Michaux - New Questions and Answers

Robert Štěrba: “The Early Days of Bicycle Production - History of Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne - New Questions and Answers”

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

Roeselare, Belgium 24-26 May 2012

Michaux - New Questions 1

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my pleasure to present you today a few new facts about to the early days of bicycle production. Details which I personally helped to disclose. I would also like to suggest that if anyone has any question during my presentation, please feel free to ask. Please interrupt me immediately and ask.  I will be happy to provide an explanation or further comments.

The topic of my presentation is “ The Early Days of Bicycle Production – The History of Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne – New Questions and Answers” or perhaps I should say answers and questions – in the opposite order, because I am sure that there will be more questions from my audience. Much has been written and said about the history of Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne. Many thanks goes to Keizo Kobaiashi, David Herlihy, Nick Clayton, Claude Reynard and others for their impressive work in the past. Special thank you goes for Lorne Shields and GertJan Mood who are friends of mine and who are alwayshelping me with my research.  You have all been great teachers to me. Thank you. I will not include an account of the facts these gentlemen have found, however, I will only briefly present an overview of the history of Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne only, as it will help us understand the presented issue. Nick Clayton has written a highly (very) informative article for the English journal Boneshaker. It was published a couple of years ago. It has drawn much attention to the fact that collectors and experts make mistakes when dating and identifying bicycles. As well as their own machines. Nick had remembered the fact that Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne are two different companies. This is absolutly true.

Michaux boneshaker, Paris, France – around 1868

Michaux boneshaker, Paris, France – around 1868

Michaux & Cie. boneshaker, Paris, France – 1868/69

Michaux & Cie.(serial numb.1382), Paris, France – 1868/69

Cie Parisienne boneshaker, Paris, France – around 1870

Cie Parisienne boneshaker, Paris, France – around 1870

Cie Parisienne boneshaker, Paris, France – after a year 1870

Cie Parisienne boneshaker, Paris, France – after a year 1870

At the same time it is necessary to note that both these companies used to be, in a certain period of their existence, and much connected through their owners. I personally believe that Pierre Michaux would not have been famous today without the help of the Oliviér brothers. The same goes for the Oliviér brothers (the owners and founders of Compagnie Parisienne) who might not have achieved such success in the field of bicycle trade, had they not first started to cooperate with Michaux.

Let us look at a diagram.

Michaux - New Questions 2

On the left you can see a time axis. In the middle, there are the names of companies with the exact dates and the company owners are listed on the right. Here on the diagram is very easy to show, how the Oliviér brothers infiltrated to Michaux company. The first company was managed by  Pierre Michaux, until September 1867. Company 2 – as we know, Michaux accepted a loan from the Oliviér brothers in this period. Company 3 – this was the period of continued cooperation resulting in the establishment of a partnership between Michaux an brothers Oliviére and they set up Michaux and Cie on 7 May 1868. The share of the Oliviér brothers amounted to 69 per cent. Their cooperation lasted about a year, ending in a dramatic and complicated court dispute with several hearings. In April 1869, Michaux started his enterprise under the company name Michaux and Cie Inventeur, later renamed to Michaux Pere and Cie. At the same time, the Oliviér brothers established Compagnie Parisienne. The Franco-Prussian war brought about difficulties in the manufacture of velocipedes, however, after the war, the Oliviér brothers reopened their factories and continued to produce bicycles. Michaux did not. Please note that no reliable information is available regarding Pierre Michaux from this period (second half of 1869).  During the period, he made business as Michaux and Cie Inventeur, later on as Michaux Pere and Cie. During the same time, he was engaged in a court case, and his business activities were restricted by the court for some time. His activities were therefore partially illegal and he probably tried to establish contact with new suppliers and collaborators. The information from this period is unclear and full of discrepancies and I will pay detailed attention to that later on. This much for the brief outline and let us move further.

