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Antique Tricycles: The Ultimate Guide to Identification, Valuation, and Collecting


For centuries, tricycles have captured the hearts of children and adults alike with their charming design and delightful riding experience. But did you know that antique tricycles from the 1800s and early 1900s are highly sought-after collectibles that can command impressive prices at auction? Whether you‘ve stumbled upon a vintage treasure or are hoping to start your own collection, this in-depth guide will equip you with everything you need to know about identifying, valuing, and collecting these fascinating pieces of transportation history.

The Evolution of the Tricycle

To truly appreciate antique tricycles, it‘s essential to understand their rich history and the ingenious inventors who shaped their development. The story begins in 1680 with German watchmaker Stephan Farffler, who created a hand-crank propelled tricycle to help him get around as a paraplegic or amputee. His groundbreaking invention laid the foundation for both the modern wheelchair and tricycle.

Over a century later, in 1789, French technicians Blanchard and Maguier introduced the first pedal-powered tricycles, coining the terms "bicycle" and "tricycle" in the process. But it wasn‘t until 1877 that the tricycle really took off, thanks to British inventor James Starley‘s "Coventry Rotary" model. Featuring a large wheel on one side and two smaller wheels on the other for balance, Starley‘s design became wildly popular – even Queen Victoria was rumored to have placed an order!

As bicycles gained widespread acceptance in the mid-19th century, concerns about their safety led to a renewed interest in tricycles. The extra wheel provided much-needed stability, making them easier to mount and ride, especially for women in long skirts and gentlemen seeking a more dignified mode of transport. By the 1870s, tricycle manufacturers were incorporating the latest innovations like chain drives, and the first wooden tricycles for children began to appear in the United States.

The Golden Age of Antique Tricycles

The period from the 1880s through the 1920s is considered the golden age of antique tricycles, with a dazzling array of styles and features emerging from workshops on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, companies like Humber, Singer, and Rudge-Whitworth produced high-end models for discerning adults, while American firms such as Columbia and Victor catered to the growing market for children‘s tricycles.

Some of the most sought-after antique tricycles from this era include:

  • The Coventry Rotary (1870s): The iconic penny-farthing style tricycle that started it all. Only around 500 were produced, making them extremely rare today. A restored example sold for £13,000 ($17,000) at a Bonhams auction in 2018.

  • The Salvo Quadricycle (1880s): An early four-wheeled model with side-by-side seating for two. Approximately 200 were made by the Salvo Machine Company of Chicago. In 2019, a fully functional Salvo Quadricycle fetched $24,000 at a Copake Auction.

  • The Rudge Rotary Tandem (1890s): A speedy racing trike with a lightweight steel frame. Rudge-Whitworth was known for its innovative designs and high-quality craftsmanship. A pristine 1898 Rudge Rotary Tandem sold for £8,500 ($11,000) at a Dreweatts auction in 2016.

  • The Gendron Pioneer (1900s): A classic American children‘s tricycle with solid rubber tires. Gendron Wheel Company of Toledo, Ohio, was one of the largest tricycle manufacturers of the early 20th century, producing over 100,000 units per year at its peak. Well-preserved Gendron Pioneers can sell for $1,500-$3,000 today.

As the 20th century progressed, tricycles became increasingly associated with childhood, with brands like Radio Flyer and Murray dominating the market. While these vintage trikes from the 1930s-1950s are still collectible, they generally don‘t command the same high prices as their antique predecessors.

Identifying Antique Tricycles: Key Features to Look For

With so many reproductions and modern tricycles on the market, how can you tell if you‘ve found a genuine antique? Here are some key features to look for:


Most antique tricycles have steel frames and seats, often with rubber tires. Wooden wheels and woven wicker seats are very rare and typically indicate a much older trike (pre-1900). Beware of shiny chrome or plastic parts, as these are sure signs of a reproduction.


Real antique rust has a dark, even patina that forms over many decades. If you see bright orange, spotty patches, it‘s likely the tricycle has been artificially aged with chemicals.


Examine how the tricycle is held together. Antique trikes will have square nuts and bolts (not hexagonal) and no visible welds or Phillips head screws, which weren‘t invented until the 1930s.


Ornate details like baskets, bells, and fringe are red flags for reproductions. Stick to simple, unadorned tricycles for the best chance of authenticity.


Compare the overall shape and proportions to verified antique examples. A quick Google image search or browse through the extensive Online Bicycle Museum collection can help you spot inconsistencies.

If you‘re still unsure, consult with a reputable antique bicycle appraiser or post detailed photos on collector forums like The Wheelmen for expert opinions. It‘s always better to get a second opinion before making a major purchase.

Factors That Affect Antique Tricycle Value

While rarity, age, and condition are the primary drivers of antique tricycle value, several other factors can influence the price:

Manufacturer Reputation

Tricycles made by well-known, high-quality manufacturers like Humber, Singer, and Rudge-Whitworth tend to be more valuable than those from obscure or short-lived brands. For example, a c.1885 Humber "Traveller" tricycle sold for £17,000 ($22,000) at a Bonhams auction in 2015, while a similar-era tricycle from a lesser-known maker might only fetch a few thousand dollars.

Original Parts and Finishes

Antique tricycles that retain their original components, decals, and paint are generally worth more than those that have been heavily restored or modified. A c.1869 French velocipede tricycle with its original black lacquer finish and gold striping sold for $38,000 at a Copake Auction in 2014, setting a new world record for an antique tricycle at auction.


