1891 Referee Pattern Diamond Frame Safety

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1891 referee diamond

SCOTTISH CYCLIST, January 21, 1891 – ‘The Referee’ has set a pattern to the trade in every quarter of the globe. The number of machines now observable with designs consisting of modifications of the pretty ‘Referee’ diamond are simply innumerable.


It’s a very fine wheel is the ‘Referee’

And the diamond frame, now don’t you see,

Makes the wheel a jewel and fit to be

A mount just meant for both you and me

– Morris, Wilson & Co advert, 1891

The Rover, introduced in 1885, was the first practical diamond style of bicycle, but it is what we might now call an ‘open frame’ as it did not feature a seat tube. Hillman Herbert & Cooper’s ‘Premier’ was the first practical ‘safety bicycle’ (i.e. using pedal and chain) to hit the market, in 1886, its style what we now call a cross frame. That frame style was immediately copied by hundreds of other companies and the safety bicycle was launched upon the world. Over the following two years the cross frame style was modified, with additional bracing to provide a stronger frame, until it became a diamond frame. Morris, Wilson & Co claimed their ‘Referee’ to be the original diamond frame, and this style of frame was popular between 1889-1891. Many companies copied the style with slight modifications.

Observe that Referee’s frame, illustrated below, features their patent ball head, which superseded the open steering of the 1880s, as well as the ‘Referee Patent Chain Adjustment.’ This is the earliest reference I can find to the type of chain adjusters that are still in use on bicycles today.


1891 Referee Diamond Frame 01

1891 Referee Diamond Frame 1

1891 Referee Pattern Diamond Frame Safety

30″ Wheels

(Now sold)


1891 Referee Safety Bicycle 01

Companies generally made slight alterations to their frames when copying a well-known patent to avoid having to pay duty. The patent holder could still, in theory, sue for infringement. But when the patent was for a new style of frame, they knew it would be copied by hundreds of builders, and it would not have been practical to get involved in too much litigation.

The diamond safety bicycle featured here obviously uses Referee’s ‘Original Diamond Frame’ patent, but the seat tube is more curved than the Referee illustrated. The Referee Diamond also features a distinctive style of chain adjusters, very innovative for 1891, and their frame has the chainwheel on the opposite side.

The Referee advert for their ‘Original Diamond Frame’ warns buyers to beware of cheap copies. But the Referee was such an excellent design that there were also many quality copies; this style became the standard for a year or so, until it, in turn, was superseded.


This Solid Tyre Safety is in good all-round condition, being an older restoration, believed restored over thirty years ago. It was built to ride, using freewheel hub and cottered pedal crank, and indeed it doers ride easily and well. My only criticism is that the front plunger brake does not activate well enough on the smooth solid tyre, so I’ll insert a rubber pad under the brake plunger to cure that problem.







1891 Referee Safety Bicycle 30



chain adjuster




1891 Referee Diamond Frame 1

1891 referee diamond 77

1891 referee diamond 78

1891 Referee Diamond Frame 1









1891 Referee Safety Bicycle 10

1891 Referee Diamond Frame 1


Observe the advert, below, for the ‘Empire,’ which was exhibited at the Stanley Show. It also uses the Referee patent frame design, though, being earlier, still features open steering.

perry richards empire bicycle 1889

1891 Referee Diamond Frame 1