These pictures shows a catalogue of Cie Parisienne, offered at a TCA Auction in England a couple of years ago

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It is not dated, however, the design of the bicycles indicates that they were produced in one of the later periods. I decided to buy the catalogue, although it was rather very expensive.  I was told: “You are crazy – it is too expensive” and my answer was simple: “I can feel that it contains very important information.”

 Two or three years later, a friend of mine sent me a couple of pictures of a velocipede for sale. These are the original images that he sent to me.

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Original paint, red lines, very good condition and a with badge saying Cie Parisienne. I was surprised after examining the details. Many of them were different from other Cie Parisienne velocipedes. The frame, front wheel bearings, pedal mounts, levers, foot rests... I had never seen any of those. I was confused. But what about the badge and the serial number. Is it original or not? Let us compare the key details: On the top, you can see the original picture of a Compagnie Parisienne velocipede and on the down is a detail of the velocipede we are referring to:

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a)    the bicycle frame – all Cie Parisienne bicycles have a diamond shaped profile, here, you can see a rectangle. The shape is absolutelly different and also quied rough.

b)    b) the front wheel bearings – all Cie Parisienne products have sophisticated bearings that allow for a bearing clearance adjustment. This velocipede uses a primitive and simple type of bearings employed in the very early days.

c) the cranks – a very simple profile without the possibility to adjust the pedal according to the length of the rider’s legs.

d)    d) the pedals – fixed to the cranks. Cie Parisienne never used a similar system.

e)    e) the foot rests – again, different in shape with a double material, which I have never seen. I am not sure what to make of it.  

f)      f) attachment of the rear fork

  I sent the pictures to some of my friends asking for their opinions. They made the same comparison of details and their answers were identical. All of them said: it is a copy, a fake, it is not interesting as it is not a Cie Parisienne bicycle. I asked again and everyone said the same thing. They repeated: it is a copy, a fake, it is not interesting as it is not a Cie Parisienne bicycle.

Let us have another look at the catalogue. At the last page of the catalogue. The best comes at the end.

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The SERVICE model. “Service” means a model for some kind of a service – postal, army, police, or dispatch service. The manufacturer tried to offer a velocipede for wider commercial use, a cheaper model designed to withstand rough treatment. All details are the same as in the pictures of the velocipede. The question comes up again. Is it an original or a copy? The answer is absolutely clear: Definitely an original. And indeed, the catalogue contained very valuable information. Let us compare several details with the model in the catalogue:

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 The frame, the bearings, attachment of the rear fork, foot rests, cranks, pedals.

 Today, we know of and keep in our database approximately 60 Michaux and 40 Cie Parisienne velocipedes. There are other ones as well, however, they have not yet been examined in detail. All in all, we know approximately 100 valuable bicycles manufactured by Michaux and Compagnie Parisienne, which are based on a standard design.

You are looking at the unique SERVICE model.

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 The only known and existing bicycle. Moreover, the original condition has been preserved. As I first said, there will also be answers to the questions, so here comes the answer. The SERVICE model is another solved mystery since the beginnings of the production of bicycles. It is necessary to note that before saying “it is a copy or fake or it is not interesting bicycle” we have to be careful. All questions have to be addressed carefully – and the Service model is proof.

 The second part will contain questions and question marks. I will talk about the same companies but different bicycles.

Please, look at the picture.

