Friday, 10 May 2013

THE BICYCLE. Original posters and advertisements from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s.

Sanders of Oxford are pleased to present the first in a series of mini-exhibitions on subjects we are consistently asked for, but rarely have the material. This first instalment concentrates on cycling and the bicycle. With around 21,000 bikes in use in Oxford on a daily basis, the bicycle is a subject close to the heart of many Oxfordians. On display in the gallery from Wednesday 15th May will be a collection of striking original posters and advertisements depicting the bicycle from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s.

The Golden Age of Cycling reached its pinnacle in the late 1800’s, during the Belle Epoque era1.  This was also a period when poster art was at its height, with artists such as Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec
producing graphic masterpieces. However few artists concentrated purely on the subject of the bicycle, some of the most notable poster artists of the age such as Jules Chéret and Lautrec produced advertisements for the likes of ‘Cycles Humber’ and ‘La Chaine Simpson’ (No 6), though unknown artists produced many spectacular posters as well.

With a boom in bicycle sales in the 1890’s there was ample funding available to the major bicycle
manufacturers to commission more extravagant and impressive posters and advertisements, particularly in America. By 1900 the bicycle boom was over in the United States, but advertising was still dominant, this time due to a more competitive market. American advertisements of the period had a unique style, with catchy marketing slogans. This is in contrast to the elegant and artistic style of French poster designs that promoted a lifestyle as much as a product (No 1). However, British bicycles sales were, in this period, decidedly upmarket, resulting in a more conservative ‘gentlemanly’ approach. What can be seen towards the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth century, is British bicycle advertising directed toward women (No 4). In this era in Great Britain, for the first time, the bicycle allowed women a freedom of movement previously denied.2

The primary printing method of these posters was multi-colour stone lithography, invented by Jules Cheret at the end of the nineteenth century.  For each colour printed, a separate lithographic stone/plate had to be drawn, with precise registration of the paper each time the stones were put through the press. These original posters are printed on very thin paper, similar to newsprint. Acting as the billboards of the day they were only expected to survive for a limited period of time, pasted in public places to advertise a product or event. Their artists and printers knew that they would be rained on, torn down and covered up; therefore it is extremely rare to find them in perfect condition. The process of stone lithography limited the number of posters that could be created; a run of approximately 2,000 was standard. However because they were not created as collectable artworks, or intended to last for more than a month or so, they were not numbered and often they were not signed.3

Click here to download the catalogue.

1.The Belle Époque or La Belle Époque, French for “Beautiful Era” was a period in French history that is commonly dated as starting in 1871 and ending at the outbreak of World War I. Occurring during the era of the Third French Republic, it was a period characterized by optimism and peace both at home and in Europe. The peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theatre, and visual art gained recognition. The Belle Époque was named, in retrospect, when it began to be considered a “golden age” in contrast to the horrors of World War I.
2.Old Bike.Eu. Vintage Bicycle Adverts 1900-1920. [Online]. Available: Accessed 30th April 2013.
3. IVPDA. (2006). Starting Your Collection. [Online]. Available: Accessed 30th April 2013.