There have long been a number of myths and misconceptions about American-made bicycles of the 1800s through 1960s. And these strange myths hit their zenith when the talk turns to the classic bicycle era where those who shout the loudest seem to get the most recognition. Those who publish the books...run the museums and auctions create the "facts" about the "history." The people who write the history... are the people who write the history. And whatever THE museums, auctions and books say... goes. Might is RIGHT. But MIGHT is not necessarily accurate.
In all likelihood, there will continue to be these strange myths–especially now with the Internet and the fact that anyone can claim to be a bicycle history expert simply by saying so! A lot of very creative story-telling goes on out there in the cyber world of the 21st century.
Even scholarly articles, lovely books, Internet sites seem to repeat a lot of the same mythical stories in one way or another. This serves only to reinforce the mistaken beliefs, opinions and just plain wild guesses. Some of these stories even use one another for biblio references (gotta be true because I read it someplace- right?). Amazing. So the bicycle world, collectors and historians blunder forward repeating the same old stories.
Auction houses (including some of the largest and wealthiest on earth) and their glossy catalogues with their authoritarian-sounding write-ups- and misidentified photos have made the situation far worse than ever and have put these myths in stone!
Worst of all, there are museums insisting upon labeling their bicycles as "PIERCE-ARROW." Tell them they're wrong? They just get mad, ignore it and blunder ahead anyway! After all, most museums today are no longer run by real historians or people with all-out passions for historical accuracy. They're run by people with degrees in non-profit organizations and fund raising- which of course is their REAL agenda. They have boards and make edicts and "histories" via "volunteers" who may be well meaning, but off the mark. Why be serious about history?
As one fellow told us when we pointed out all of the errors in a big book- "Hey, who cares? While you're worrying about getting it right, the publisher just made another hundred grand! That's all that counts." Wow. Indeed. Because of attitudes like this one, is it really any wonder why the entire American bicycle industry has ceased to exist in manufacturing on any scale? Ever heard of the British auto industry? And if you heard of that and what happened to it... ever heard of the American auto industry and what's happened to it? Sticking your head in the sand just because you happen to be making money or because YOU hold the reins to power is a pretty sad example to worship. Failing to care is not a plus- it's a minus. Details and accuracy DO count- whether you are making cars, building houses or writing history. Being ignorant by CHOICE is a flaw–or at least it ought to be.
Then there are astoundingly verbose arguments and absurd stories on the net, passed off as if–oh yes–this is historical fact!
Since no one else has come forward to correct the numerous errors in the particular articles and exhibits in question after all these years, it must therefore follow that no one out there knows any better. Not exactly true. WE know better. And now... you will too! Read ahead...
There continues to be an ongoing controversy about whether Pierce bicycles were “Pierce-Arrow” bicycles or simply “Pierce.” Many years ago, we corrected a couple of museums and auction companies who were selling what they claimed to be “Pierce-Arrow” bicycles. We told them that the bicycles were simply known as “Pierce” and that the automobiles were known as “Pierce-Arrow” and one was one–the other was the other. We told them that the bicycles were NOT called “Pierce-Arrow.” Apparently there were those who took offense to this correction. But we stand by what we said then. Here is why.
The company that made the bicycles was originally the George N. Pierce Company of Buffalo, NY.… and surely you folks out there KNOW we have the catalogues. We're not merely sitting here handing you GUESSES. Surely you MUST know this! Yet, some arguers give the excuse that the bicycle name was changed when the COMPANY name changed from The George N. Pierce Company to The Pierce Cycle Company around 1906. Wrong.
At one point in the late 1950s/early 1960s, a New York distributor/retailer imported a line of foreign-made lightweight multi-speed bicycles and branded them “Pierce-Arrow.” You could see that the branding went wayyyy overboard with everything possible blaring the name, “Pierce-Arrow” in large graphics and a pressed headbadge.
