Penny farthing for your thoughts

Hmm. We were forewarned to expect the unexpected in BT27 but we did not quite expect this.

The drawing shown is on the front of a pre-printed passenger list covering the saloon passengers on the Lycia on its voyage from Liverpool to Kurrachee (as today’s Karachi was then known in the English-speaking world) and Bombay in 1891.

The engravers responsible for this charming picture of a moustachioed gent on a penny farthing were the renowned Boston firm of John A Lowell & Co. The penny farthing boneshaker might have already been on the road to obsolescence by 1891, following the invention of the safety bicycle (forerunner of the modern bike) in 1885. However, it still had a few more years of life in it: the 1890s was the decade of the so-called bicycle craze, during which cycling became highly fashionable, including among liberated women, leading (among other things) to the invention of the bloomers (but that’s another story).

The question remains, though, why this was thought to be an appropriate image to grace the front of the passenger list. Was a team of top cyclists on board, heading to the sub-Continent to demonstrate their art? Or was this simply 1891’s aspirational equivalent of a young woman sitting cross-legged at a laptop with a cappuccino? Answers in an e-mail to the usual address please.

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