– Andrew Millward, cycle historian and marque enthusiast
I purchased this crossframe bicycle as a ‘Centaur’ but could see that it was not made by that company, nor by Humber, who continued to sell Centaur bicycles after their demise in 1914. I took delivery of it at a bicycle auction, fortunately also attended by my friend Andrew Millward: when he saw it he had an idea that he’d seen this model before and, a few weeks later, he sent me the catalogue page that identified it as being made by J. Harrison & Sons of Birmingham.
1932 Kensington ‘Featherweight’ X-Frame
Manufactured by John Harrison & Sons, Birmingham
JOHN HARRISON & SONS (BIRMINGHAM) LTD
49/51 Constitution Hill, Birmingham, England
The earliest records of J Harrison are from 1898, when they made the ‘Endurance’ bicycle, and various accessories (see their 1898 advert below). They are recorded as having factories at Kensington Works and Porchester Foundry in Birmingham. By 1915, when they moved to Constitution Hill, Birmingham, they were making the Britannic range of cycles. An ‘Endurance’ cross frame was built in 1909, and sold in component form. They were still selling similar bicycle frames and components in the 1930s.*
John Harrison’s name cropped up in Ray Miller’s book ‘Dan Albone – Cyclist, Inventor and Manufacturer’ (page 59).
In 1891, Dan Albone and his brother-in-law Richard Tingey had applied for patent for the invention of cycle inflator pump clips. The following year Dan sued John Harrison for infringement of the patent, the issue eventually being settled in Dan’s favour in 1894.
Most of John Harrison & Sons business involved the sale of components, though it’s not easy to find surviving examples today. However, I did manage to locate the factory coin below. Coins such as this were used in company works instead of money. This one is for 3/- (three shillings). I have now attached the coin to the bicycle, making a very novel accessory!
By the way, factory token collecting is a hobby in its own right. A shortage of small denomination coins in Great Britain was recorded as early as the 14th century. This made it difficult for workers to be paid, as well as for regular transactions in daily life. The Industrial Revolution exacerbated the problem. In 1768 one of the largest veins of copper was discovered at Parys Mountain on the island of Anglesey in Wales, and the mine company offered the British government to strike new coins in order to try and combat the large amount of counterfeit coins in circulation. But the government refused, and the Royal Mint closed down as a result. In 1788 the merchant Matthew Boulton established the Soho Mint which made millions of factory coins, as well as supplying the East India Company and the national banks of Russia and Sierra Leone. It also supplied 20 million blanks to the USA to be made into cents and half cents by the US Mint. Eventually the British Government awarded Boulton a contract for official supply, and by 1800 the need for privately-issued coinage waned. The early Boulton coins are now valuable collector’s items. Many manufacturers in the 1800s and early 1900s continued to strike coins for internal factory use, which could be exchanged for proper money as required. They have only nominal value today, unless, as in this case, they relate to a factory of specific interest.
* With thanks to ray Miller’s excellent ‘An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers’