Monday, April 20, 2009

Old and New – Again

A follow-up to last week's post on antique bicycle posters and their related companies: The redoubtable Mrs. V. dug up some great related articles and book chapters this week. You can't beat having a bona fide librarian in the family.
First up, a delightful and engrossing account of the earliest manufacturers of bicycles in Massachusetts (and, by extension, the U.S.). Quite a bit of detail about the illustrious Albert Pope, known to all and sundry by his honorific, "Colonel." Tasty details about how and why he started the Columbia Bicycle Company, and about the roiling market for early bicycles. At one point in the late 19th century, there were over 100 separate bicycle manufacturing companies in Boston alone. I keep telling you people: Cycling was it in those days in this country. All other sports took a back seat. I don't know about you, but when I read stuff like this, I start thinking I was born too late. I particularly enjoy the fact that my adoptive state of Massachusetts was a hot-bed of cycling history. (See earlier post about Major Taylor, "The Worcester Whirlwind" and one of the first African-American sports superstars.)

As for the Northampton Cycle Company, the subject of the second print hanging on our study wall, Mrs V. exhumed a more specific article from an 1898 edition of the New York Times. It seems they were indeed real -- but perhaps short-lived. Now, this might have had something to do with a nefarious bank president from Northampton, who absconded with some of the bike company's funds one fine day. Hm... banks making off with undeserved loot... sounds awfully familiar... let's see...

A sighting of the fleeing bank officer in nearby Westfield is mentioned at the end of that short blurb. The next we hear of him, he is apprehended in Louisville, KY, "posing as a man of some means... on the lookout to invest his capital to advantage." He had $7 in his pocket. You can't make this stuff up.

In a strange way, I find it comforting to be reminded that the news themes that outrage us today -- financial turmoil, shady dealings, outsized egos jostling for worldly position -- are as old as the hills. Perhaps just as comforting, the Columbia company rolls on today, 132 years later, under the same name... and just a few towns away from where I'm living now. Everything old really is new again.

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