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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 This means they’re unique historical documents, with only a handful of copies in existence, and they often show objects or events that were of interest to the subject, photographer, and recipient of the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. 

COURTESY CYCLE TRADES OF AMERICA

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?

Antique Cycle Chic (1900s-1940s)

Antique Cycle Chic (1900s-1940s)

While I waited for a chance to bring Bert-the-Bike home and install my Christmas goodies on Mary Poppins, I creeped eBay looking for Objects Of Interest. It turns out that there are lots of wonderful early photographic portraits of stylish women with their rod-brake loop-frame lovelies available. Naturally I’m now a bit obsessed with them.

In the early 20th Century, getting a professional photographic portrait done was a Really Big Deal, and I imagine that having it done with your bicycle started as a declaration of independence, then as cameras became more common it gradually became more like a rite-of-passage (like teenagers getting a photo taken in the driver’s seat of their first car now). I love that they’re dressed in their finest suits and hats – oh, what hats! – and that they’re looking so serious and pensive for the camera. I also love the later, more candid shots, which show how practical loop-frame roadsters with fenders, chaincases, and skirtguards were for riding in everyday clothes – but the early studio photographs with carpets and curtains are awesomely incongruous. Sometimes you can learn details about the bikes themselves, like how the skirtguards attached or how high the seats were set (no way could these girls put a flat foot on the ground, like my parents taught me was necessary – that must be a cruiser-bike thing).

These real-photo picture-postcards all came from eBay sellers. I scanned them on grayscale (some are actually sepia) at high resolution, which is like having a magnifying glass, then cropped them a bit and adjusted the fill light, highlights, and shadows so they weren’t quite so dark.

This studio portrait was taken in about 1910 and is labelled R. Guilleminot, Boespflug et Cie. – Paris. Check out her elaborate hat! This is definitely a corseted dress, and when you zoom in you can see she’s wearing (lace?) gloves, as often seems to be the case in photos of Victorian and Edwardian ladies. There’s a tantalizing glimpse of chainwheel and a clear view of the headbadge’s shape, so maybe someone who knows the continental makers can identify her bicycle.

Also Edwardian, but taken in England (the back of the card says it was taken by Valentine of Canterbury and Guildford). Great gloves, and I love the way she’s tied her hat on with a long sheer scarf. The skirtguards attach both in front of and behind the fork, and seem to be tied in groups of three cords. I can’t read the mark on the chaincase, but perhaps a collector can tell us who made her sweet ride?

Another English card, with “Mother” handwritten on the back. Her straw boater and ribbon tie with pin are great, the blouse is polka-dotted, and she’s wearing dark (leather?) gloves. What looks like a smudge on her forehead is actually wispy bangs. The skirtguard looks like it might be made of wire instead of cord, and I think her rear fender is chromed. Look at that quadrant shifter – swoon.

This pretty lady has a gorgeous netted skirtguard. Divine pleats on her dress, and charming layering of necklaces, but what I’d most like are frameless glasses like hers. Notice that she’s not wearing gloves. The back of the postcard has a handwritten date of 23 Novembre 1918 and other markings in French:

If I’m reading the handwriting correctly, it translates as, “23 years old” (not shown) and “A souvenir of beautiful days passed (adverb?) in Veron – H. LaForge”. (Maybe someone whose French skills surpass mine can help me with that word?)

This is a 1920s portait of a ‘sportswoman’, according to the seller. I love her flapper bob with pearl teardrop earrings, and the slightly rumpled pinstriped jacket and matching cap – which look almost like they might be her boyfriend’s. Her dress might be seersucker, and has a couple of dirt smudges, probably acquired while riding to this destination. Is that a lucite bangle? The back of the card is unmarked except for CARTE POSTALE, Correspondance, and Adresse – so she must also be French.

Closeup of her netted skirtguard.

I covet these German girls’ cloche hats and swingy coats. Photograph (the only one that isn’t an RPPC) taken in the 1930s, according to the seller.

I love this young lady’s confident pose, the cardigan with mother-of-pearl buttons, matching hat, and long pearl drop earrings.

She seems to be wearing culottes, stockings, and ankle-high boots. Her bicycle has front-rod-brake handlebars, but where are the rods? Is that little flap between the front tire and the mudguard the braking surface? The logo on the chaincase says Brennabor, who were originally a prewar manufacturer of bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles in Brandenburg, Germany, and at some point became a Dutch-based brand instead. I’d guess she’s from the 1930s-40s, based on what she’s wearing, but the American seller didn’t give any information to help date it. The postcard only has “Foto Bayer” (that’s German) printed on the back, and two handwritten words: Kaaza (I think?), Kaan (a town in Rheinland-Pfalz).


Closeup of the Brennabor chaincase and netted skirtguard.

You can find more such photos on eBay or on Flikr by using the search terms “vintage”, “bicycle”, and “lady” or “woman”. Sadly most of the Flikr ones are All Rights Reserved, so I can only link to my favorites: 1895Edwardian, Edwardian, 1911, 1927, 1930s-40s slacks, 1966 culottes. Do follow the links – all these ladies and their steeds are magnificent. One of the commenters on one of these suggests that the girl is just there as window-dressing, since she obviously couldn’t ride dressed like that. Isn’t it telling that nobody (to date) has challenged his assumption in the comments?

This has me fantasizing about having a girly lets-dress-up bike meetup, in the Spring or early Summer, before it gets too hot, with a photo booth so we can all have great photos taken of ourselves with our steeds…