A.Michaux boneshaker, Paris, France – around 1870


You can, again, see an offer, this time of an exquisite bicycle in its original condition. At the first glance you will think: “A velocipede manufactured by Michaux”. Is it, or is it not? One thing is certain. The original condition, original paint and lines on the frame and the wheels. For 99% it was made in France. I also said: “It is clear at the first glance”. Of course, we all know, that a solution “at a glance” is not the optimum solution. So let us go through the individual details, which will reveal the first doubts.  I have prepared these couples of pictures so that the differences in details become more apparent. On the left, you can see the original Michaux velocipede and on the right, there is a detail of the velocipede concerned. One by one:

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The attachment of the crank to the front wheel axis, connection of the of the saddle spring supports, frame head, bicycle frame (reduction and profile), connection of the frame and the fork, minor differences on the profile of the saddle spring and the saddle. On the last detail, you can see the original number applied over the original paint. It most probably stands for a number from a rental shop or a bicycle school. Places where bicycle riding was taught. These bicycle schools were operated by large companies as a form of advertising. Therefore, we can draw a simple conclusion. This velocipede was manufactured by a large company, however, neither Michaux nor Cie Parisienne.  

 Please pay special attention to what I say. The last picture and a detail of the label.

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 A. Michaux Paris – what does it mean? What are we to make of it? The main problem is the letter “A”. The name of Pierre Michaux or any member of his family or children does not start with “A”. You can see all names of the children of Pierre Michaux on the screen. Eight in total. None of their names starts with “A”.

 Before you make or express any opinion, please note that this is not the only bicycle the details of which are different.

The most famous can be studied in the National Museum in Landrindon Wells in Wales.

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The connection of the frame and the fork is very similar to that of the yellow bicycle with the A. Michaux label. So far, it has been believed that this bicycle is a rebuilt or completely renovated Michaux product and  that some parts are original and the rest comes from another bicycle. This may or may not be true.

The same machine is in Technischen Museum Vienna – Austria.

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Here, you can see another bicycle. It comes from a private collection in Belgium.

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We studied the bicycle in detail. We had enough time to examine and document its condition.  The Michaux Inventeur badge, as well as all other details, was in order, however, the serial number was missing. 

 All of the known bicycles were consistently marked with numbers. However, not this one. Why is that? Let us get back to the timeline showing how and when Michaux manufactured velocipedes.

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The year 1869, when Michaux was engaged in the above-mentioned court case was an important time period for his bicycle production, as well as a mysterious time. This velocipede without serial number was also produced in this period. Why? Michaux tried to avoid the registration of his products, payment of taxes and perhaps also to evade some court order or restriction. He also wanted to avoid attention while keeping the production going and maintaining his customers. He might have been looking for new suppliers, or new collaborators, perhaps he bought some of the parts or had them manufactured. He might also have cooperated with other manufacturers.

You can see another picture showing one more velocipede.

Michaux - New Questions 15

The label says Michaux Inventeur, however, the word “Pere” is engraved in the label. Why? It is very simple to produce a label, compared to the manufacture of the whole bicycle. Did Michaux have production or financial difficulties? He had problems with his suppliers and his partners.  

Another velocipede. All of the details are hundred per cent identical.


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 No label, no attachment holes, no serial number. It is a copy. Why? Of what? Why would anyone want to produce a copy of a bicycle of a famous manufacturer around 1870? Why would one or more bicycles be produced without registration? And without marking. This would bring no promotion or advertising. Pierre Michaux often made use of advertising and promoted his name frequently and efficiently.

 One thing is certain. He always did his best to promote his name. The name of his last company was Michaux Pere – his own name, indeed. By looking at the table, you will see that also the Oliviér brothers used the name Michaux in their company name, although this was not a fair choice. They did not like him, they took him to court, but they still used his name, because he was a legend.  Michaux has been and always will be a legend.

Back to see our yellow velocipede.

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-         This period might be one of the clues indicating where to look for the origin of the velocipede marked A. Michaux. Nevertheless, there is currently no proof for that.

-         There is also an entirely opposite perspective: it is possible that some other producer tried to use the famous name Michaux to promote its own products. The only purpose of letter A. was to avoid potential disputes regarding its use, or the use of the brand. This is merely a hypothesis, an idea.

  I would like to conclude that there still are many questions and much work ahead, which will bring many surprises. Let us move step by step, slowly putting together the puzzle of the early days of bicycle history.

Thank you for your attention.