eBay Finds: 1886 52in Humber penny-farthing

We've taken a step back in time for this eBay Find: a genuine, 1886 penny-farthing built by the esteemed Beeston, Nottingham, UK bike-builder, Humber.

The '1:1' gearing of the direct-drive, pedal-driven wheels on the more conventional-looking velocipedes, or boneshakers, which preceded penny-farthings – also called ordinaries – meant that as roads, and riders, improved, so appeared the need for higher gearing. And the way to do that was to make the front wheel bigger.

The 'high-wheelers' began to appear in the 1870s, and had their heyday in the 1880s, with this being a fantastic example of one built by Humber. The company was started by Thomas Humber in the late 1860s after Humber – a Nottingham-based blacksmith – started building, and selling, his own velocipedes, and later penny-farthings and safety bicycles.

Humber-built bicycles were wildly popular, and the company also later built motorbikes and then cars as the popularity of four-wheeled machines boomed, and in the 1930s the company was sold to the even-better-known Nottingham bike company, Raleigh.

The 52in description of this eBay listing of course refers to the diameter of the front wheel of the penny-farthing, sitting somewhere in the middle of the size-standards seen on such machines.

The badge shows that it was built at Beeston, Nottingham-based Humber Cycles

The badge shows that it was built at Beeston, Nottingham-based Humber Cycles (Image credit: hiwheelbicycle / eBay)

The subsequent emergence of the chain-driven safety bicycle – with its smaller, equal-sized wheels – was a return to something more akin to today's bikes, and in fact not much has changed since their introduction in the 1880s, with penny-farthings soon to drop out of fashion, with more conventional gears later appearing.

That's not to say that penny-farthings should be forgotten about – far from it. While many wrongly assume them to have been the first type of bike, their spectacle is undoubted, and images of them being raced at the height of their popularity have inspired modern bike collectors and enthusiasts to re-enact such escapades every now and again, and it's a spectacle well worth witnessing – or taking part in – if you ever get the opportunity.

A first step could be to acquire this Humber. At the £3,200 (US$3,940) that the UK-based seller (collection only) is asking for it, you could find cheaper alternatives, but this is the real deal from the height of penny-farthing popularity and craftsmanship.

We're constantly on the lookout for unique and rare cycling relics on eBay. If you have any suggestions or leads, please send them to cyclingnews@cyclingnews.com with 'eBay Finds' in the subject line.

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