100 Years Of Bicycle Posters, Jack Rennert (1973)

An arresting collection of colour reproductions of cycling posters, mainly from the early years of the twentieth century, with a perceptive introduction and notes on each plate

Hart-Davis MacGibbon 0 246 107774 X Folio 112pp £2.75

Published on the centenary of both off-set lithography and the bicycle, this collection celebrates a unique moment in the evolution of modern culture. Bicycles were the fastest individual means of transport from their inception until the arrival of the motor car. And inexpensive colour printing helped to create unprecedented mass markets for consumer products – such as bicycles.

Both were helped along by an artistic blossoming, the products of which – posters – appeared in streets and in shops across the developed world. Bicycles provided newfound access to the wider world: printing brought a galaxy of vivid imagery to public spaces. The internet has revolutionised access to information and experience. Yet that change looks positively restrained compared to the rush of new experience that technological innovation provided in the last half of the nineteenth century.

These posters provide a slideshow of imagery of enormous beauty, and commercial power. The threads running though them are the feeling of speed, freedom and liberation that they arrestingly convey. Indeed, few of the artists dwell on the bicycles themselves very much at all: selling the sizzle not the sausage – as copywriters are taught.

Women are also a recurring motif. Sex sells, then as now – and never more effectivley than H Gray’s poster for Sirius Bicycles. In it a pert cyclist’s negligee appears to have become enmeshed in the spokes thereby rendering her all but naked as she pedals into the sky.
It is tempting to think, however, that the representations of women here is a manifestation of slightly more interesting than the tits-and-bums school of salesmanship. Two-wheeled transports to freedom were adopted as readily by women as men, if not more so. And while advertisers models of the 1890s seem to have been particularly unlucky in respect of their clothes and the spokes of their mounts, it is a glamorous, happy, liberated vision of women that shines through.

This book is long out of print – indeed, it is surprising that it has not been reissued. Its author is now the president of the International Poster Centre in New York, and writes an entertaining blog on the organisation’s site, in which he occaisionally returns to the subject of cycling posters.

Perhaps the second-hand prices that this volume now attracts will persuade him to roll the litho once more.

PS June 09

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *