26 January 2018

And What Did You Find In Your Barn?

What have you found in your attic or barn?

Well, I have never had a barn and, at the moment, I don't have an attic.  So I've never come across some masterpiece one of my grandparents bought at a flea market without realizing what they got.  Then again, my grandparents came to this country because they didn't want to shop in flea markets:  To them, not being poor anymore meant buying shiny, new stuff, not "other people's junk."  

Anyway, I've bought stuff in flea markets by choice and, while I've found stuff I like, I have never unwittingly bought something by an old master.  Or any other interesting artifact of history.  If I ever do, perhaps by then I'll have an attic--or a barn--where I can stash it and someone can find it long after I'm gone.

Then again, I don't know that I'd buy such things unwittingly.  If I knew I'd stumbled over a treasure, I'd stay calm, buy it and celebrate after I brought it home.

Especially if it's a rare old bicycle.

The bike was originally made by Denis Johnson
Glynn Stockdale in his Penny Farthing Museum, in Cheshire.

That is what Glynn Stockdale did.  He couldn't believe his luck when he found what he calls "the holy grail" of collectors' items. Or, more precisely, when it found him.

The Knutsford, Cheshire resident received a call about a two-wheeled contraption someone found in a disused barn during a demolition.  It's not known how long the vehicle was there, but Stockdale, a self-described bicycle enthusiast, immediately recognized it as a "hobby horse".

The bike is one of 12 known to be in existance
The Johnson hobby-horse, 1819

Turns out, Denis Johnson made it in 1819. He made 319 others that year, after getting a patent for it the previous year, and only 12 are known to be in existence today.

Aside from the fact that it's nearly two centuries old, why did the Johnson hobby-horse so excite him?  Well, most historians agree that the first bicycle--or, at least the first vehicle to be recognized as such--was made by Karl von Drais in 1816.  Like the Johnson creation, it consisted of two wheels and was propelled, not by pedals, but by the rider pushing his or her feet along the ground.  Its popularity spread to the upper classes-- of Paris (where it was called the Draisienne) and London.  Soon, versions of the Draisienne were being made in England and France.

Thus, Mr. Stockdale may well have acquired one of the very first--if not the very first--bicycle made in England.  And Johnson may have been the first to make a dropped-bar version of the bike for women to accomodate the long skirts they wore at that time.

It's a good thing Mr. Stockdale got a hold of it.  He is no ordinary bike enthusiast:  A former interior designer, he started his penny farthing museum in Cheshire in 1989. That museum, of course, will be the Johnson bike's new home.


  1. That seat looks harder than a new B17.😲

  2. Phillip--And the break-in period is, oh, about 200 years! ;-)