Category Archives: Pre WWI

The Fix Is In: Napoleon Mens Bicycle by The Jenkins Cycle Co., ca. 1895


There is something to be said for tracing a design’s lineage. Modern utilitarian objects are expected to be refined and improvements made as they become more common and as technology warrants. We’re sometimes astonished when the primitive is, in fact, as refined — if not more refined — than the modern version.

Take, for example, this Napoleon bicycle, manufactured by the Jenkins Cycle Co. of Chicago (1895–1898). This lightweight, fixed-gear bike feels so light in the hand, one could mistake the carefully engineered steel frame for carbon fiber or aluminum. The black structure retains most of its finish along with what appears to be faded gold detail. The wood rims have survived without the hindrance of cracks or splits, giving them the potential to once again carry tires, while the head badge, showing some wear, sits proudly in place.

Though primarily a commuter bike, this model encapsulates the notion of quality craftsmanship with the simplicity of pared-back, functional design.

Toledo Uhl Draftsman Stool with Japanned Finish, ca, 1910

It’s always a pleasure to unearth a Uhl Toledo piece, but it’s all the better finding one that’s rare or unusual. Regardless of whatever poor state the item arrives in, its restoration can lead to further discovery. With dozens if not hundreds of variations that existed within the product lines, the desire exists to seek out something that you’ve not had before.

Early Toledo products received a copper oxidization treatment to the steel, known as japanning. This effect of marbling matte black with the sheen of copper was popular during the turn of the twentieth century.

Aside from the japanned steel, there are other characteristics this stool possesses that set it apart from its descendents. Rather than using a sprung lever arm, one adjusts the height by swiveling the seat up and down. The footrest ring is a strap of steel, rather than a thick wire, as it appeared in subsequent designs, and the wood is more substantial due to the lack of a metal support framework.

Plights of the Round Table: Uhl Toledo Table, ca. 1910

Though commonly associated with industrial seating, the Toledo Metal Furniture Co. made a range of tables that included compact typewriter desks and this recent find: a small cafe-size table, typically found in soda fountains in the early part of the 20th century.

This particularly early version is as rare as hen’s teeth and almost impossible to find in any condition. It features a solid oak top — rather than the wood laminate found on later Uhl pieces — and an ornate steel base with a copper oxidized (Japanned) finish.

In a thorough restoration, the modern gold repaint was removed to ensure that the dormant original finish was left unscathed. The oak’s surface was stripped of its tired, black paint and refinished, ready to be used and enjoyed for decades to come.

I Don’t Want Your Photograph: Panoramic Black & White Railroad Staff Photo, ca. 1908

There are certainly times when seeking out items for this blog, the hunt takes me to places with absolutely no promise of finding anything special. Without a love of “the hunt” the process falls apart because 9 times out of 10, what you end up finding is a whole lot of not much.

Fortunately, while rummaging through a barn in Ohio recently, I came across this beautiful panoramic photo (40″ x 11″) of what appears to be employees of a railroad outside a train station. Though it’s difficult to detail the provenance of this image, you can see that the staff are decorated in medals suggesting that there was perhaps a commemoration of the railroad or perhaps the opening of a new line.

What else is clear is that many of these individuals were not getting enough fiber in their diets.

Regardless, what a dapper bunch and what a cool wall image to display!