Antique Cycle Chic: part 2

Antique Cycle Chic: part 2

After months of watch-listing, I have finally added to my collection of antique real photo postcards (or RPPCs) showing stylish women on their bicycles, which I wrote about previously.

I love RPPCs because they weren’t mass produced (Our site stats show the last Antique Cycle Chic post has had hundreds of pageviews, so I guess I’m not alone!). RPPCs are actual photos of real people (that is, usually not models), printed onto postcard backing papers or stamped after printing with postcard markings, and the cameras that were used to take them very quickly became standard studio equipment and soon after were sold to the general public. This means they’re unique historical documents, with only a handful of copies in existence, and they often show objects or events that were of interest to the subject, photographer, and recipient of the postcard – but not necessarily to anyone else. They’re also relatively inexpensive to collect.

{By the way, I’m no expert. I haven’t taken photography classes or learnt about the history of photography myself, so if anyone wants to add some information in the comments about to help contextualize RPPCs or describe the type of prints they were for people with those interests I’d really appreciate it!}

I already have great black-and-white or sepia portraits that show off womens’ outfits and bicycles with skirtguards to best advantage, so I’ve concentrated on rounding out my collection with group shots, which are somewhat harder to find, and hand-tinted RPPCs, which were mostly studio portraits – not always true-to-life, with their painted backdrops and weird props, but great for showing the fine details of clothing.

(Temporary note: These images were screen-captured and cropped from the auction images on eBay after I purchased the items, so I could share them with you right away. As my items arrive in the mail, I’ll edit this post to replace the images with higher-resolution scans, and add close-ups and more information gleaned from the backs of the cards.)

Detail of RPPC addressed to Miss E. Roberts of St. Clements, and postmarked Oxford (England) August 8th, 1905. The ladies are seen at a distance, but you can pick out straw boaters, puffed sleeves, ankle-length skirts, and bicycles with front rod brakes. This must have been a beautiful ride, as the photograph shows the most idyllic setting imaginable; that house behind them is the only one visible on the whole treed lane, which takes up most of the photo’s foreground.

France, 1910s RPPC, postally unused. Long scarf on hat, long striped skirt, puffy sleeves, very Edwardian – this is pretty similar to a lot of the images in my previous antique cycle chic post. I wonder how many of the women in studio shots from this period are actually just using the bike as a prop? I can’t imagine she really would have ridden a bicycle with a double top bar, no matter how covetable we now think it is.

1900-1920 RPPC, postally unused, in the French Fantasy style, with printed labels in French and German on the back. The red tint is gorgeous, isn’t it? This sailor-suit type cycling costume seems to have been fairly popular, and her hairdo and lace-up boots suggest this was taken before 1920. Does anyone know if that’s a culotte-style split skirt that would have been worn with this? Also notice the front rod brake, pale tires, and the placement of the bell on the head tube instead of atop the handlebars.
(Update: the vendor who sold me this RPPC is now selling reprints of it if anyone else wants a copy! Mine is the original though. =P)

This RPPC is from a Parisian studio and stamped in Dutch, “Happy Birthday”. The vendor says it was postally used in 1926 (so stay tuned for more details from the message on the back). She has a sailor-suit too, and it does look like a split skirt here, but she’s wearing it with a cloche, bobbed marcel-waved hair, and covetable t-strap heels. I do wish we could see more of her netted skirtguard. His outfit has the high-waisted dress slacks that you see all the actors wearing in pre-1950s movies, a shirt with cufflinks, a medium-width tie, and a newsboy cap that would do Yehuda Moon proud.

French Fantasy RPPC postally used in 1909 and stamped in French. Love the drop-bar bike with the huge chainwheel, and isn’t he dashing in his newsboy cap, a tweed jacket, and cycling knickers? Maybe his moustache can inspire some of our friends who are fundraising for prostate cancer for the Movember campaign.

Circa 1910-20 RPPC, postally unused. The writing translates literally from Dutch as, “my kindnesses” (yes, I know, Google Translate has its limits). This stylish outfit would be so easy to replicate today: oxford shoes, accordion-pleated skirt, white button-up shirt, narrow tie, and a beret or tam with a pompom on top. The hat’s the only part that looks dated, really – isn’t that amazing? Her step-through frame with front rod brake, lamp bracket, and netted skirtguard are swoonworthy, too. Maybe someone can identify it based on the unique chainwheel and headbadge shape.

Update: that last one is actually part of a set of four found with another eBay vendor! So maybe she is a model, and these ones were printed as larger editions:

Printed in France, mailed from Bilbao to Lisbon, Portugal at the end of December 1927. He has quite a fine tweed suit, and her oxfords and teal dress are really divine! Why weren’t any of the dropped bars wrapped back then? Google Translate confirms the note is written in Portuguese; on the front it introduces Yoana (Joanne would be the English version of the name) and her travelling companion, and on the back:

…that is a rather torrid love letter to the girl in the teal dress! “Good (priminsa) eve, a happy new year darling, prosperity and fortunes and the burning desire to press you see desired (untranslatable) and give you lots of kisses – Maria my queen” …Wow. {Update: apparently Google Translate really sucks. See the translation below provided by Zizzo B by email. Thank you Zizzo!}

The seller didn’t provide any information to date this RPPC, but the back is stamped “Fotografija K Audze, Viesite”, which Google Translate says is Latvian for Photo Stand K – and Wikipedia has an entry for the town of Viesite. So these gorgeous girls and their beautiful bicycles with knitted skirtguards are probably from Latvia. I think their dresses and frame purses date them to the late thirties or early forties, don’t you?