This very headbadge has been illustrated on the internet- as so-called “evidence” of an “original Pierce-Arrow bicycle made by George N. Pierce.” But in fact, it is bogus and is actually from the imported lightweight PRETENDER “Pierce-Arrow” bicycle. And we own one. Here is OURS…
IF THEY ORIGINATE FROM GEO. N. PIERCE LINEAGE...
BICYCLES = PIERCE.
MOTORCYCLES = PIERCE.
CARS = PIERCE-ARROW.
• The bicycles that were later branded “Pierce-Arrow” are from much more recent years and NOT from the same lineage as the originals. There is no evidence that bicycles from George N. Pierce Company ever were branded “Pierce-Arrow.”
• What about the clocks or random signs that have turned up saying “Pierce-Arrow Bicycles?” Well? What about them? The one clock example from the big Sotheby's auction of 2000 was listed in their catalogue as "non-working electric movement." Yet this clock appears to have manual wind key insertion holes–very typical of modern-day faux-retro clocks (usually battery operated) that turn up today in antique shops and decorator stores. Same hands and face. Now, why would an electric clock need to be manually wound?
• What about the times when wholesale listings referred to Monark bicycles as “Monarch” bicycles? What about the ancient newspaper ads from bicycle shops across the country that cleverly advertised "Pierce-Arrow" bicycles when they should have known they were selling PIERCE brand bicycles? The big HEADLINE of these ads usually said "PIERCE-ARROW" in big letters... and then in the text of the ad... simply "PIERCE." This may irritate some modern political bicycle people, but like it or not, the prestige name of the car SOLD bicycles.
People who write copy make mistakes–sometimes accidentally on purpose. Sometimes because they just plain don't know any better. BOOKS, heaven knows, make mistakes. Sign painters make mistakes. Museums make mistakes (there are several museums out there right now with “Pierce-Arrow” listed for their bicycles when they are in fact Pierce–and that’s all. MUSEUMS should know better–RIGHT? But they don't). Even movies make mistakes. But we don’t need to perpetuate these mistakes do we? Well? DO WE?
The thing that makes it worse is when you make this kind of mistake and refuse to admit it!
This Pierce-Arrow bicycle controversy has raged for decades with no resolution. We know that it SOUNDS GOOD to say, "PIERCE-ARROW BICYCLE" rather than "PIERCE BICYCLE." It sounds cool. It gives people something to talk about. It lets people link the bicycles to the famous classic cars. Maybe that makes the prestige of the classic car rub off on the two-wheelers. But the bicycles were already prestigious in their own right BEFORE the cars appeared. AND... in the end, the facts are the facts. No matter how many times someone says otherwise... the bicycles were simply PIERCE bicycles. All the gas bag opinion and arguing in the world won't change the facts. That's all.
Got photos of more PRETENDER Pierce-Arrow bicycles? Send them in. We love to keep seeing them.
However, we are sure there will simply be another chapter in the stories. So? Anyone–ANYONE out there with cold, hard evidence to the contrary is welcome to bring it out into the light of day and let’s see it! SHOW IT. Otherwise, hopefully, we can put this issue of "Pierce-Arrow" vs. PIERCE bicycles to rest at long last.
Now. Did you learn anything? Go back and Google "Pierce-Arrow bicycle" and see just how many ginormous, jillion hits you get! And have fun reading the stories–some of them from museums! Who knows? You might even educate THEM... just by telling the museums, auction houses and web sites about this GTCC story! But be prepared... they may just get ticked off at you too! A mind is a terrible thing to waste...but when it comes to bicycle history, we don't need a dumpster–we need a LANDFILL!
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• "Evolutions of the Bicycle" - NOW ONLINE IN GTCC!!
• "Auction Catalogue MADness", and
• "Who REALLY Invented The Mountain Bike?? AND- The REAL Story of Excelsior Bicycles" (Ohhh you'll LOVE this one! We wrote it several years ago for the International Cycle History Conference–ICHC... and it was so hot, so controversial–AND so factual that they refused to publish it! Wanna know why?)
- ALL COMING SOON!