Department stores played a major part in supplying bicycles and cycling outfits and equipment to the public. The British middle class was the cycle industry’s primary customer base. Each department store, including Harrods, Whiteley’s, Barkers, Selfridges, Gamages, Army & Navy Stores and the Civil Service Stores, appealed to different stratas of society, with catalogue sales, hire purchase and mail order facilities providing the cheapest options for the working classes. A. W. Gamage was Britain’s first major entrepreneur of the retail bicycle trade, and he campaigned endlessly against price fixing in the industry.
Among thousands of other products listed in Gamages catalogues, and on display at their department store, A. W. Gamage supplied bicycles, motorcycles, Boy Scout uniforms, and a wide range of accessories, toys and novelties. The company was renowned for selling a very wide range of goods at very competitive prices. Though popular with his customers, he became unpopular with competitors and many of his suppliers: for example, he sold Michelin tyres cheaper than Michelin themselves, which resulted in some magazines refusing to accept his advertisements.
– extract from ‘BAD TEETH NO BAR: A History of Military Bicycles in the Great War’ by Colin Kirsch
Bicycles were expensive items in the late 1890s, the usual price for a quality machine being equivalent to £1000 – £1500 today. Children’s bicycles were as expensive to produce as adult machines, with the disadvantage to manufacturers that less were sold and that their sale prices were lower. A.W Gamage’s prices for full size roadsters in 1898 were from £7 17/- for their budget machines to 16 guineas for their top-of-the-range models. Their Midget Safety – suitable for either boys or girls up to ten years old – was £6 10/-. As a result, most cycle manufacturers did not actively promote a range of children’s bicycles. Department stores, however, actively encouraged visits from children – obviously with adults in tow – so carried a comprehensive range of bicycles and other riding toys for youngsters. It is believed that Benetfink was the manufacturer who made bicycles for A.W Gamage (Gamage bought the company in 1908).
1899 Gamage Midget Safety
7″ Inch Pitch Chainwheel
21.5″ Standover Height
The Gamage Midget Safety illustrated below has 20″ wheels, while the machine featured here is a smaller model, with 18″ wheels and 14″ frame. It is well preserved, with original rat trap pedals of the period, of a style usually found on contemporary adult American bicycles. The fork crown and handlebar suggest 1896 manufacture. Though adult bicycle styles were updated every year in this era, the design of juvenile models often continued unchanged, so this example may an 1896 style that was made a few years later, using components no longer used on adult machines. My estimate of its age is therefore 1899.
It’s headlamp is ‘The Ilixum’ supplied by A.W Gamage.
1896 GAMAGES CATALOGUE EXTRACT
1898 GAMAGES CATALOGUE EXTRACT