Mercer Velocipede 

Mercer Museum


Proper right side after treatmentThe term velocipede—Latin in origin and meaning “fast foot”—is an all-encompassing term for any type of human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels. The most common velocipede today is the bicycle.


The history of the velocipede began with the creation of the Laufsmachine, or “running machine,” designed by Karl Drais of Germany. It was made entirely of wood and was first ridden in 1817. It was also the world’s first balance bicycle and became internationally popular. The actual term “Velocipede”, however, did not enter into common vocabulary until almost forty years later with introduction of the first pedal-equipped model designed by Pierre Michaux in the 1860s. His model, the first mass-produced velocipede in the world, was also the first to utilize the term Bicycle. In the late 1870s, advancements in metallurgy and the implementation of rubber tires paved the way for metal bicycles. Since then, the velocipede—or bicycle—has undergone many design changes, incorporating countless features, in order to evolve into the bicycle commonly used today.


Velocipede in storage at the Mercer Museum The Mercer Museum of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, contacted B.R. Howard & Associates to provide a condition assessment of this velocipede. As such, the object was transported to our studios where it was extensively documented. Upon inspection, it was determined that the velocipede was in an unstable and deteriorated condition. There was extensive paint loss on both the wooden and iron surfaces. In addition, the iron and copper surfaces showed active surface corrosion and the iron was slightly pitted and partially bent. The wooden elements appeared to be structurally sound; however the sewn leather seat component had failed, was torn, and was missing a large section exposing the cotton batting beneath. Also lost was the brake cable and small copper elements of one of the handles. Lastly, it was determined that the foot pedals were silver-plated and had severely tarnished. Upon completion of this inspection, a report was produced and sent to the Mercer Museum for treatment approval. After reviewing the treatment proposal as outlined by B.R. Howard & Associates, permission was given by the Mercer Museum to provide said treatment.


Varnish removal using our formulated solvent cleaning gelsWith permission to proceed, the velocipede was disassembled to facilitate its treatment. The wheels and body of the object were cleaned using a mild cleaning solution with an adjusted pH. Areas of flaking paint were consolidated with a reversible resin to retain as much original material as possible to prevent further loss. Active corrosion on iron and copper elements was removed and iron components then received a coating of the modified clear resin designed specifically for painted metal surfaces. Copper components were cleaned with a product specifically for copper alloys, revealing additional silver plating on the pedals, stem, and handlebars. These surfaces were then waxed to prevent further tarnishing. Due to the very deteriorated condition of the leather seat, it was decided (with permission from the curatorial staff) that the original leather material would be salvaged and the seat would be recovered with a matching style leather. The velocipede was then reassembled and a new brake cord installed. This cord was made of a leather strap (as determined by research and observation), inserted to the original hardware, and lashed with waxed cotton cord. Upon completion, the velocipede was photographed once again and transported back to the Mercer Museum along with an extensive report of all the treatment provided.

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