Anton Burg’s "three-wheel hobby horse"

Dr. Jan Králík: Anton Burg’s three-wheel hobby horse "Overpainted beauty"

The full text of my audience for: XXIII. Intenational Cycling History Conference

Roeselare, Belgium 24-26 May 2012

Burg’s hobby horse I.


In 1953, the bicycle collection of the National Technical Museum in Prague was extended to include an exhibit that was neither purchased nor donated, but was legally “stolen”. To clarify this, we have to look at the bigger picture.

The Paars were members of an old Czech aristocratic family. From the 15th century, their importance grew because of Martin Paar, who became chief postmaster in Hungary. This was the start of a tradition that continued into following generations. In 1630, Martin’s grandson, Jan Kryštof, inherited the hereditary position of postmaster in the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire, a job that paid very well. The family held this position almost until the time when the post was nationalized (1720). 

Another descendant, Jan Karel Paar, took part in the Napoleonic wars, Ludvík Paar was appointed ambassador to Sweden and many members of the family held diplomatic or military positions. In 1925, Alfons Paar (1903) inherited the castle in Bechyně, a picturesque city in Southern Bohemia, from his father, Karel Paar. Alfons Paar had three children – Alfons Junior (31 May 1932), Karel Paar (4 January 1934) and Eleonora Paar (11 May 1937). The idyllic life at the castle ended once and for all following the Czechoslovak Communist coup in February of 1948. On 25 March 1949, the people’s court in Týn nad Vltavou seized the local property (Decision T 71/49-4) and in another decision (Decision T 71/49-18) decided that “all the property of Alfons Paar (Senior - author’s note), who has escaped abroad, passes to the state”. In implementing this decision, the State Heritage Administration and other authorities decided, amongst other things, that “1 ancient bicycle, wooden, push-propelled (2 wheels in the front, 1 wheel at the back) 89 x 156 x 65“ will be transferred to the collections of the National Technical Museum (NTM). The museum accepted the object in 1953 (waiver Ref. No. 10258/53) and included it amongst the exhibits in its collection of historical bicycles. Photographs of this bicycle appeared in an advertising brochure on the history of bicycles, which came out in 1973. This picture is of very poor quality, but is sufficiently clear to play an important role in our story (album: Burg's hobby horse I.). It can be concluded from the picture that it was taken around the time when the bicycle was transferred to the National Technical Museum.  

In 1978, it was decided to “renovate” this exhibit and then it was shown as the first in the bicycle collection.  Those who “renovated” the bicycle – a truly desperates – signed themselves on the underside of the seat with the initials V. Š. and V. M. (Album: Burg's hobby horse III.). It is no longer possible to discover who is hidden behind these letters. The result is apparent in the following pictures. (album: Burg's hobby horse II.) The wooden parts of the bicycle were coated with yellow synthetic lacquer with red lines, the seat and the rest were covered with black artificial leather and the seat was even decorated with a fringe similar to Harley-Davidson motorcycles. This is the way that some of us remember the exhibit, if they noticed it at all. Some people insisted that it was a home-made machine (in the best case), and some said it was a replica.

Burg's hobby horse II.

The wheels of time turn slowly but time still moves on. Following the revolution in November 1989, known as the Velvet Revolution, the new Czech political establishment attempted to remedy the wrongs perpetrated by the Communist regime. Amongst other things, they returned illegally confiscated or, to be more exact, stolen property back to its original owners. Unfortunately, Alfons Paar Sr. was already dead; he died in 1979. However, his three children were alive and claimed his property. Karel Paar and Eleonora Paar renounced the inheritance in favour of their sibling, Alfons Paar Jr. The family property was returned to him. This also included the mentioned “push bicycle” exhibited in the National Technical Museum.

Before the hobby-horse was returned to Mr. Paar, the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic declared, on 25 October 1991, that the hobby horse was a national cultural monument, as this was one of the oldest known bicycles in the territory of Czechoslovakia. Which means in practice that it must remain in the Czech Republic. Subsequently, the hobby-horse was returned.

Then the NTM concluded a rental agreement for an indefinite period of time with Mr. Paar on 15 January 1993, on the basis of which the hobby-horse in question continued to be exhibited free-of-charge in the Transportation Hall.

In November 2008, Mr. Paar decided to restore the hobby-horse and then to exhibit it in the castle at Bechyně, stating that he was willing to lend it to NTM at any time on the occasion of a special exhibition.

The further events are reflected in the agreement of 16 February 2011, in which Mr. František Kratochvíl agreed to restore this hobby-horse. It should be pointed out that Jaroslav Vožniak, the man who has restored practically all the bicycles that are currently exhibited in the newly opened National Technical Museum, works for Mr. Kratochvíl in his workshop.

The work was commenced in 2011. Then the mentioned picture again became important. The original can be seen in it. Thus, Jaroslav carried out probes at several places to determine what was hidden under the yellow coating. It looked promising.

Burg's hobby horse III.

The construction of the seat, which is spring-mounted, was very interesting. It consists of two plates, with a leaf spring attached in between (Album: Burg's hobby horse III.) . And one more interesting picture - the handlebars, steering system and front wheel axle (Album: Burg's hobby horse III.).

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer, and will show you the result.

Burg's hobby horse IV.

And finally, what is this? The answer can be found in the catalogue of the Fahr!rad exhibition, which was held from November 2002 to April 2003 in the Technical Museum in Vienna. Page 21 contains a drawing of a patent awarded in 1824 to Anton Burg.

Burg's hobby horse V.

Four of Anton Burg’s hobby-horses were shown at the exhibition, however all with only two wheels. There are all the indications that this hobby-horse with three wheels is the only preserved specimen. Anton Burg, who produced farm tools at Favoritenstrasse 73 in Vienna, obtained patent privilege for this type of hobby-horse for a period of three years. He declared that the machine is very stable, is suitable for children from an age of five years and that riding it is very healthy.

At the present time, Burg’s three-wheel hobby horse can be seen at the castle in Bechyně in Southern Bohemia. There are all the indications that this is an almost complete machine, with only the mud guard on the back wheel behind the seat missing. Holes in the frame of the hobby-horse suggest this. This seems to be the only defect in the whole machine.

(Pictures during the restoration Jaroslav Vožniak, pictures of the restored machine Robert Štěrba)