In my working life as a rare book dealer, I have the great privilege to handle thousands of books every year from across the world. My specialism is in books printed or written out by hand, with an emphasis not only on the quality of the final object, but also on the process of creation as an insight into the soul of its maker: you can find out more about my work here. In my spare time, I ride bicycles of all shapes and sizes; to work, to race, to eat, to love, and simply to ride.
This blog is halfway between the book and the wheel, a collection of my discoveries made in libraries and bookshops, sometimes related to the history of biycles, sometimes not.
Much has been written about cycling as a sport, and early bicycles and components fetch high prices at auction, but relatively little attention has been paid to the appearance of the bicycle in print. These appearances took an astonishingly wide variety of forms, including in weekly or monthly magazines, art and posters, novels, books of poetry, board games, and paper mountains of printed ephemera. I was struck by what seemed to be a lack of interest in collecting this material, especially when compared with other sports with similarly rich material culture.
As an icon of modernity, the bicycle was at the forefront of social change in late 19th century class, race and gender relations; the symbol of the female cyclist took centre stage during protests for and against allowing women to graduate from British universities, while Major Taylor became only the second black athlete to ever win a world championship, in any sport. All of these themes and many more were reflected in a surprisingly abundant printed culture which flourished during the 1890’s, but which suffered greatly as the bicycle fell from fashion in the 1900’s.
The dramatic rise of the bicycle followed by its sudden fall create the ideal circumstances for the collector, with an almost limitless variety of objects to discover, but all of which survive in only a handful of copies. Some of the items posted on this blog come from my own collection, which is particularly focused on the bicycle as an agent of social change, and the forgotten world of cycling poetry and fiction, and other items may come from the sale listings of antiquarian booksellers and auction houses; wherever possible, I will link to the source.
I am indebted to a number of wonderful writers, both in the form of printed books, academic journals, magazines like Boneshaker and internet blogs, all of which I will try my best to link to on a separate bibliography page. I hope that my background as a graduate in Book History and my focus on the early printed culture of cycling can bring a different perspective to what has by now become something of a well worn path.