The technique was invented by Simon Francois Ravenet, a French engraver who moved to England to perfect the process he called ‘décalquer’ (meaning to copy by tracing); it became widespread during the decal craze of the late 19th century. Other names used over the years were ‘mineral transfers’ in the USA, and ‘diaphanies’ or ‘cockamanies’ in England (hence the word ‘cockamamie’) and ‘lithographs’ and ‘lithoplanies’ in Europe.
The process of lithographic or chromolithographic decoration involved the production of a pattern on paper or paper-backed sheets, from which the design was transferred onto a ceramic vessel. This enables the accurate and uniform reproduction of logos, drawings, paintings and illustrations in single or multiple colors. Decals were not stickers applied to a vessel; they were enameled images transferred to the vessel. The first experimentation with decals as a method to decorate pottery occurred in Europe in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until the late 1870s that ceramic manufacturers in France made significant technological advances in the use of decals. Attempts to copy this technology were made without success in Trenton, New Jersey at about the same time. The use of decals on American-made ceramics was rare prior to around 1900, appearing primarily on imported European porcelains before that time …the earliest successful decals were manufactured in England, France and Germany.
While it’s not surprising that a bicycle built by one of the world’s top cycle manufacturers such as BSA has survived for 78 years, there are some delicate parts on a bicycle that usually succumb to the ravages of time. Worn leather saddles and handlebar grips are easily replaced. But the original gilt transfers (decals) that adorn a bicycle are unique and irreplaceable.
The art of gilding – applying fine gold leaf to solid surfaces – goes back thousands of years. Historically, gold leaf was used to provide a perception of high value and importance, which no doubt unconsciously draws our attention to them on a bicycle. But surely it’s their temporariness that is a major aspect of their attraction …the idea of ‘cheating time?’ Like a beautiful butterfly that lives only for a day or two, transfers usually have a short life span compared to the rest of the machine – ironically, if an owner cares too much for their bicycle, and polishes it frequently, the transfers are rubbed out.
This BSA Gold Medal is cherished not only for its excellent unrestored paintwork and original components, but also because it also retains the full set of original transfers.
1937 BSA Gent’s ‘Gold Medal’
Cyclo 3 speed gear
North Road handlebar (upturned)
BSA Lightweight Rat Trap pedals
Bluemel Featherweight mudguards with BSA logo
John Bull Shock Stop grips
The Gold Medal was one of BSA’s flagship models, introduced to provide an upmarket but cheaper option to the renowned BSA Opperman …which was double its selling price. It is still fitted with its original BSA ‘Lightweight Rat Trap Pedals, Bluemel Featherweight mudguards with BSA logo, rear carrier rack and John Bull Shockstop grips.
This BSA was purchased new from a cycle shop in Hammersmith, for the sum of £7. George, the owner, was then aged 21. He last rode it aged 85, on the Great North Road. According to his son-in-law, he got into a bit of trouble doing wheelies to impress some passing youngsters. Since then it has been hanging in his garage, until it was passed on to me last Friday. George celebrates his 103rd birthday on 21st October.
Sara, his daughter, told me that George was born in Brighton (in 1916), his family coming from Rodmell, Ringmer and Lewes, and that he often rode it down to this area from his home in London. He also rode it around Cornwall and Wales. He obviously had strong memories of touring in those far off locations, because, when Sara discussed the BSA with him at the weekend, George pointed out that its initials stood for Bloody Sore Arse.
I’ve left it completely as I received it. The tyres will need replacing before use. There’s tape over the bottom of the front mudguard where it’s cracked by the stays. This is a common weak point on plastic mudguards; I simply cut off the bottom part of the mudguard when this has happened, and reattach the stays slightly higher up. After these small jobs, and perhaps with the addition of a Brooks touring bag on the rear carrier rack, as shown in the catalogue illustrations, this BSA Gold Medal will be ready to ride and see service for at least another 82 years.
1937 BSA CATALOGUE
1938 BSA CATALOGUE: FRONT FORKS & PEDALS
BSA Trade Prices for 1938 Season
BLUEMEL FEATHERWEIGHT MUDGUARDS with BSA LOGO
Decal history – http://ceramicdecals.org/History_of_Decals.html
PHOTO LOCATION: Outside Mill Cottage, High St, Rottingdean, East Sussex