Many of us remember trikes fondly from our childhoods – a key part of young childhood was peddling around chasing one another or terrorizing adults and cats alike. These new-fangled, often plastic contraptions are a far cry from their serious wooden and metal antique counterparts.
The first tricycle appeared centuries ago in 1680. A long time passed, and they only became widespread in the late 1800s. Years of refinement and creative invention produced generations of incredible tricycles, many of which are highly valuable today.
The value of an antique tricycle depends on its age, condition, manufacturer, and rarity. As a rough guide, your “average” antique trike may fetch somewhere between $100 and $500, while those in top condition with sought-after design and provenance may reach between $2000 and $3000. But brace yourself – the most expensive antique tricycles sold so far have reached between $20,000 and $42,000!
Join us today to find out more about antique tricycles including their history, identification, value, and some of the most expensive antique trikes ever sold. We have also included a handy buying and selling guide to help you on your way.
Antique Tricycle: Background
The first ever known tricycle is widely credited to Stephan Farffler, a well-known name in the history of the tricycle. He was a German watchmaker, familiar with gears and cranks. Farffler created the first hand-pedalled tricycle in 1680 to suit his own needs as a paraplegic or amputee (the history records are not clear). This became the first real precursor for both wheelchairs and tricycles.
Some time after Farffler’s pioneering invention, pedalled tricycles were created by French technicians Blanchard and Maguier in 1789. At this time, both the word “bicycle” and “tricycle” were first used by the Journal de Paris when reporting on their incredible inventions.
Tricycles only became the focus of attention in 1877 when James Starley created an impressive contraption with a huge wheel to one side of the rider and two smaller wheels on the opposite side. This tricycle design was intended to counterbalance the weight of the rider. Starley was a sewing machine maker by trade, and a shrewd inventor who reaped the rewards of his creative and business-oriented mind. Allegedly his tricycle soared in popularity when the Queen of England herself put in an order!
By the mid-19th century, bicycles had become a pretty common and widely-accepted form of transport. Increasing popularity and widespread ownership inevitably lead to bicycle accidents, especially in a world where automobiles were becoming faster and more efficient.
In response to this, tricycles were hailed as a method to make cycling a little safer. By adding an extra wheel, inventors managed to stabilise the bicycle. This increased the popularity of cycle transportation further because tricycle were more stable and therefore easier to mount. Ladies with ankle-length Victorian skirts could hop on without the hassle of trying to balance the bike at the same time. Gentlemen began to favor tricycles as a more elegant and dignified mode of transport.
The first documented adult tricycles were manufactured in the 1860s. By the 1870s, chains were being added to bicycles and tricycles alike. The Coventry “Rotary” tricycle was one of the first tricycles to receive a chain during this period, and is a notable find amongst tricycle collectors today.
Around this time, the first wooden tricycles aimed specifically at children were being manufactured, particularly in America. Through the 1880s and 90s, tricycle styles were refined. Steel became a popular and sturdy material for adult and child models, some tricycles could seat two riders at one time, and “bicycle-type” tricycles were favored.
Antique vs Vintage Tricycles
It was really in the early 1900s that mass production of a whole range of tricycles began. Antiques are considered to be those objects which are more than 100 years old, while anything made between 100 and 40 years ago can be classed as vintage.
The greatest proportion of tricycles on the market today are technically vintage. Some of the most popular vintage tricycles include those manufactured in the 1930s and 40s during the period of Art Deco and Modern designs. A more aesthetically pleasing look and sophisticated streamlining make these vintage tricycles highly popular among collectors today.
As time went on, bicycles became more popular for adults and tricycles maintained their popularity with young children. They are more commonly called trikes today, and associated with happy toddlers!
However, we will focus on antique tricycles today – namely those which were manufactured before the 1930s.
Antique Tricycle: Identification
Perhaps you have found an old tricycle, or are interested in getting your hands on one. How can you tell an authentic antique tricycle from a more modern one? Or from a antique replication?
There are a few simple tips you can follow in the quest to identify your tricycle…
Step 1. Materials
Take a good look at the tricycle in question. What is the seat made out of? What is the frame made from? What are the wheels made from?
The majority of antique tricycles did not possess wooden seats but steel seats instead. There were a few models with wooden seats, and an indication of their age would be shown in wear, gouges, repairs, and dirt.
Mostly, antique tricycles have wheels made from steel with rubber tubing. Very rarely, you may find wooden wheels without a covering, or those covered in steel ribbon, but this weak design is very unlikely to have survived over years of riding and being moved around over time.
The frames of antique tricycles are likely to be made from steel. But do not expect the shiny steel of today’s bikes. Antique tricycles without their original paint may have begin to rust. The rust type is another key ID feature! Let’s take a closer look…
Step 2. Rust
Steel has iron content and it therefore vulnerable to rusting. But how can you tell real antique rust from chemical rust? Believe it or not, antique replicas often employ chemical rust to create the illusion of age. Chemical oxidation techniques will produce a highly orange, spotted rust. It may have been applied in suspiciously small patches where the metal has been artificially exposed.
Real rust is a darker brown color. The natural oxidation process takes time, and is likely to coat any surface where the metal has been exposed to the air – usually where paint has chipped or peeled off.
Step 3. Fixings
Check the fixings holding the parts of the trike together. If you spot any suspicious Philips head screws or anything too shiny, the tricycle is likely to be more modern – Philips head screws were only introduced in the 1930s.
If you find hex nuts and bolts, check the number of sides on the bolts. Antique tricycles will have been fixed together using 4-sided nuts and bolts. More modern nuts and bolts have 6 sides.
