Poster of the Week: Bicyclism – The Art of Wheeling

Bicyclism – the art of wheeling, Austin Cooper, 1928
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The 100th edition of the Tour de France is currently underway, with two more weeks of exciting action still to come before the finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

This week we’re celebrating this historic race with a very different kind of bike to the lightweight super aerodynamic machines today’s riders use. Instead, Austin Cooper’s 1928 poster takes a nostalgic look at the ‘penny-farthing’ or ‘high wheel’ bicycle, popular in the late Victorian era.

The penny-farthing’s design followed on from the ‘boneshaker’, the first popular and commercially viable bicycle with pedals. The large front wheel of the penny-farthing enabled greater speeds in a time before gears had been added to bikes. The big wheel on the front also led to a smoother journey over cobbled streets, before bikes featured pneumatic tyres. However, the penny-farthing was not without its dangers and was soon replaced by the safety bicycle, launched in the 1880s and featuring a chain driven back wheel. From here on, the bike became a popular, safe and affordable means of travel for men and women.

Golders Green bicycle store, around 1925

Austin Cooper’s career as a commercial artist began in Montreal, Canada.  He moved to London after the First World War. In 1922 he received the first of many poster commissions from London Underground, becoming one of Britain’s leading poster designers. Cooper published a book about poster design in 1939, ‘Making a Poster’ and once said that ‘The functions of a poster are dual: to arrest the attention and then, having caught the eye of the passer-by, to deliver a message swiftly, convincingly, effectively.’

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