1869/1870 Velocipede (Boneshaker)


Cars and motorcycles over 100 years old are prohibitively expensive, having appreciated greatly in value recently due to savings accounts becoming less viable and stock market investments too risky. Veteran bicycles are now going the same way. Your historic vehicle appreciates in value and you can enjoy owning and displaying it at the same time.

I particularly like researching the relevant era of each vintage vehicle I own. This is not like the history I was forced to learn at school: wars, politics, religion, royalty. Instead I discover social attitudes of the time, issues facing small businesses, how the development of transport liberated people. Browsing cycling and motorcycling magazines of the time provides much insight into topics of the day. Motoring was in its infancy only 100 years ago. Riders were pioneers.

As a result, I learn about the history of ordinary people, which I find much easier to relate to life today.



1869/1870 Velocipede (Boneshaker)


This velocipede is in remarkably good condition for a vehicle that’s 140 years old.


The rear wheel is 28″ and the front wheel is 34″ so it’s a reasonable size, and practical to own and use. A friend has quite a large velocipede that you have to climb up onto, while this one is just about small enough that you can reach the ground with your foot. It’s also small and light enough to bring inside the house, if you want to park it in the hall or hang it on the wall when not in use (if you unscrew them, you can turn the handlebars straight).


It passed through a Phillips auction on 10th August 1996. Bicycle expert Nicholas Oddy described it as an 1869 or 1870 Velocipede with egshell-finished wheels and with all original components.


The manufacturer is unknown, but it might be French.


It is very photogenic, and obviously attracts a lot of attention wherever it goes.


It has obviously been cherished throughout its lifetime because, as well as its metalwork being in very good condition, the saddle is also still remarkably sound.

The rear brake is a very straightforward procedure: you simply roll the handlebars forward to pull a wire which, in turn, operates a brake lever onto the rear wheel.

The rear wheel is a bit wobbly (quite excusable in a 140-year-old bicycle). To use it regularly it might be a good idea to have it serviced by a weelwright.






This type of velocipede is one of the first bicycles, pre-dating the Penny Farthing.

In France, Ernest Michaux is considered the ‘father of the bicycle.’ He and brother Pierre added cranks and pedals to improve the earlier Draisienne bicycle. Though Pierre Michaux created much interest in France and America with this new-fangled ‘velocipede’ the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 hit French bicycle production at a vital time, with bicycle factories turned over to manufacture of armaments.

British manufacturers soon took over and, by 1885, James Starley had turned the velocipede into the ‘safety bicycle’ which is essentially the design of bicycle that endures to this day.


Being a bicycle that was eminently usable, the velocipede soon captured the public imagination. The weekly satirical magazine The Ferret lost no time in adding to comments of the day. Its cover of March 22nd, 1870, illustrates women riding velocipedes with extremely risque attire.


The picture below, from The Illustrated London News of 1883, is well-known.



Many engineering companies jumped onto the velocipede bandwagon in the early 1870s to cater to this early cycling craze. The comments of wholesale manufacturers Newton Wilson & Co, of 144 High Holborn, in their advertisement below, are interesting.


The VELOCIPEDE up to the present has been a luxury for the few; it will speedily become a necessity for the many. To meet this efficiently, a good article at a low cost is essential, and this is what is now for the first time offered.

In selecting a Velocipede it should be observed that the article is worse than useless if badly made, and many of the cheap ones offered in the market are open to this observation, being the veriest rubbish conceivable. As very great strain is frequently produced in the various working parts, it is necessary that they should be finished and put together with the greatest mechanical skill, and in these respects Messrs NEWTON WILSON & Co possess facilities that cannot be excelled by any other house in the trade. Every Bicycle is absolutely warranted, and the finish of Nos 6 and 7 will be found far superior than anything yet produced.



Youngsters today have little concept of how early transport developed into the vehicles we know (and take for granted) today. Most machines such as this are in museums, and are hardly ever seen in the streets. I find early vehicle history fascinating, especially when it’s still just about affordable to own and use a piece of it!

When I bought this velocipede, I intended to take it (with other early bicycles and a few later motorcycles) to schools to illustrate how motorcycles developed. But plans have now changed. This delightful old boneshaker will be sold with some others from my collection. I’m sure the new owners will get a lot of pleasure from owning and displaying such a wonderful historic vehicle.



This Velocipede has now been sold.

Published on February 25, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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