Who buys tricycles for young children? The answer is not children, but parents or grandparents.
Cycle makers realised this fact very early on. The very first velocipedes were expensive to make, and their novelty value kept resale prices high. By the mid-1890s there was increased competition. The ‘quality’ cycle manufacturers did not cut corners in production, so maintained high sale prices for the bicycles; but some cycle builders started flooding the market with cheap badly-built bicycles. Many customers could not tell the difference, at least until a few weeks after buying the bike …because cheap bicycles often fell apart by then.
There was less profit in making children’s bicycle and tricycles. One way to keep costs down was to ignore the innovations being used in the latest adult bicycles and instead make them using the earliest – very simple – design features. Victorian children’s tricycles therefore used a very basic steering head design. While you may think that the parents and grandparents would prefer the latest gimmicks for their children’s toys, the reverse was true: they were nostalgic for the styles of their own younger years. (And collectors today like them for the same reason).
The early style of velocipede tricycle was actually made right up to WW2, and newer versions into the fifties. In the 21st century it’s not easy to tell the age of a children’s velocipede tricycle, particularly as many ‘patinised’ bikes were made in Eastern Europe recently to cash in on appreciating prices of antiques.
It’s impossible to tell the precise age of this example, but it is definitely late Victorian. So we could use this genuine one to help tell the difference between (much rarer) real ones and newer ones or recent fakes. I’ve compiled a guide below.
What makes this particular one different from the overwhelming majority of velocipede tricycles is that its maker’s name is etched into the steering head.
c1900 Juvenile Tricycle
Thos Hughes & Co, Birmingham
22″ Front wheel; 18″ Rear wheels
This lovely turn-of-the-century children’s tricycle appears to have been repainted many years ago. It’s in excellent all-round condition and ideal for display as well as riding.
THOS HUGHES & SON
32 Baker St, Sparkhill, Birmingham
Thomas Hughes of Birmingham made bone shakers in the early years of cycle manufacture.
Items made by the company around the turn of the century included children’s tricycles and bath chairs.
By 1923 the company was building sidecars, and also coach-built bodies for the Austin Seven.
Thomas Hughes is mentioned in the final entry, below, regarding Wm Bown’s litigation against Marriott & Cooper (Humber) and then Centaur for patent infringement for ‘bearings for velocipedes, carriages and other purposes’.
Though there is little information about Thomas Hughes, I think it’s significant that Hughes tricycles bear his company name specifically on the steering head. Bown’s patent bearings were an improvement on the previous form of (open) steering head that used a pivot, a more basic design that was still being used on some children’s bicycles and tricycles into the early 1900s, presumably to avoid having to pay patent duty.
c1900 THOS HUGHES BATH CHAIR