A tricycle with a documented history of famous ownership, unique customization, or historical significance can command a premium price. In 2018, a c.1884 Coventry Rotary tricycle formerly owned by British cycling pioneer and manufacturer George Singer sold for £20,000 ($26,000) at a Bonhams auction, more than double the pre-sale estimate.


While it‘s rare to find an antique tricycle in pristine condition, those that have been well-maintained and carefully stored are more valuable than those with significant damage, rust, or missing parts. However, even tricycles in poor condition can be worth restoring if they are particularly rare or historically important.

Antique Tricycle Price Guide

To give you a sense of what different types of antique tricycles are currently selling for, we‘ve compiled a list of recent auction results organized by manufacturer, model, and era. Keep in mind that prices can vary widely based on condition, provenance, and buyer interest.

Manufacturer Model Era Condition Auction Price
Humber "Traveller" c.1885 Restored £17,000 ($22,000)
Singer "Xtraordinary Challenge" c.1884 Original £20,000 ($26,000)
Coventry Rotary "Rotary" c.1878 Restored £13,000 ($17,000)
Salvo "Quadricycle" c.1889 Original $24,000
Rudge-Whitworth "Rotary Tandem" 1898 Excellent £8,500 ($11,000)
Gendron "Pioneer" c.1905 Very Good $3,000
Columbia "Two Track" c.1885 Fair $8,500
Sparkbrook "Royal Salvo" c.1889 Good £7,500 ($9,700)
Western Toy "Wheelmen" c.1925 Excellent $1,500
Tri-ang "Thistle" c.1936 Very Good £600 ($780)

As you can see, the most valuable antique tricycles are typically from the 1870s-1890s and were made by top British manufacturers like Humber, Singer, and Coventry Rotary. American children‘s tricycles from the early 20th century, such as the Gendron Pioneer, are also highly collectible but tend to sell for lower prices due to their greater availability.

Preserving and Protecting Your Antique Tricycle Investment

Once you‘ve acquired an antique tricycle, it‘s important to take steps to preserve its condition and value. Here are some tips for proper storage, handling, and maintenance:

  • Store your tricycle in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture. A climate-controlled garage or storage unit is ideal.
  • Cover your tricycle with a soft, breathable fabric to protect it from dust and debris. Avoid plastic tarps, which can trap moisture and promote rust.
  • Handle your tricycle with clean, gloved hands to prevent transferring oils and dirt to the surface. Use caution when moving or transporting the tricycle to avoid scratches, dents, or other damage.
  • If your tricycle has rubber tires, keep them properly inflated to prevent cracking and deterioration. You may also want to treat the rubber with a preservative to maintain its elasticity.
  • Consult with a professional restorer before attempting any repairs or cleaning. Improper techniques can permanently damage the tricycle‘s finish, components, or value.
  • Document your tricycle‘s condition and provenance with detailed photos and records. This will be invaluable for insurance purposes and future resale.

By following these guidelines, you can help ensure that your antique tricycle remains a treasured and valuable part of your collection for years to come.

Building Your Antique Tricycle Collection: Tips and Resources

Whether you‘re a seasoned collector or just starting out, there are many ways to grow your knowledge and expand your antique tricycle collection. Here are some tips and resources to help you along the way:

  • Join a collector‘s club or association, such as The Wheelmen or the National Bicycle History Archive of America. These organizations offer newsletters, events, and forums where you can connect with other enthusiasts and learn about the latest research and discoveries.
  • Attend antique bicycle shows and swap meets, such as the annual Copake Bicycle Auction in New York or the Ann Arbor Classic Bicycle Show in Michigan. These events are great opportunities to see rare tricycles in person, meet dealers and experts, and potentially find your next acquisition.
  • Consult online price guides and auction archives, such as Worthpoint, Liveauctioneers, and Invaluable, to research past sales and market trends. Keep in mind that prices can fluctuate based on supply and demand, so it‘s important to track results over time.
  • Build relationships with reputable dealers and auctioneers who specialize in antique bicycles and tricycles. They can offer valuable guidance on authenticity, valuation, and acquisition opportunities. Some well-known names in the field include Copake Auctions, The Oldbike, and Cabe Auctions.
  • Don‘t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice from more experienced collectors. The antique tricycle community is generally welcoming and generous with its knowledge. By learning from others‘ mistakes and successes, you can avoid costly pitfalls and make more informed decisions about your collection.

Remember, building a quality antique tricycle collection takes time, patience, and persistence. Focus on acquiring pieces that speak to your personal interests and aesthetic, rather than chasing trends or trying to predict the next big thing. With a little bit of luck and a lot of research, you may just discover a hidden gem that becomes the centerpiece of your collection.


Antique tricycles offer a fascinating window into the early history of personal transportation, from the ingenuity of pioneer inventors to the whimsy of childhood pastimes. By learning to identify, value, and collect these charming relics, you can not only secure a wise investment but also preserve an important piece of cultural heritage for future generations.

Whether you‘re drawn to the graceful lines of a Coventry Rotary or the playful charm of a Gendron Pioneer, there‘s an antique tricycle out there that‘s sure to capture your heart and imagination. So dust off that mystery trike in your attic or start scouring the local antique shops – your next great find could be just around the corner!

With this comprehensive guide as your roadmap, you now have the tools and knowledge to navigate the exciting world of antique tricycle collecting with confidence and enthusiasm. Happy hunting!