Article by John Fleming

I

like to think that the passion for collecting is rooted in humanity’s prehistory as hunters and gatherers, that it feeds upon our need to situate ourselves in the environment, and that it satisfies our psychological hunger for a certain stability in time and space. To meet and speak with Lorne Shields is to encounter an extraordinary collector with a collection that spans more than 40 years, and at least as many intertwined collecting interests.

As with many youngsters Lorne Shields remembers tadpoles first and postage stamps a little later as objects of interest and curiosity. His mother’s antiquing in jewellery and glass as well as contemporary Canadian art added to the mix. Her excursions with him in tow, mostly to the shops of Toronto and vicinity, were an early influence that explains in part his highly focused yet eclectic collections ranging in an astonishing proliferation through diverse materials, forms and genres. His father’s contribution to the collector-in-the-making was more circumstantial.

In 1963 Harry Shields had a wholesale bicycle business near the corner of King and Jarvis streets in Toronto in which Lorne, as he grew up, soon became involved. He remembers well those days when CCM (Canada Cycle and Motor Co.) had a stranglehold on the wholesale bicycle market and imposed the terms upon which stock was sold and supplied to the bicycle dealers. One day in 1969 Al Rosen, a local dealer in collectibles, suggested to Lorne that he should collect items related to historic bicycles which could then be used to promote and add something unique to the business. Thus began the hunt for posters, memorabilia, documents, ephemera, photographs, etc., in order to create an atmosphere of dedication for his clients. This initiative led eventually to the most extensive and integrated collection of historic cycle-related materials in Canada.

As far as Shields knew at this early stage, there was only one other serious cycling collector in the country. He recalls that in his broad travels when he asked if any collectible dealers had early “bike stuff” they usually winced, it seemed so far-fetched. As his search extended to auction catalogues (Phillips, Sotheby’s, Christie’s), he also joined a number of specialized collectors’ clubs and societies such as the Spoon Collectors Guild, the Token and Medal Society, the Ephemera Society, etc. Other than the American group’s The Wheelman, and The Boneshaker, published by the Southern Veterans Cycle Club in Britain, there were no available publications that dealt with the subject in the early 1970s.

Shields continues to buy items and complete collections with bicycle motifs or references in related genres — pipes, watches, clocks, porcelain, silver, photographs, ephemera, paintings, watercolours, etc. Behind all this buying lay several guiding principles: one must be selective and continually purge and upgrade; simple accumulation is wrong-headed and not the way to collect; the true collector works to enhance his collection.
In 1980, following his own principles, Shields gave to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa the largest and finest collection of bicycles and related materials ever assembled in Canada. Not only did the then curator, Geoffrey Rider, strongly support this acquisition, he asked Shields to develop and deepen the collection by continuing to add fine objects and especially memorabilia. The very best in cycles and documents now resides at the museum. However, Shields’ own collection still contains exceptional and rare items as a stimulus to further enhancement. While more than 90 linear feet from a large library of books and documents about cycles and cycling had gone to Ottawa, Shields kept seed elements essential to his continuing pursuit of documentary evidence.

Just as the wheel has no historically identifiable origins, so too no single date or name can be credited with the invention of the cycle. This said, the bicycle is an invention born in the early years of the nineteenth century and developed in stages of creative thinking through to its “Golden Age” from about 1870 to 1890. Baron Drais von Saurbronn, who in 1817 created the Draisienne as it was called, two wheels with a wooden backbone, and later Michaux of Paris who added pedals to the front wheel, are two of the more important names in the technical evolution of the bicycle from the “boneshaker” (velocipede, penny farthing) to the “pneumatic tire.”

But the technical development of the bicycle plays only a small part in the adventures of a lifetime of collecting. The strategies and psychology of the collector and the bond between the objects and their owner are paramount. I asked Lorne Shields about what he liked most about collecting: the chase, the discovery, the acquisition, the research? What did he look for? Was it use, form, decoration, history? His surprising and perfectly logical answer introduced an unexpected turn to the question. It was his pleasure in the friendship and camaraderie of other collectors, the rivalry and friendly competition generated by similar interests, the generosity and collective understanding that lay behind a shared quest for the best available, whatever the item or genre.

When Lorne Shields was a neophyte collector back in the late 1960s he followed a lead to Barry Brandon’s great collection in the United Kingdom. Barry did offer Lorne the bikes, but first had to present Shields’s offer to the Birmingham Museum of Science. The Museum could not match it and Shields was successful. A year or so later Barry offered Lorne the rest of the collection, among the most important and valuable of the machines an exceptionally fine Hobby Horse from 1819 and another a Cheylesmore Rear Steering two-speed tricycle circa 1884. Negotiations were difficult but finally a deal was struck for the Hobby Horse and the Tricycle. One vehicle was left, a 4-wheeled lever machine that didn’t look much like a bike to Shields, who suggested that it should be thrown into the deal for nothing since he had bought everything else. Brandon agreed. When the container arrived in Canada some antique bikes were put on display including the 4-wheeled Quadricycle. About ten years later the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, made him an offer for some of his bikes including the Quadricycle. Until then Shields had not realized that it was so valuable and important. Sometimes ignorance can lead to bliss. The Hobby Horse, Tricycle and Quadricycle are all now in the Canada Science and Technology Museum, much to Lorne Shields’s delight.

At a more recent bicycle swap meet in Seattle, WA, in 2006, Shields acquired a rare penny farthing style bike with a small front wheel but with chain drive, and in need of restoration. He had already given a similar one (only five are known to exist) to our national museum. A special chain from a friend in Ohio, pedals from another friend in Freehold, NJ, and restoration in Millville, NJ, under the direction of another friend from the Netherlands, took about a year to complete. The museum did not need a second example and a doctor from California wanted to buy the bike, but negotiations failed despite the rarity and high value of the machine, so Lorne Shields continued his travels through New England. He eventually met a fellow collector in Vermont who owned the Velocipede Belt Buckle illustrated in this article. Shields proposed a swap, the bike for the buckle. After an anxious walk over the lunch hour while the owner of the buckle pondered the deal, Lorne returned and the swap was agreed upon. Word got out and a buzz among his peers ensued; his phone rang with an amazing offer for the buckle, which Shields declined. Meanwhile the friend in Vermont from whom he had acquired the buckle wound up selling this special bike to the very same doctor from California, bringing this anecdote of collectors and collecting full circle with pride of ownership and a favourite tale of acquisition.

John Fleming is the editor of Ornamentum

Velocipede or “Boneshaker” (left), ca. 1867.
Michaux, Paris, France.
Front wheel 89 cm with rear 81.3 cm.
This is the earliest known example of a two-wheeled velocipede built in France. Michaux is credited with having invented the pedaldriven front wheel.

Kangaroo bicycle (right), 1884.
Hillman, Herbert & Cooper, Coventry, England.
Front wheel 96.5 cm with rear 56 cm.

All photographs by Robert
Lansdale.