Rambler Bike? Gormully & Jeffery High Wheeler

050516 Barn Finds - 1800s Gormully & Jeffery Penny Farthing High Wheel Bicycle - 1

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Get the mustache wax ready, we’re going to do some high-wheeling! The seller doesn’t know the exact year of this one, but the Gormully & Jeffery High-Wheel Bike seen here is most likely from the late 1800s. It’s found on eBay for $3,495, potentially a bargain. These bikes can easily top $10,000 in nice, usable condition. This isn’t something that you’re going to ride a long distance on, and you probably wouldn’t ride it to your neighborhood Target store and run in to get groceries; it’ll be gone with just the remnants of your bike lock sitting there all by itself when you get back. These are valuable bikes, to say the least. Thanks to Jim S. for tipping us off to this great find!

050516 Barn Finds - 1800s Gormully & Jeffery Penny Farthing High Wheel Bicycle - 2

Strap your bike helmet on, this may be a curvy, bumpy ride through the history of this company; but it may surprise you in the end. Hey, no peeking ahead! Thomas B. Jeffery and R. Philip Gormully founded the Gormully & Jeffery Manufacturing Co. in Chicago. The company made bikes between 1878 and 1900, at which point they were the country’s second-largest bicycle company. In 1900, Mr. Jeffery sold his share of the firm to concentrate on automobile production as he was one of the country’s biggest automobile enthusiasts at the time. Three years earlier, in 1897, he made his first prototype automobile named after their successful line of bicycles: the Rambler. Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!

050516 Barn Finds - 1800s Gormully & Jeffery Penny Farthing High Wheel Bicycle - 3

The newly-formed Thomas B. Jeffery Company bought the Sterling Bicycle Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin (we’re getting hotter) for $65,000, around $1,775,000 in today’s dollars, with his share of the proceeds of the sale of his former bike company to American Bicycle Company. In 1902 the first production Rambler automobiles were coming off of the assembly line in Kenosha. You can fill in the rest of the company’s history from there. That’s a pretty interesting history, I didn’t know that Rambler cars were related to these bikes.

Ok, back to this bike! The pedals aren’t original and the seat is covered with electrical tape. And, as you can imagine, originality, as with any antique, is paramount to value. But, there are parts to be found for these bikes. The hard part may be mounting and/or dismounting this thing and actually riding it, as seen in this YouTube video! I’ve never ridden a bike like this, but a handful of years ago I had a mustache that would have made a high-wheel rider from the late 1800s proud; I wish I had kept it. This would be a halo bike for any serious bicycle fanatic’s collection. Have you ever ridden one of these high-wheelers?

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  1. jeff

    Haven’t ridden them, but I’ve seen plenty of them ridden, including by young kids. Seems like it may take a few tries to get the knack for it, but wouldn’t be bad after that.

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  2. edh

    I am surprised some Chinese company has created knock offs of these bikes. Hipsters would eat them up…and I would like one as well.

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  3. scot carr

    ~ Great research, Scotty. History lessons.

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  4. Mr. Bond

    I rode one in the late 1980’s. They take a few minutes to get used to, as you twist funny and lean slightly to turn. And getting off required help. The guy who owned it had a bunch of oddball bike stuff, like tall unicycles and other odd contraptions they’d ride in parades.

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  5. GlenK

    We called them “Penny Farthings” in Canada and the UK.

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  6. Rick

    The reason stuff like this is so rare nowadays is that ANYthing metal was scrapped and turned into tanks and such for the war effort in WWI & WWII

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  7. Rex Rice

    I worked in a bike shop in the 70’s and the owner had a new one priced at $400. I road it a few times, coasting down a small hill & leaping to the seat from the rear. Same getting off, jumping off backwards as it stopped & holding it from falling over. Once that big wheel started spinning, it felt like a large gyroscope, making sharp turns impossible.

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  8. Ralph

    Hi, I won this bicycle on eBay for $1800.00 shortly after this article was posted. Research has shown it to be an 1887 Gormully & Jeffery Challenge. This was a mid-line model (Ideal, Challenge, then Champion), though this one was upgraded with a ball bearing hub. A year later, parts have been replaced (e.g., pedals, mounting step, rear wheel, spokes, hand grips…), re-plated (e.g., handlebars, seat and brake hardware, hub…), and straightened (e.g., handlebars, rear forks). Not an atypical restoration, though I’m trying to bring it back to as close to original as I’m able. I’m about ready to reassemble the rear and front wheels, mount the new tires, and then reassemble the rest of the bike. A new leather seat is being made by a fellow back east. I’ve put several thousand into it to be sure, though it’s a sound investment as even reproductions can run well over $4000.00. This is my third high wheel bike and I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle. Will return and post another photo when completed.

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    • Jamie Palmer Jamie PalmerStaff

      How cool, Ralph — thanks for sharing and we look forward to another update!

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  9. Ralph

    Hi, sorry it took me a while to get back. Here’s a recent blog post with photos I did on the bike and a couple of others that I’ve had: https://www.sjpl.org/blog/looking-back-riding-high-1880s-high-wheel-bicycle

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