No. 44. ‘Giraffe’ bicycle: invented by S.McCormack, 4 Palmerston Road, Dublin in 1893; made by J.K Starley & Co Ltd, Coventry. Weight 35 lbs. Presented by J. K. Starley. This machine was originally the property of Mr. G. Douglas Leechman, the eminent legal authority and patent expert.
The first ‘Giraffe’ was built by Humber & Co Ltd, Beeston, and exhibited by them on Stand No. 155 at the Stanley Show, November, 1893. In the Show catalogue appeared an advertisement, inserted by Mr. McCormack, the inventor, inviting manufacturers to take up his machine.
Later it was made, under license, by J. K. Starley and Co and the Rudge Cycle Co, but owing to other firms building similar machines without paying royalties to the inventor, these two Coventry manufacturers ceased to market ‘Giraffes.’
One of the advantages claimed for the ‘Giraffe’ was that the rider was enabled to see over hedges: it was also stated to have a very rigid bracket, to be exceptionally free from side-slip, and a clean mount in muddy weather.
– Bartleet’s Bicycle Book by Horace Wilton Bartleet (1931)
Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia explains that ‘The ‘Giraffe’ safety was first made in 1893 and also produced under licence by New Howe Co. Ltd, J. K. Starley & Co., D. Rudge & Co, and the John P. Lovell Arms Co. in the USA.’
The 1896 book Bicycles and Tricycles (Archibald Sharp) also has an excerpt on the Giraffe, illustrating the New Howe version (below)
c1900 Warwick Giraffe Youth’s Bicycle
15.5″ Frame. 33″ Standover height (top tube to ground)
26″ Front wheel
24″ Rear Wheel with Eadie coaster brake
Brooks ‘Model 302’ Saddle
Frame No 02
Giraffe bicycles have a bottom bracket mounted much higher than usual and a down tube that lines up with the chainstays, with the seat tube at 90%. They first appeared in the mid-1890s, but not many were manufactured. This example is assumed to have been made around the turn of the century.
The rear wheel is 24″ and the front is 26″ which combination provides a horizontal top tube. The early models were adult machines, while this one, with a 15.5″ frame, is youth’s size. Frame number ’02’ – located on the nearside dropout – suggests a customer’s special order or a machine built for display – exhibiting a bicycle with a design that stood out was an ideal way to get noticed at one of the cycle shows.
The only reference I’ve found to the Warwick Cycle Co is this photo. The lettering on the door behind the gentleman pictured states THE WARWICK. The shop name above the window (and on the window itself) is ‘Walter Bassett Cycle Maker’, which was cross-referenced in the 1901 census to reveal the entry: ‘Walter 25 M Gt. Neph Birmingham, Warwick Cycle Frame Filer’.