Early Cycling Photography - Bicycle History through Images
by Lorne Shields

sequel to Lorne's December 1999 Slide Show

ratchet mechanism on
the geared facile bicycle
image ©Wilson Museum of Narberth, Wales

Lorne Shields is the epitome of the devoted collector. He began collecting bicycles 37 years ago. His interests encompass all things related to the bicycle or manumotive transportation as Lorne describes the variety of vehicles that are ancestors to our modern bicycles (he carefully excludes invalid vehicles). Since 1967, Lorne has developed a detailed knowledge of bicycle history which he willingly shares. He spoke off the cuff about each of the 200 plus slides in his presentation.

He donated much of his collection to the Canada Museum of Science and Technology adding to Canada's wealth of historical information. All the images shown in this presentation are part of Lorne's current collection.

Photo by
Robert Lansdale

Our thanks to the Wilson Museum of Narberth, Wales for permission to use the image at the left of the Geared Facile gears. Click the upper part of the image to visit the Gathering the Jewels web site and the lower part to see an enlarged view of the mechanism.

The stories, thrills, and determination Lorne spoke of tonight with his burning interest in all things related to the bicycle, gave encouragement and inspiration to all collectors. 

Collecting has given Lorne a lot of pleasure over the years. Through his search for bicycles and related materials he has made many friends all over the world. And done many crazy things -- from flying to New Zealand to follow a lead to mortgaging his house to buy a collection in the early days. Lorne began collecting in 1967, a time when there were few if any books on the subject and you learned from others (similar to the situation in camera and image collecting at the time). His collection includes bicycles, pictures related to Cycling, books, magazines, porcelain objects, memorabilia and anything else that caught his eye and is associated with the bicycle. 

His collection is now considered a national treasure. In the 1980s, he donated his collection, including 42 world class bicycles, to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario. Lorne is one of two living persons with a collection named after them. Be sure to call in advance when you visit so you can see the entire collection. 

After a brief introduction, Lorne gave a fascinating illustrated history of the bicycle and its impact on history, society and technology. The slides he used are of images dating from 1850 to 1940. Most of them were pre-1900, and in particular the golden age of the bicycle (1875-1891). The images cover sports, fashion, social history, and manufacturing. 

While images are only a small portion of his collection, they are an important aspect. Lorne is one of a half dozen specialists of bicycle images world-wide. 

Lorne reminded us that in its day, the bicycle was like the personal computer today with its pivotal impact on society. Starting as a rich man's toy it spawned far reaching transportation innovations such as improved highways, economical means for the average person to travel around, and even set the stage for automobiles and airplanes (it was no accident that early aircraft successes came from bicycle mechanics like the Wright brothers). Engineering and manufacturing benefited too -- drawn tubing needed to make light, strong frames, bearings, the differential gear - so essential to the success of the automobile, and mass production of pneumatic rubber tires. And even advertising as the bicycles surged in popularity (pre-dating cars, the bicycle added the vital capability of economical local transportation facilitating unrbanization while trains provided continental and inter-city transportation).

 Bicycle history is full of famous names usually associated today with later inventions like Daimler, Wright, Hillman, Humber, Dunlop, Champion, and Hendy (Indian Motor Cycle). While Dunlop is usually remembered as the inventor of the pneumatic tire, it was actually created 40 years earlier for carriages but this use didn't have the wide impact of bicycles and automobiles.

 Lorne offered a few anecdotes along with the narrated slide show.

 Images - Finding a rare daguerreotype image on Ebay that never met its reserve, Lorne contacted the owner and asked what he would have to get to sell the image. Lorne was delighted when he was quoted figure lower than expected and Lorne became the owner of another rare piece of bicycle history at a reasonable price.

 Know your technology - Lorne quoted a second occasion when an image was offered as a tin-type and priced accordingly. While assessing the image, Lorne noticed a bit of text in one corner. The text was readable, not reversed as it would be in the usual tintype so Lorne purchased it. The image turned out to be a rarer and more valuable Ambrotype!

 Where angels fear to tread - Lorne frequently travelled on business. On one trip, he met bicycle collector Barry Brandon in Hawick, southern Scotland. Brandon was willing to sell his collection and Lorne made a couple of additional trips to complete the deal. On the final trip, standing in a cold storage area, Barry asked Lorne what he was willing to pay for the last item -- a four wheel wooden vehicle. "Not a dime", said Lorne. "I'm not interested in four wheel vehicles. Since I just bought your whole collection, you can throw it in too". Barry agreed. In 1981, The Henry Ford Museum opened its offer for the little vehicle at $15,000. It turned out to be the most valuable piece in the collection. Today it is in the Canada Museum of Science and Technology.

 Trinkets and sealing wax - Like all devoted collectors, Lorne makes the rounds when visiting other cities. In London's famous Portobello Road, Lorne dropped by Liz Harding's stall to see what new things she had. "Not much this time, only a Georgian seal (used to add a wax seal to correspondence), but there is something wrong with it". Liz noticed that the markings on the seal dated it around 1819 while the bicycle image was 1860 - or so she thought. It changed hands for a modest sum. Lorne had recognized the bicycle as a c1820 model, not 1860!


 Shown below are a handful of the 200+ images Lorne used in his slide show. If you compare them to the image I made from his previous slide show back in December 1999, you will see some improvement. A newer digital camera set for ISO 400, use of a traditional tripod, more practice at squeezing off each shot, and newer software have all contributed to better images. 

young girls in a carnival act Velocipede card lady and dog riding high German high wheel racer
Shripton of Pickwick Cycle Club and his son Geared Facile Bicycle Young girl on hand powered tricycle tobacco card high wheeler Colonel Tom Thumb and wife
Child with hoop and tricycle Albert Champion of Champion Spark Plugs fame Lady with special leather backed purse for cycling and horse-back riding Lady racer Diamond frame and pneumatic tires
James Starley invented the tangent spokes that led to much lighter wheels Sep 1888 high wheeler race - racers are sharp American cycle club group resting by river - one tricycle in group
Ice cycle - note toothed drive gear Cycle factory in Geneva Ohio Cycling behind a motorcycle to break the speed record

If you have any questions on Lorne's slide show, or any bicycle images, ephemera, etc. to offer, contact Lorne Shields by email. 

All images were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera and adjusted in Photoshop CS. The images are © 2004 the Photographic Historical Society of Canada unless otherwise noted. The images and content of the presentation are © 2004 Lorne Shields.

Any other questions? Please contact me at

Robert Carter

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