Manufrance was France’s first mail order company, with an annual catalogue, known as la Manu. It offered a wide range of products, the most famous being guns, bicycles and sewing machines. Its TSF radio, made in 1930, had an essential role during the German occupation of WW2.
Manufrance was a pioneering company, based on a unique business model and, at least for the first half of its existence, was the leader in its field.
La Manu pre-dates the American Sears-Roebuck Catalogue, so I assume it’s the oldest mail order catalogue in the world. With the wide range of products on offer each year, it now offers us a unique glimpse into French homes over an entire century.
1950 Manufrance Hirondelle 6-Speed Tandem No 39
I’ve not got round to restoring this monster. It’s one of my treasures. I keep it in a dark shed and bring it out each year to look at it again.
At 37,500 francs, the top of the range Hirondelle 6 Speed Tandem was the most expensive bicycle produced by Manufrance.
Public holidays were enshrined in French law, and this was the heyday of family tandem holidays in France.
Postwar austerity forced many families back onto bicycles. There were small cars – ‘velocars’ with 125cc motorcycle engines – available at the bottom end of the market, which could be driven ‘sans permis’ ie without registration or license. But the 49cc Velosolex cyclomoteur and, subsequently, small and cheap mass-produced cars like the Citroen CV, had not yet made inroads upon the bicycle industry.
Bicycles ruled …and large tandems were family transport. Monster 6-speed tandems were the juggernauts of the road!
OTHER 1951 MANUFRANCE MODELS
By way of comparison, here’s the cheaper 1950 Hirondelle 3-speed tandem available at the same time as my 6-Speed.
And here is the most expensive of the solo bicycles on offer in the same year…
MANUFRANCE HIRONDELLE TANDEM HISTORY
Now for a potted history of Manufrance tandems, as featured in the famous Manufrance catalogues. You can see their year of manufacture on the bottom of each illustration.