19th-Century Bicycle Advertising Chromolithographs

Value (2005) | $3,000 Auction$4,000 Auction

Both of the items were my grandfather's. He came here in 1888 from a little town in Bohemia called Michelsdorf. They were in his trunk. He was 11 years old when he came to the United States. I really can't tell you much more about them than that other than they've been rolled up in a trunk for years and years.

Let me start by saying, they're what we call window cards. Each one of them has a metal strip across the top and across the bottom. And also in that metal strip, there's a little loop, and this was actually used to hang it in shop windows. Now, both of these are bicycle advertisements, so we have to imagine they were hung in the windows of bicycle shops to promote the wares that were being sold inside. And they're both printed by a process called chromolithography, which was very prevalent in Germany in the 1880s, which is consistent with the date of your grandfather's trip to America. I'm not a bicycle expert, I'm a poster specialist, and I've done a little bit of research and I've spoken with many of my colleagues here at the ROADSHOW, and I've mentioned them the names Naumann and I've mentioned the names Helical and no one has ever heard of them. And so what this says to me is that these are bicycles that were mass-produced in Germany in the 1880s, but the companies then went out of business. But from a collectible point of view, that's not where the interest lies in these pieces, nor is that where the value lies. Now, in the 1880s and 1890s, bicycles were the hottest seller basically in any market. And specifically, bicycles were marketed to women, and you'll see in both of these posters, the main subjects are women. In this poster nearest to me, you actually see two very affluent, well-dressed, stylish women out for perhaps a Sunday afternoon ride in the park. And you can imagine this is who the bicycle companies were appealing to. They really wanted women as their customers. These are very irresistible, very charming images. In the poster closer to you, not only do we see an emancipated woman who has gone for a ride with a man in the countryside, which would have been a fairly risque idea in the 1880s, but if you look at her pose, she is a very self-confident, a very modern woman. In the 1880s, that was really very progressive. Also, I'd like to point out to you, in this poster, there's actually a poster within the poster. Because we see here in the background something that's called a poster kiosk, which in Europe during the 1880s and the 1890s, were basically used as billboards for people to hang up their posters and to advertise. So here you actually see another advertisement for the bicycle company on the kiosk in the back. Each of these posters has a blank space on the bottom. And that would have been left for the individual stores to fill in their information. Naumanns Bicycle and Helical Bicycle, they would have printed these posters in fairly large numbers and then Mr. Smith, or Mr. Schmidt, would have written his name there for his bicycle store. And again, they would have filled in the blank down there. So they could be tailor-made to the individual stores. Another interesting thing you'll notice is that neither of these two posters is signed. And a poster of such high quality, you would think would be attributed to a really great artist. But the Germans, who were making these chromolithographs, were such great craftsmen that at the printing plant, the printers were all artisans themselves and they designed these posters. 1880s, German chromolithograph, bicycle posters, each showing beautiful women, each showing women in a state of freedom and emancipation, are extremely desirable. And even though these posters have the metal strips on them, this is not considered a problem, this is considered part of their authenticity. If I had these two pieces at auction, as a pair, I would estimate them at $3,000 to $4,000.


And they are, even though they were printed in large numbers, I've actually never seen either one of these two before. And the chances are that price could go higher at auction.

Really. Interesting. Very interesting.

Appraisal Details

Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2005)
$3,000 Auction$4,000 Auction
Bismarck, ND (July 30, 2005)

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