With a 32 inch front wheel and a height of 41.5 inches, the juvenile penny farthing shown here is a reasonable size machine. It would be suitable for a lad aged around 14 years old. However, it looks small parked next to the large Coventry Machinists’ Gentleman’s Roadster in the photograph above whose height is 63 inches and wheel size is 54 inches.
In the 1880s and early 1890s, there was distinct gender separation when it came to children’s bicycles and tricycles. While girls rode tiller & treadle style tricycles, boys rode juvenile size penny farthings. You can see from the 1880s photograph below that Herbert, on the left, had a penny farthing similar to the one featured here. Marion is shown with her tricycle, and the older boy had an adult penny farthing which had the small wheel at the front.
1890s Boys’ Penny Farthing
32″ Front wheel. Solid rubber tyres
I’m not sure of the maker of this penny farthing. Nearly all the surviving examples are unidentified, being copies of the first examples built by Western Toy Co, but with enough variation in design to avoid patent duties. It’s similar to the one shown below.
It’s in good all round condition. It has a repair to its backbone that was obviously done many decades ago, and the front brake ‘paddle’ (that presses down onto the tyre when the brake lever is pulled) has been refabricated. The metal is in good condition, as are the wheels and leather saddle.
As is usual with these early juvenile bicycles, it has a very basic design, with an open steering head, plain bearings and quite primitive hubs. There are plenty of replicas claming to be from the Victorian era, but very few genuine original survivors. By the mid-1990s safety bicycles had taken over from these earlier machines, and they were out of fashion for the following century. It’s only recently that there has been a real resurgence of interest in the penny farthing as a riding machine. This one is ready to ride.
1885 WESTERN TOY Co CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
The ‘Otto’ bicycle, made by the Western Toy Co, cornered the market in the USA in the 1880s. That company was established by Adolph Shoeninger, and it later became the Western Wheels Works and then the Crescent Cycle Co. Two inventors who assigned their patents to Shoeninger were Otto Enzinger and G.W Marble. Boys’ penny farthings made by other companies invariably copied this style.
Observe the repair (below) that was done at some time during its life. I consider this to be ‘fair wear and tear’ for a rare bicycle like this; usually when they were damaged they were thrown away, which is why there are so few nowadays.
1876 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ GENTLEMAN’S ROADSTER v BOY’S PENNY FARTHING