The first English velocipede patent of 1869 was taken out on 2 January and over a hundred were filed by September …Although over 120 suppliers jumped into the market, by the end of the first year the new craze was already on the wane. The Manchester Evening News carried no advertisements in the spring of 1870, compared with over 200 the previous spring.
– The Birth of the Bicycle, by Nick Clayton, pages 37-8
Though the velocipede craze was short-lived, and not many new machines were built after 1870, the velocipede itself did not disappear. Secondhand machines were welcomed by those who couldn’t afford them the year before; and even when the penny farthing took over in the late 1870s, velocipedes were used for helping new enthusiasts to learn to balance and ride.
Also, for several years, makers tried various innovations to improve its handling, and these machines are now described as ‘transitional velocipedes’ in that they are not machines with metal wheels and wire spokes – ‘penny farthings’ – but they are also not exactly the same as the original 1869 velocipede pattern. They retained the early style wooden wheels, and many had rear wheels that were smaller than a velocipede but larger than a penny farthing.
Another offshoot of the 1869 velocipede craze was children’s bicycles. It often cost as much to make a large child’s velocipede as a full size adult version; as there was less demand for them they were expensive so fewer were manufactured. This example has wooden velocipede wheels with metal tyres. The wooden backbone attaches to the steering head in an efficient fashion with metal fittings. An indication of its early construction is the fact that most of these fittings appear to have been made by a blacksmith rather than being cast in a foundry: by 1875, in America, patents had been lodged for children’s velocipede designs, with the result that cast iron parts were manufactured to create a new industry in children’s bicycles and tricycles.
The advertisement in the July 1869 edition of The Ironmonger, below, shows wheel sizes available and you can compare the 1869 cost of a youth’s velocipede with that of an adult size. Note that a 38″ wheel machine was comparatively cheaper – I assume rims (‘felloes’) of this size were already in use, perhaps for horse-drawn vehicles, which kept their price down?
The term ‘transitional velocipede’ covers a wide range of velocipede styles from 1870 onwards, constructed like a velocipede, and with wooden wheels, the rear one smaller than the 1869 velocipedes. This machine could perhaps be considered a step beyond a ‘transitional’ as its shape is similar to that of a penny farthing; its 40″ front (‘guiding’) wheel is large for a velocipede but small for a ‘penny’. (They were not called ‘penny farthings’ in 1872, but the term ‘ordinary’ soon came into use to describe the new machines). A more accurate retrospective description of this historic machine might be ‘naive penny farthing.’
1872 Youth’s 40″ Transitional Velocipede
40″ Front Wheel
25″ Rear Wheel