The invention of the pneumatic tire in the 1880s gave birth to the modern bicycle, from the unwieldy penny-farthing. That meant anyone could ride one. Hundreds of manufacturers and machinists retooled their shops for the 1890s “bicycle craze” and it created a cultural revolution. “Let me tell you what I think about bicycling,” Susan B. Anthony wrote to Nellie Bly in 1896: “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
35 3/8 x 51 1/2 in./89.8 x 130.7 cm
One of the rarest bicycle posters in existence, it’s also one of the earliest. This is for Augusto Engelmann, a Milanese importer of Howe Bicycles from Glasgow. Howe manufactured bicycles only between 1884 and 1886. Note, on the left, Howe’s early interpretation of a “safety bicycle”: a penny-farthing with a bell and a chain. The first bike with a geared-up front wheel, the Hillman Kangaroo, was introduced at the Stanley Show in November 1884 and swiftly copied thereafter by other manufacturers, so a date of 1885 for this poster is most likely.
31 1/8 x 46 1/2 in./79.2 x 118.2 cm
Love is a rebellious bird, so don’t flirt with this marvelous cycling poster just to see it fall into the hands of another admirer. Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant, qu’un oeil noir te regard, et que l’amour!
38 3/4 x 54 in./98.5 x 137 cm
As a grand statement of triumph, few are better than Terrot & Co.’s most famous poster. “First Prizes in all the competitions,” this poster proclaims, as a beautiful woman in turn-of-the-century whites leads the innumerable, shadowed masses in a grand parade from the Grand Palais down the Champs-Elysées.
23 5⁄8 x 31 1⁄2 in./60 x 80 cm
A gorgeous and rare two-sheet poster advertising “Arab” Cycles: “The Arab bids farewell to his steed,” as his stallion chases his whirring wheels with a snorting gallop. The company, originally from Coventry, appears to have been an early innovator in bike manufacture, with impressive reviews at the 1882 Stanley Show. It appears to have relocated to Birmingham in the early 1890s. While we can’t confirm a date for this poster, the shape of the bike frame, the fat pneumatic tires, a flurry of print advertisements in English papers, and a listing in Birmingham’s business registry all point to the year 1896.
38 1/8 x 52 3/4 in./96.7 x 134 cm
France’s 1890s’ Japonisme lends an elegant atmosphere to Acatène Métropole Cycles in this lovely advertisement, which almost buries the product’s selling point in its beauty. That’s why there’s a handy 1897 marketing booklet, which states: “In introducing the Acatène Chainless Bicycle, we do so with the certainty that we shall appeal to all riders who desire ease of movement, elegance of appearance, perfect cleanliness, and practically speaking, freedom from those serious and even fatal accidents, which have only too frequently resulted from the use of chain gearing.”
18 3/8 x 25 3/8 in./46.6 x 64.3 cm
The first leg of the 1920 Tour de France was from Paris to Le Havre, and this Modernist promo delights in its geometries – from the angle of incline on the bikers’ backs, emphasizing both velocity and hard braking (Le Havre is the stop for the day), and the city’s maritime heritage (a bike wheel becomes the captain’s wheel). Belgium’s Louis Mottiat led at the end of this first leg, but another Belgian, Phillippe Thys, would win the race. Remarkably, Belgium placed eight riders in the top 10 finishers of this Tour.