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20 free-wheelin' images

Bicycles and color lithography came into popular use roughly in 1872; by the 1890s, both the poster craze and the bicycle craze were at their heights. Posterists were fascinated by the new bicycles, and manufacturers relied on posters for advertising, forming a mutually beneficial relationship. By the turn of the century, more posters were created for bicycles than any other product. It’s not just the technological innovation that was thrilling; bicycles offered a new form of freedom, especially to women. Poster designers capitalized on this aspect, paving the way for the liberated woman and a form of independence for all.

45A. Cycles Gladiator. ca. 1895
52 5/8 x 38 1/8 in./133.7 x 97.2 cm
Est: $30,000-$40,000

A lithographic masterpiece. Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest posters, this image of a flame-tressed sylph, propelled among the stars by the Gladiator and its winged pedals, has been appropriated throughout culture ever since its debut in 1895. Shockingly, it remains anonymous, despite the presence of the faint initials LW in the lower right corner. Even in the famed 1896 Reims exhibition, it was attributed to “Anonyme.”

45B. Ride a Stearns and Be Content. ca. 1896.
By Edward Penfield (1866-1925)
42 1/4 x 55 1/2 in./107.3 x 141 cm
Est: $10,000-$12,000

It’s regrettable that Penfield ventured so seldom into commercial, large-format posters, for when he did, he succeeded brilliantly. The rider’s position on the bike is careless, even impudent—but it’s precisely the effect Penfield is after. He’s selling fun to the “in” crowd rather than wheels, spokes, and gears. The charming self-assured cyclist has our full and admiring attention. Rare!

47. Acatène Métropole. 1895.
By Lucien Baylac (1851-1913)
49 3/8 x 71 5/8 in./125.5 x 182 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

Baylac gives us a street scene from the days when women were required to wear long skirts—even on bicycles. But the voluminous fabric could easily tangle in the cycle’s chain drive. Métropole’s “Acatène” provides a solution: this chainless model allows the young lady to more easily mount the bike in her bloomers. The design features another Métropole poster by Baylac, also used to sell the chainless version. A smaller poster-within-the-poster advertises the American-made G & J tires. There’s a lot going on in this two-sheet poster, including the shocked expressions of the old chain guard, but it’s all organized with clarity and wit.

48. Deuxième Salon du Cycle. 1894.
By Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931)
40 3/8 x 17 1/8 in./102.6 x 43.3 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

In advertising the second annual Salon du Cycle, Forain created an image which would cause Maindron to later exclaim, “This poster is perfect.” Delicate in sweet pastel shades, this is the medium format of the image.

51. Columbia Chainless. 1897.
By A. Romès
40 x 87 3/8 in./101.5 x 223 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

This is surely one of the most grandiose concepts for advertising a bicycle: the woman glorifies the machine with a laurel wreath in a formal setting, and the whole two-sheet scene sits in an opulent gold frame. Columbia bicycles sponsored a poster contest in 1896; the winner was Maxfield Parrish of Philadelphia; second prize went to O. Rohn of Montclair, New Jersey; the third prize (for this image) went to A. Romes of New York City. It was so popular that it was reprinted in Germany and in France, and a frequently seen photo of an 1898 Paris street scene shows four copies of this poster on the wall next to Mucha’s Waverley Cycles. Columbia Chainless is a brand name of the Pope Manufacturing Co.

53. Omega. 1897.
By Henri Thiriet (1873-1946)
39 x 55 3/4 in./99 x 141.5 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Thiriet’s posters are few, but all are excellent. “This is yet another example of the Art Nouveau poster at its stylized best. The composition has been meticulously—almost geometrically—arranged, and the influence of mythology, in both the Greek name for the bicycle brand of Kreutzberger and the winged goddess, plus the bold use of flat and vibrant colors emphasize this. The Omega is chainless (‘Sans Chaine’) even though continuous-chain-driven bicycles were being produced at this time. It worked by means of bevel gears” (Bicycle Posters, p. 9).

56. Terrot & Co / Dijon.
By Francisco Tamagno (1851-1933)
38 1/2 x 54 1/2 in./98 x 138.5 cm
Est: $3,500-$4,000

Tamagno was very fond of this sassy female. We’ve seen her climb mountaintops, beat out trains, and best her male companions—all with a flippant but elegant kiss-off to those she’s left in the dust. But here, for the first time, she’s edging out not only an automobile, but an airplane as well! She’s the very picture of feminine empowerment, made all the more lovely with a golden autumnal sunset.

60. Cicli Olympia. 1919.
By Plinio Codognato (1878-1940)
39 1/4 x 55 1/4 in./99.6 x 140.2 cm
Est: $6,000-$7,000

Founded in 1893, Olympia is the second oldest Italian bike manufacturer that continues to produces bicycles. Here, Codognato shows us a very muscular rider proudly displaying his Olympia; Dunlop tires receive a shout-out too. Rare!

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