Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

Velocipede Ventures

Velocipede, about 1870As a cycling enthusiast, I was a thrill to see a velocipede—an early form of bicycle—in the conservation lab. Pierre Lallement and Pierre Michaux patented the design for the velocipede in 1866 before Lallement moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and made improvements to the velocipede on his own. He also gave license to American bike-builders for variations of the velocipede. These early wheelmen obsessed over different ways to power a bicycle—steam, electricity, or dog-powered locomotion.Velocipede book illustration from Cycling Art, Energy, and Locomotion by Robert Scott, 1889

Most velocipedes haven’t survived. They were melted down as scrap metal during war efforts. When I examined this 1870 example, I marveled at how heavy and unwieldy it was. It would have been very difficult to balance when in motion. Even standing still on its mount, the velocipede was inclined to topple over. Preventing the velocipede from being unstable in its display mount was the primary goal of conservation treatment. A new mount would support the axles, but the weight of the frame needed to be balanced and stable.

In contrast to feather-light alloy bicycle frames today, the velocipede in The Strong’s collection has a bevel-edge backbone made of heavy forged iron, with bold pinstriping on its front fork. A bracket attaches the metal seat to the curved backbone and the arched wrought iron handlebars terminate in a square taper at each end, lacking grips would have been made of turned wood. Typical of velocipedes, the wheels have wood hubs and staggered spokes, which were painted at one time, before the paint flaked and the wood aged and split. The metal tires are bolted and screwed to the wood rims.

Detail Brass Head Tube with inscription, 166

When I first looked at the velocipede in the conservation lab, it showed signs of having been ridden through mud and dirt. The rider had shaken the joints loose, as one would expect of a “boneshaker” with metal tires and no spring-loaded mechanisms to soften the vibrations of cobblestone, dirt, and grassy paths. The steering column, triangular brace, and front fork flexed in all directions against the backbone. There were no modern bearings or bushings in the steering assemblage, just hard iron against soft brass with a little grease applied. I could imagine what a rough, shaky ride this would have been. Even scarier is that there are no brakes. Slowing would have been accomplished by pedaling backwards against the dir  ect-drive cranks on the front wheel axle. Early bicycles sometimes used “spoon” brakes that were rod-actuated to put pressure on the rim or tire to slow down. Another possible way of braking was to lean back in a spring-loaded saddle, causing a brake to engage on the rear wheel. 

Detail Rear Fork PinstripeThe velocipede’s steering assemblage needed to be adjusted to prevent stress on the frame and brass steering tube. The steering assemblage was difficult to loosen or tighten without cleaning, so the parts were removed for cleaning. All spacers, tube, and parts were cleaned in a vibratory tumbler with walnut shell pieces followed by a round in an ultrasonic cl  eaner. After cleaning, the "166" inscription was more visible. Original parts that were brass were usually highly polished when they were made although the years of grime and grease had turned the brass carbon black.

The velocipede exhibited extensive metal corrosion overall. In the same way that a well-loved cast iron skillet builds a resilient surface, the iron frame had developed an appealing patina that I did not want to disturb. So I lightly cleaned the cast iron, sufficient to remove embedded grime, grease, and corrosion on the axles, pedal spindles, and steering tube while maintaining the patina. This cleaning would help prevent dust from sticking to any residual grease.

The paint pinstriping on the wood wheel rims and the iron forks and frame was revealed after I removed the grime. Bright gold heavy pinstriping was typical of velocipedes and might have been applied by carriage painters of the 19th century. Barely legible inscriptions on the frame indicate the bike’s maker, Larkin of Portland, Maine.Detail inscription of maker is barely visible

Book illustration from Cycling Art, Energy, and Locomotion, by Robert P. Scott, 1889

In the late 19th century, cycling invention moved quickly, producing dozens of patents for bicycles, velocipedes, monocoques, tricycles, and other amusements. The designs r  ange from practical examples we still recognize today to absurd machines that look like something from a Doctor Seuss book.

I find it interesting to see which bike ideas caught on and which did not. As high-wheeled penny farthings took the place of velocipedes, riders enjoyed being as high as horse-drawn carriages. With such height came increased risk of losing one’s balance. Mark Twain advised “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live,” after his attempts to learn to ride a penny farthing, in Taming the Bicycle. I am pleased that conservation treatment tamed the velocipede’s bad case of “the Wobbles” as Twain called it. The velocipede is now on exhibit in One History Place, where you can step into the past and experience life like it was more than a century ago.

 

First There Was Famicom

A few days ago a researcher in our ICHEG lab sparked a rich conversation about her favorite childhood gaming platform, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Like so many gamers in the late 80s, she spent endless hours assuming the role of Mario and squashing Goombas in the Mushroom Kingdom. Her memories of Super Mario Bros.

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Let's Get Physical! NCHEG Home Plays Finnish Game

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Russian-born Tetris Illustrates Good Design

Tetris is a great example of how simple ideas often inspire the best video games. In my recent conversation with Alexey Pajitnov, he recounted how a simple wooden puzzle game inspired him to create Tetris.

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Japanese Jewels Excite E-Bidders

Over the last few weeks my e-mail  filled up with friends and other electronic games enthusiasts bringing to my attention a couple of eBay  auctions. Amused at first, I quickly saw a collectors’ chain reaction happening.

These auctions centered on the rare and elusive Stadium Events video games by Bandai, a Japanese toy making company founded in 1900. The first e-mail I received referred to an auction on eBay for an “Old Nintendo NES system and five games” that sold for $13,105.

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A Big Collection of Little Things

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Electronic Yakyuu (Baseball)

Aside from gaming, my other passion is baseball—wherever I can find it and in whatever form. Since my youth I have struggled to fill the void between the final game of the World Series and the return of baseball on opening day each spring.

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We Extend Our Deepest Condolences

We at NCHEG extend our deepest condolences to the family and colleagues of Mark Beaumont, who suffered a fatal heart attack during the early hours of February 23. Mark was an industry veteran and visionary who began his career at Atari in 1982 and at the time of his death served as Capcom’s COO for North America and Europe. Previously he held various positions with Activision, Time Warner Interactive, Data East, Mindscape, and Psygnois. 

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Bode’s Wild Play: Skiing in a Whirlwind

Watching the Winter games in Vancouver has me thinking about that cowboy Bode Miller, America’s best and most versatile skier ever, and what his riotous style says about play and competition at the highest levels.

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CHEGheads Find World Championship Cartridge

The CHEGheads have found and acquired a rare and unique Nintendo World Championships 1990 gray cartridge!

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Sugar Buzz Your Sweetie

Is there a box of chocolates in your Valentine’s Day plans? If you’re going to give (or are expecting to receive) candy as a token of love, you’re part of a romantic tradition that began more than a century ago. In the 1890s, candy makers finally glommed onto Valentine’s Day as an occasion to promote their products, even though they’d already managed to integrate confectionery into other holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Since that time, we’ve definitely taken their marketing message to heart. According to the U.S.

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