Published: November 1, 2022
Review by Marty Steiner, Photos Courtesy Copake Auctions
COPAKE, N.Y. – Even though it was Copake Auctions’ 30th Bicycle and Automobilia Auction, most of the advance bidding was for items other than bicycles. But for the weekend of October 14 and 15, it was all about bicycles, and Copake was the world capital for bicycle collectors and enthusiasts! This is much more than an auction, it’s a happening! Friday morning saw vendors set up for the Bicycle Swap Meet. That afternoon the Walter Branche Memorial 10 Mile Bike Ride. Anyone not familiar with this ride might think they’d encountered a time warp. Ancient high wheels and boneshakers shared the road with modern lightweight bicycles.
Among the enthusiasts are Michael and Seth Fallon, the father and son team that are Copake auction. The sale did start early, 9 am, to accommodate more than 900 lots and ended some six hours later. This auction, like many finely focused sales, is as much a reunion even though many of the attendees would be competing for the items being sold.
For those readers who remember the joy of finding a new bicycle on Christmas morning, or perhaps for a birthday, imagine the thrill of buying an early 1890s White Cycle Company 30-inch Bronco-style hard tire safety bicycle just in time for this Christmas. This extremely rare example is only the second seen in the 30 years of Copake bicycle auctions. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity brought a sale high of $52,800; the estimate of $4/6,000 was hardly noticed.
This bicycle was described as a “safety bicycle,” a term which was developed in the 1880s to differentiate these from the high wheelers then in use. The term primarily applied to bicycles where the rider could reach the ground while riding and also was clear of the front, steerable, wheel. It would later be used to define bikes with the same sized front and rear wheels.
This sale opened with another early safety bicycle, a wooden frame example. The joinery of this frame with the necessary metal mechanical parts provides a view of craftsmanship. It brought $4,688, topping its $2/3,000 estimate.
High-wheel bicycles were popular in the 1870s-80s. Most feature a large front wheel with considerably smaller rear wheel. The rider sits above the large wheel and pumps the pedals that are direct drive to the large wheel hub. The basis of the design included high speed because each pedal rotation covered a long distance, in addition to the comfort afforded by the shock absorption of the large, spoked wheel. The highest price for a high wheel at $10,250 was an 1880s Pony Star with the high wheel in the rear and the steerable small wheel at the front. Built by H.B. Smith in Smithville, N.J., it was described as in “barn find condition.”
An 1885 Columbia 50-inch high wheel complete with original name (brand) badge rode off with a winning bid at $4,500, placing it tenth overall in the sale. Chasing after it was a racing high wheel, identifiable as such with no brakes and an unusual spoke attachment, at $3,625. A seldom seen child’s 32-inch high wheel sold for $1,250, more than some adult versions.
As in many focused collectible specialties, items related to those collectibles also are of interest. These may include advertising, photographs, clocks and store display items. A glass dome-covered miniature early safety bicycle had a small clock mounted in the hub of the rear wheel. The bicycle was mounted on an engraved and dated 1898 tray. It was time for a $1,187 bid. This sale also included a foot-tall English silverplated high wheel with the large wheel housing a clock and the smaller wheel holding a barometer. Perhaps more practical and certainly less cumbersome than a full-size high wheel, it sold for $812, well above estimate.
Another small version of a bicycle wheel displayed bicycle bells. Spinning the wheel allowed one to ring each of a dozen sample bells. It got one bidder’s attention to bid $812, also exceeding expectations.
An interesting bicycle accessory was the Weston Cyclometer from Bangor, Maine. It was invented by an acknowledged “wheelman,” Frank Weston, for 30-inch wheel safety bicycles. Mounted on the fork of the bicycle, it logged the distance one had pedaled. Anticipating only $150/200, the successful bidder paid $937 to measure his rides. A similar 1888 device, the Butcher Cyclometer, measured distance by being mounted on the large wheel spokes of the earlier high-wheel bicycles. It measured $812.
Enthusiasts of any sport or activity frequently collect relevant items of many different forms or types. Bicyclists are no exception. Four German beer steins were sold along with a Meerschaum-style pipe, silver Vesta match cases and a cased daguerreotype of a man on a four-wheel velocipede. Most of these lots sold for less than $250 with a few exceptions. A particularly tall – more than 18 inches – Mettlach stein decorated with a high wheel and a rider with medals on his jersey topped off at $1,680, just above its $1,500 high estimate.
Let’s not forget the children. While the vast majority of the bicycle lots in this sale were for adults, the sale also included early tricycles. With the exception of an early adult-sized iron-rimmed model at $2,624, these included seven Sky King Airflow models, so named based on the 1930s concept of streamlining with wheel panels similar to those on racing aircraft of that era. The top ride was a totally complete original model with front and rear panels and even the streamlined seat mount. At $2,000 it made ten times its high estimate. A recent replica even brought $500 and an original with only a front wheel streamlining panel still brought $1,750.
Automobilia made up nearly 300 lots of this sale. As is frequently the case, many lots outside a sale’s main category become bargains to the astute collector. But there are always surprises. Among the top dollar automobilia lots were a single sided, painted hanging sign for a Lebanon, N.H., auto repair shop with a three digit phone number. It brought $1,800, a multiple of its estimate. Equally surprising was another early repair shop sign. This one a framed single side tin example for “horseless carriages and contraptions fixed” for $1,500.
Other automobile items included pocket watches, pocketknives, stickpins, prints and early hood ornaments, as well as miscellaneous parts. Of particular interest were children’s items including pedal cars, a carnival bumper car, soap box derby and other riding cars. An Indianapolis pedal race car raced to $594.
A retired fireman or fire equipment enthusiast spotted four lots of particular interest. These included a complete cast iron fire alarm box mounted on its post which rang up $1,500, a cast iron fire truck wheel at $750 and a copper weathervane with horse-drawn early fire engine which pointed to a $625 win.
Copake Auctions will conduct an estate auction on November 19 and its annual New Year’s Day auction on January 1. Meanwhile, dust off your old bicycle, or the one in the barn, and see whether it’s worth more than just memories!
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.copakeauction.com or 518-329-1142.
September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023
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