Welds are another feature to look out for. Welding relies on electricity so trikes produced before 1890 will not be held together by welds. There are very rare examples of antique tricycles with welded parts, in which case these will need further investigation to determine their origins.
Step 4. Accessories
Early tricycles were built for stability and rideability. Any kind of decoration or accessory was a twinkle in the eye of antique inventors. Tricycles with pots, handlebar baskets, and even planters are not genuine antiques! Note: some antique tricycles contained a woven basket-like seat.
Step 5. Design
Investigating the exact type of antique tricycle you own, or would like to buy, can be a daunting task. Searching online for makes and models as similar to said trike as possible is the way forward. You can take a closer look at the extensive online collection of antique and vintage tricycles here. We have listed some of the more common antique tricycles types along with their makers and period of production in the next section.
Antique Tricycle: Value
There are several factors which will affect the value of an antique tricycle. The type of tricycle is key – this includes the manufacturer and model. Some tricycles are incredibly rare or may have been sold in low numbers – rarity also boosts the value. Other tricycles may have a particular story or notoriety behind them, for example the first tricycle to be manufactured with a chain – tricycles with unusual and sought-after features are valuable, especially those with an authenticated provenance.
Finally, the condition is a key factor. Antique tricycles in mint condition are extremely hard to find but highly valuable having been preserved through the centuries. Those in good condition may also sell for higher amounts. Those in bad condition are unlikely to fetch much at auction (unless they have another factor going for them like rarity). Tricycles which have been repaired using more modern techniques such as welding or the use of screws will not be as valuable as untouched tricycles in original condition.
Finally, as a rough guide, adult tricycles in top condition will be worth more than children’s tricycles with the possible exception of very early hobby-horse tricycles.
Types Of Antique Tricycle
There are so many kinds of antique tricycle ridden by countless people through the centuries, that it is impossible to list them all! Here, we will list some of the main kinds you are likely to find and provide links to further information according to the Online Bicycle Museum…
- Coventry Rotary Tricycle
- Boys’ Propellor Tricycle (A. Christian Patent)
- Unzicker Patent Rowing Tricycle
- French Metal Velocipede Tricycle
- Juvenile Velocipede Tricycle
- ‘The Favourite’ Juvenile Open (Hay-fork) Tricycle
- Quadrant tandem tricycle
- Hillman, Herbert & Cooper ‘Premier’ Tandem Tricycle
- Imperial Triumph Tricycle
- Rudge-Whitworth Racing Tricycle
- Velocipede Tricycle with sprung steering head
- Quadrant ‘Army & Navy’ Tricycle
- Beeston Humber Convertible Tricycle
- Premier Helical Tricycle
- Raleigh 3-speed X frame Tricycle
- Tricycle Pedal Car
Rough Price Guide For Antique Tricycles
While it’s incredibly hard to give an accurate estimation of how much an antique tricycle is worth, we have tried to break it down into common categories based on recent auction sales. Values stated are to be taken as a rough guide and are valid at the time of writing (based on online antique and auction sites including eBay, Etsy, 1st Dibs and Online Bicycle Museum). All prices are also based on antique tricycles in top condition.
|Time Period/Category||Average Value Range||Auction Record|
|1870s||$1000-$5000||1875 Boneshaker Tricycle, $3,750 in 2017!|
|1880s||$1000-$4000||1885 Columbia “Two Track Tricycle”, $21,060 in 2014!
1884 Victor adult high wheel tricycle, $19,890 in 2013!
|1890s||$700-$3000||1890s English “The Quadrant Tricycle”, $9,360 in 2017!
1890 Singer Adult Tricycle, $10,500 in 2014!
|1910s – 1930s||$300-$1000|
|Horse tricycles||$1000-$5000||Early 19th Century Child’s tricycle (in the form of a horse), $3,370 in 2021!|
The best way to find a value for an antique trike is to conduct thorough research and try to find the same model in the same condition as yours.
You can try these popular online platforms for buying and selling antiques:
You can also try posting images and questions on specialized antique forums and threads to gain advice from enthusiasts and experts on the value of your object. Try:
Otherwise, you can take your tricycle to a local antique bicycle expert, or try to find a trustworthy appraisal service specializing in antique transportation online. Bear in mind that these services will cost, but it may be worth it if you have a valuable item and want to set the right price for it.
Buying And Selling Antique Tricycles Guide
Once you have done your research and you have an idea of how much the antique tricycle of your dreams costs, there are a few things to bear in mind when making a purchase. Likewise, if you want to sell a tricycle the important factors are pretty much the same…
1. Do Your Research
Make sure you are familiar with the key features of your desired tricycle or the tricycle you are trying to sell. Look out for any potential signs of a fake or a reproduction. If you are interested in a particular maker or manufacturer, be sure to research their maker’s mark or model ID features.
2. Details, Details, Details
Details in listings are key! Whether you want to buy online or in person at an antiques fair, items which include a lot of details about the design, provenance, history and materials are the best kind. Details about any damage are also key, and a good sign of an honest seller.
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for more details such as extra close-ups if buying online, or a little more about the provenance of the tricycle if buying in person. Be aware, there is a lot of misinformation out there!
If you are selling a tricycle, be sure to include lots of information about it, as well as photos and (ideally) a provenance story.
3. Check Reputable Auction Sites (And Yard Sales)
It’s worth keeping an eye out for yard sales and second hand shops – you can find many interesting items for very low prices in these places. It can be very satisfying to find a rare item for a low price – think of all the potential under-valued antique tricycles out there waiting for you!