Sunday, April 12, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

A bicycle similar to the one in the 1881 advertisement

The art of wheelmanship is a gentlemanly and fascinating one, once acquired never forgotten, which no young man should neglect to acquire.

The bicycle is practical everywhere that a buggy is, and enables you to dispense with the horse and the care and cost of keeping him….

Parents should favor bicycle riding by their boys, because it gives them so much enjoyment, makes them lithe and strong, keeps them from evil associations and increases their knowledge and their self-reliance. There is no outdoor game or amusement so safe and wholesome.
Sage words, and though they apply no less today, they are to be found in a Columbia Bicycles advertisement printed in 1881. The ever-wonderful Mrs. V. purchased a framed reproduction of this ad while I was far away, cavorting in Moab for my spring vacation. She hung it on the wall opposite where I ride my rollers through the winter. Can you top a woman like that? I’m playing on vacation, she’s at home working, and she thinks to buy something tuned to my interests. I’m a blessed man.

I enjoy noting that the young gentleman depicted on the highwheeler in the ad (which I unfortunately could not find a graphic of to post here) sports a bushy beard and a closely fitted cap with a short brim... that is, he looks just exactly like a college boy wheeling through Boston or Amherst today. Well... except that he's wearing a sport coat and tie over his cycling tights, and features two-toned lace-ups instead of Sidis. But then, I'd wager it's only a matter of time before some daring young chap shows up on campus in the exact same get-up.

Mrs. V. also bought a nice reproduction of an ad for a company called Northampton Cycle Company, from an original which looks to be roughly 100 years old. It's hanging right next to the first print.

Now, I find no record of this company anywhere on the web, despite the fact that the print is featured in many of the shops in the area of the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, where we moved last August. I suspect the company may be mythical, but, if true, this only adds to the appeal of the print: Where else but in the Valley would one find people talented and twisted enough to create a beautiful poster for a fictional one-hundred-year-old bicycle company, just to enhance an already healthy sense of local pride? It's all a good thing, no matter how it played out.

To quote the closing line of the Columbia promotion, "Why don't every boy have a bicycle?"