can on the right (the ‘liquid class’), you’ll see it’s completely covered with 5 point type – front, sides, top and bottom. this is the sales pitch. it’s full of bold type, underlines and caps. this stuff will not only s

and protect your car forever, it will increase your virility, grow hair on your bald spot, increase your longevity and make you irresistable to women. oh, and it’ll make you rich, too! just follow the easy steps listed here. that’s why this stuff costs $2.50 and not the conventional $1.00 like the other can here. this is LIQUID CLASS!

however, i’ve examined the contents of both and i swear they’re identical

who would ever think that the auto polish industry would be established as a cheezy hustle? i mean, we’re all salesmen in america, that’s what made us great. but, auto polish? can you think of a product more banal? the designs on these can were irresistible little explosion of sheer excitement. they hooked you like a fisherman’s harpoon and dragged you in, grabbed that cash in your sweaty pockets and shoved you out the door one happy satisfied customer.

this is what graphic design does. it ain’t art. it’s barely creative. it ain’t anything special except it controls your every thought. it’s propaganda of the basest sort. always has been, always will be. graphic design exists to trick you into doing something a client wants you to do. it could be ‘buy this product’ or ‘go to this event’ or ‘vote for this candidate’ or even ‘believe in this religion.” graphic designers are the linguists who use this shared language to service the client’s desired goals. and we do it for pay. what does that make us?

every time i listen to some high-minded arrogant designer rubbing our noses in his latest sales pitch (like they’re some smarter creature of higher taste and breeding than you) i simply remember the wonders of auto polish. i remember what we really do for a living.

get out of my way, i need to get that new cell phone ap RIGHT NOW!….


AC:was the lesabre ever referred to as the ‘firebird lesabre’? also, i thought the lesabre was immediately postwar and predated the 48 caddy. my bad. i know the 48 cad was the first production model with fins. but i thought the lesabre predated (or was contemporary to) it and was the idea source.

an yes, i know the tail fin idea came from ww2 fighter planes – which were also designed by harley earl….

… for decades i, too thought it was “liquid 1st class” as well. but, recent re-consideration of the titling suggests maybe it’s the superior cheezy name of ‘liquid class.” frankly, i like that much better.

in reality, the name is almost meaningless stuff. the ‘dr. bonners’ visual connection is great (i certainly noticed it), but so many of these weird little screed-decorated products means to me that this was a relatively common approach to labeling for many years. i’ve also found plant fertilizer and marijuana soap and mousetraps (among other sundried things) that also utilize dense cryptic “booster’ sales typography like this. it all tends to look alike, i’ve come to believe it’s actually a result of the ‘cheezy hustle” mindset, not the design….

…after his fall from power, he sold pre-fab metal pole barns. he tried to get people to use them as business buildings or things like grocery stores. it’s sorta cool to look at al his facade designs – they’re all the same. sorta like mr. brady in the ‘the brady bunch┬ámovie”. seems like a long way down…. i think of earl as one of the great american designers. he should be studied along side f.l. wright, tiffany and paul rand.

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