Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Curious Cyclists

The Curious Cyclists by John Reynolds, published by Pen Press, Great Britain, 2011.

The Curious Cyclists is a slight book at 91 pages but one of the most interesting historical travel tales to come along in a long time. In 1895, in the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign, two young Nottingham artists set out on bicycles bound for Gibraltar and a grand tour of Spain. One of the young men was Tom Browne, just beginning to gain fame as an illustrator and cartoonist. His most memorable work was as the illustrator of “Weary Willie and Tired Tim,” the comic tramps made famous in Harmsworth’s Illustrated Chips in 1896. His companion was Stacey Blake, at that time a lithographic artist and watercolourist based in Nottingham. Blake would later abandon drawing for the life of a popular boys’ story paper author churning out copy for Union Jack and Boys Friend.

In 2002 authorJohn Reynolds was in Spain studying watercolour painting under Patricia Kitching, daughter of Stacey Blake, who showed him a collection of lantern-slides belonging to her late father, consisting of Kodak photographs and painted colour illustrations on glass plates. John Reynolds was intrigued and began researching the background of the forgotten treasure. Following several magic-lantern lectures throughout Spain Reynolds wrote The Curious Cyclists, illustrated with 42 images in colour and black and white, most of which come from the newly unearthed collection of slides.

Reynolds has packed an incredible amount of information into this short (and inexpensive) travel book, covering the popular craze for bicycle travel, early Kodak photography, and the growth of the market for illustrated journalism and boys’ adventure tales. The Curious Cyclists is a brief and pleasurable peep into the Victorian past and highly recommended for the story and the sharply reproduced images. The book is available on Amazon in both the UK and North America.

*Illustrations © Patricia Kitching, used with permission.

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