About the Penny-farthing

canstockphoto7401825Author’s Note–Henry’s Eclectic has reached 36 followers! That is 35 more than I ever thought I’d have. Thank you for your patronage. No endeavor starts off without hiccups, and every small victory is cherished. Thank you for your time and readership.

On occasion, I will offer a modest supplement to my usual Tuesday travel recollections. I had great ambitions for the scope of this blog, a sort of internet attic full of odds-and-ends in a steamer trunk. I thought of channeling J.Peterman and Lewis Lapham in design, perhaps even a little Charles Kuralt and Garrison Keillor for nostalgia and Anthony Bourdain when it comes to food. I also channeled the British factotum Ben Schott and the Idler’s Tom Hodgkinson. I would take my reader on a brief essay ride to revel in the little things, especially the obsolete things—like card catalogs, rotary phones and the Game Boy. I will get to those things certainly.

And today, I start with the Penny-farthing—the big-wheeled bicycle that I have made the logo of the Eclectic—a true contraption that may get you where you need to go, conspicuously, and with whimsy. This particular iteration comes from Harper’s Weekly—the old newspaper and magazine dating back to the Civil War.

What is a penny-farthing? Well, it was a precursor to the modern bicycle. It takes it name from two British coins of unequal size—a penny and a farthing. The odd shape of the thing did have practicality—the very large wheel allowed the rider to pick up speed more quickly. The down side was that if you do a face plant off a penny-farthing, you’d have a long distance to go before gravity would force feed you a salad of dirt and grass. Some Victorians actually died from “taking a header” off the top of a penny-farthing.

While odd looking to the 21st century cycling enthusiast, all bicycles had mismatched wheels until the invention of the “safety bicycle” with its two, equal wheels in the 1890’s. By then, the penny-farthing had its day.


My choice of the penny-farthing as a logo has little to do with the bicycle. (What an obsolete wonder though! Someday I will try a penny-farthing, and will post photos for you. ) When I was in my undergraduate years, I had a good friend who was in journalism school. Back in the “web 2.0” days of myspace and email, she made a passing reference to wanting a penny-farthing on her own blog, perhaps as she might have though it the only conveyance that would accommodate her long legs.

Being a bit of a suburban Pollyanna at this time in my life (as that last sentence clearly extolls, given my interest in the bike over the legs!), I had no idea what she was talking about (ever, really. Not for some fault of her own. She was brilliant.) And so in a wikirage, I did find out what this penny-farthing thing was. She went on to become an editor of online magazines of record, and I went on to keep a modest blog as an avocation. In some ways, the blog is already the penny-farthing of social communication, as most attention spans have been whittled to the length of a tweet, or you tube clip. A shame, as the essay remains the most useful tool for conveying a cogent thought with exposition and persuasion that no infographic can topple.

Who would have thought such a passing reference to a clunky, Victorian albatross of a bicycle would linger in the attic space of this author’s mind? It did though and thus a logo and a modest tribute were born.

Penny Farthings Forbidden

Pennyfarthing Logo under license from canstockphoto.com All Rights Reserved (c) 2013

Taking a Header Photo credit: Foxtongue / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

No Pennyfarthings Allowed Photo credit: The Puzzler / Foter / CC BY


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