RPPCs seem to have fallen from favour around the time of the Second World War, so any later images I have are just regular photographs…

1940s snapshot, somewhere in the United States. They’re riding rented tandem bicycles! The sign on the balloon-tire tandem with the springer fork reads, “…KE Attic / … & BICYCLE STORE / 9702 – 51 AVE”.  Their outfits look perfect for the cool weather we’re having now: boiled-wool jackets, leather gloves, berets, and skirts with opaque tights – and a cosy knit cardigan and dress slacks with a lovely drape to them on the lady in the rear with her feet in the air. If those are cross-shaped brooches, perhaps they’re from a church group, about to embark on a delightful outing.

Pre-1950 8.5″ x 11″ ACME wire photo (ie, it was part of a newspaper archive’s collection) taken in Palm Beach, Florida. Halter tops, t-shirts, and short shorts: classic fifties cheesecake.

15 Nov 2010 Update: the typewritten caption glued to the back of the photo reads:

Four young misses discuss “shoes and ships and ceiling wax” — and cocoanuts and bicycles under a cocoanut tree in Palm Beach, Fla. 


I think the writer meant coconuts and sealing wax, yes? The headbadge of the cruiser with the handlebar toolbag identifies it as an American Flyer; I can’t read the other headbadge even using a magnifying glass.

Late 1940s or early 1950s, somewhere in the United States. The flip side of the snapshot reads, “Eeeegads it’s Gracie”. Check out Gracie’s sweet balloon-tire cruiser! I think it might be a Rollfast. Penny loafers, bobby socks, rolled-up pedal pushers or jeans, thin belt, and a crew-neck t-shirt… she’s wearing an early variant of every teenager’s uniform for the next half-century.

I’m totally going to let these photos inform my everyday personal style. Clearly I need to go out and get myself a pair of t-strap dancers’ heels, black-and-white oxfords, a beret, and an accordion-pleated skirt – and I’m still dying for a set of skirt guards. What about you? Do you see ideas here that you’ll use for your everyday wardrobe or your next tweed ride?

12 thoughts on “Antique Cycle Chic: part 2

  1. 1: I NEED to ride a double bike! NEED!

    2: I NEED to go to Europe and get my actual bike on. (For vacation, not for moving!)

    3: We NEED to do a country-ish group ride, with shots that only show one house too!

    4: I CANNOT. repeat: CAN-NOT wait to see these in person…in frames? On a wall?? What’s the plan with them!!??????


  2. These give me a lot of inspiration for ideas of a shoot with the Cygnet. Wonder if Raffaella can work some magic to make me look all old timey like these dames?


  3. Sarah: OMG. The Cygnet would be perfect for a vintage-inspired shoot. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

    I’m thinking that at the next CL ride we need to somehow have a backdrop set up, and take polaroids or something similar for vintagey bicycle portraits…

  4. I truly enjoyed looking at each of these photo cards. They are wonderful and everyone, posed or not, looks as though they are enjoying themselves and are happy. I have to admit I chuckled when I saw the first photo from the set of four – is that a cell phone she is holding to her ear and speaking into? !! Lots of fun and thanks for sharing!

  5. Really interesting post. I love old photos of strangers and imagining what they experienced in life, especially if they lived through life altering circumstances such the World Wars. The opportunity for freedom and independance the bicycles might have offered these woman at a time when their options were still quite limited is fascinating to ponder.

  6. Things are starting to arrive in the mail, so hopefully soon I’ll get a chance to scan everything in myself and share some close-up details…

    Thanks @PaddyAnne & @She Rides A Bike – I love putting together posts like this! RPPCs are such a great window into a time we can really only imagine… #sigh #daydream

  7. This is one of the best vintage bicycle photo collections I have seen, thank you *so* much for posting!

    In the second photo, the girl is not on a double top tube frame – it’s a truss frame – probably made by the French manufacturer Labor. Very exciting find!

  8. Hello Deborah, these photographs are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. In my post today I wrote a blog about bike advocacy and included one of these photos with a link to your blog as the original source. I’m new to blogging, so not sure about the ettiquette yet,, but wanted to make sure you were ok with it. I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs. thx.

  9. @SM – Thanks for asking! The image you used is fine to reproduce, and the way you cited the source is perfect. A lot of bloggers just link to the source with the word “source” but I think it’s more proper to provide visual attribution or a description of the source with the link. The only image above that I’d be hesitant to grant permission to reblog is the lady in red who the eBay vendor is now selling reproduction images of, since it could be interpreted that since he’s selling it that he has the rights to the image.

  10. Thank you to Zizzo for this translation:


    M 648 __?(trademark)
    Girl Joanna and/he´s(?) your/her(?) travel mate?(?)


    1 Olhão (Lisbon coast),
    2 Good little cousin
    3 Have a happy
    4 new year full of pros-
    5 perity and ventures
    6 it´s my ardent desire
    7 from your cousin who want
    8 see you little better
    9 and give to you
    10 many kisses.
    11(sign) Maria dos Reis


    _ _ .
    [stamp mark]

    1 To the Girl
    2 Maria Joanna Quintino
    3 L. Figueirêdo N.º 1-2º E.
    4 Belém
    5 Lisbon(Portugal)

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