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High Wheel 54-inch Excelsior model bicycle with a leather seat



WHAT is the penny farthing?
In the 1870s, bicycle manufacturers improved previous models by increasing the front wheel size and covering the iron wheels in rubber. Because only the front wheel was operated by pedals, a larger front wheel meant that greater distances could be covered in less time. The rubber created more friction but reduced shake, therefore requiring less manual power. These new high-wheeled cycles were the fad until 1890 and, although we refer to them as “penny farthings” and “ordinaries” now, these were actually the first machines to be referred to simply as “bicycles” during the time they were used.

Variations on the penny farthing design included the Star high-wheel safety bicycle, which was manufactured in the U.S. and offered greater stability by placing the small wheel in front and the large rear wheel beneath the seat.


Cliff Shand with a Star high-wheel

By 1890, the safety bicycle, with its equal-sized wheels and belt-driven rear wheel, had replaced the penny farthing.

 And HOW was it received in Nova Scotia?

Bicycle mania reached Halifax in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The penny farthing was embraced by young men and cycling became a social trend, with groups of cyclists meeting at the Public Gardens and Point Pleasant Park for evening rides. The city’s official bicycle club was Halifax Ramblers, known today as the Nova Scotia Ramblers Bicycle Club.

The Halifax Ramblers at the Halifax Public Gardens, 1890
WHERE and WHEN was it made?
The penny farthing 54-inch Excelsior was manufactured by the Bayliss Thomas Company of Coventry, England, between 1885 and 1892.

 WHO would have used a penny farthing in Nova Scotia?

While Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame cycling inductees such as Burns Wesley Pierce and Howard Shaw may have encountered high-wheel bicycles, the one inductee who definitely rode a penny farthing is Clifford Shand (below).

Clifford (Cliff) Shand of Windsor, Nova Scotia, was the bicycle champion of the province in the late 1800s. In the 1880s, Shand had one of possibly only two Star high wheel safety bicycles in Nova Scotia.
Shand won the one-mile cycling event at a W.A.A.C. meet in September 1889, setting a new record. His racing performance was so remarkable that no one turned out to challenge him at the next competition.
From 1887-1892, Shand competed in 21 Nova Scotia Championship races, accumulating 15 first-place finishes and four second-place standings.

WHY is it featured today?

We have recently installed the penny farthing in the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, bringing it out of storage and displaying it on the platform outside of our theatre. This installation was arranged just in time for this year’s HRM Bike Week. During bike week (May 25-June 3, 2012), we will be featuring a bike exhibit, revisiting Nova Scotia’s rich cycling history through artefacts, photos, and the stories of our cycling inductees.

All of the above reasons make it an appropriate time to feature what is arguably the most eye-catching piece in our collection. Bikes have made a noticeable comeback over the past few years, with cycling clubs and events springing up across the province. Although today’s cycler may not be able to imagine careening along while perched on a penny farthing bicycle, the fundamental technology of the cycle still offers a practical, efficient, and sustainable mode of transportation and recreation.


The penny farthing on display at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame
Babaian, Sharon. The Most Benevolent Machine: A Historical Assessment of Cycles in Canada. National Museum of Science and Technology, 1998. Print.
Watts, Heather. Silent Steeds: Cycling in Nova Scotia to 1900. The Nova Scotia Museum, 1985. Print.
Featured artefact article written by Katherine Wooler, Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame
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