Any bicycle historians in the house?
December 19, 2006 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Going by the style of clothing, the age of the man, and the make/model of the bicycle can you help me date a picture?

I just received this scanned photo of my grandfather (previously), the first one I've ever seen. I'd like to figure out how old he was when it was taken and for some strange reason I really want to know what kind of bike he had. I suspect he stole it from Pee Wee Herman.

I don't have access to the original photo so I can't tell you what sort of paper it was printed on or what kind of condition it was in.

Info that might help with identification: He was born in 1906, the photo was probably taken at or near his home in West Newton, MA, he was a lower/working class Italian living in in Italian neighborhood (which might have affected his choice of clothing)

Any other facts that can be discovered from the photo, other than the fact that his fly is open, will be a bonus. Thanks!
posted by bondcliff to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
The bike is a Schwinn, if that helps. I'm guessing a 1940's vintage bike that has aged enopugh for the pic to be shot in the 50s.
posted by buggzzee23 at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2006


Short-sleeved dress shirts were popular in the mid to late 50s and early 60s. They started to go out of style ca. 1967 (almost coincidental with their appearance in The Graduate), but of course a lot of older men wore them after they went out of style.

The pleat in the pants also makes me think late 50s early 60s as well. Again, this just might be your grandfather's preferences.
posted by watsondog at 8:31 AM on December 19, 2006


By the way, was your grandfather a milkman? The cap reminds me of a milkman's cap.

The fact that the picture was taken in black and white may also be a hint. Looking through my parents' albums from that time (they were born around 1930), most of their photographs before 1960 are in black and white, most after that in colour. I have a feeling colour developing became much cheaper around 1960, so much so that it became affordable for everyone.
posted by watsondog at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2006


This 1941 Schwinn DX looks like a likely candidate.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:35 AM on December 19, 2006


He appears to be wearing combat boots, for whatever that's worth.
posted by cmonkey at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2006


I'd tend to agree with buggzzee23. Though I can't completely make out the headbadge, the oval shape and white background are typcal Schwinn. The clincher is the small 'Schwinn Quality' decal on the seat tube. My copy of Schwinn Bicycles doesn't show this exact model, but a similar model with that cantilever frame is dated 1940 in the book.
posted by fixedgear at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2006


He appears to be wearing combat boots, for whatever that's worth.

They were dirt cheap at surplus stores following WWII and the Korean war. That's wha t the men in my family wote to work from the 50's through the late 60s.
posted by buggzzee23 at 8:42 AM on December 19, 2006


I just noticed the iron gate behind him. Looks like it could be a cemetery or or a park or something. Can anyone identify it?
posted by bondcliff at 8:46 AM on December 19, 2006


He appears to be in his late 40s-early 50s, which places the time period around the mid 1950s.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on December 19, 2006


Are those sweetheart cranks? They're the ones where the cutout in the chainring is heart shaped. I can't make it out in the picture but it might be clear in the original and would help date the bicycle more precisely.
posted by stet at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2006


Is there any sort of printing or watermark on the BACK of the print?

The bike is clearly a Schwinn. You might be better off finding Schwinn collector's forums and asking the question (on bike identification) there. It is clearly not a NEW bike, so getting the year of the bike model won't necessarily help a lot in pinning down the date of the picture. If I had to guess, I'd say the man is in his early 50s, which would put the photo in the mid-to-late 50s.

He clearly rides the bike quite a bit (he has the cuff of his chain-side pants leg rubber-banded (or sumpin').
posted by spock at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2006


Can anyone tell if that's a watch or makeshift key ring in his right pocket?
posted by muddgirl at 9:15 AM on December 19, 2006


I believe the bike is a 1956 Schwinn Spitfire. Look at the PAINT on this image. Also note the straight lower crossbar on the frame. The image linked has had the fenders and chain guard removed (also has hand brakes) so it is not exact, but I think it does help us pin down the age of the bike. Since the bike looks pretty well-used, I'm now thinking the picture could be from the very early 60's.
posted by spock at 9:21 AM on December 19, 2006


Is it my imagination, or are the handlebars misaligned with the front wheel?
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:23 AM on December 19, 2006


Doing some searches on Schwinn Spitfire, it appears that this paint style may have been available at least as early as 1952. So it could be a 5 year old bike and still be 1957 or 58. I noticed from your earlier question that your grandfather was institutionalized from 1958 onward.

Are you suspecting that this photo may be one taken AT the institution?
posted by spock at 10:10 AM on December 19, 2006


Are you suspecting that this photo may be one taken AT the institution?

No, I don't think so. It looks like it was taken in front of a park or cemetery. I would love to track down that gate. Shame I didn't notice it before I posted the original post.

This photo came from my aunt by way of a cousin. I'm thinking late 50s might be too late, since as far as I know he was separated from the family at that point.

The aunt has no idea when/where this was taken.
posted by bondcliff at 10:20 AM on December 19, 2006


Considering how distinctive the pillar and fence are, I bet sending a copy of the image to the Newton Historical Society (with a little donation in your grandfather's name) would get you exactly where the picture was taken (and may help with when -- if the fence/gate was removed in 1963, we know it's before then...).
posted by Rock Steady at 10:27 AM on December 19, 2006


Oops, meant to do Newton Historical Society.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:28 AM on December 19, 2006


Perhaps I have an overactive imagination, but does it appear to anyone else that there are letters imprinted in the base of the column (as seen in the space directly below the bicycle seat).

Not sure what resolution you scanned the image in with, but the highest resolution scan and a look with Photoshop (maybe sharpened/levels adjusted) might render something. Not much to go on, even if I'm right.
posted by spock at 10:32 AM on December 19, 2006


Another clue might be the joint in the pavement that he's standing on?

They put those in pavement to prevent cracking - but I'm not sure when that technique came into practice.
posted by matty at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2006


bondcliff writes "No, I don't think so. It looks like it was taken in front of a park or cemetery."

Detailed plaster/cement walls with iron or wrought iron railing and gates are classic Italian resdential archetecture, at least in my home town. You might want to check other pictures of family residences from the period to see if you can match it up.
posted by Mitheral at 11:01 AM on December 19, 2006


This is a complete long shot, but I wonder if the hospital he was at has any kind of "retired/former employees" member society. It would be great to find someone who worked at the hospital during that time period and might remember your grandfather. Maybe taking out a classified ad would be a way to find some of those people?
posted by megancita at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2006


I believe the bike is a 1956 Schwinn Spitfire.

It's a Spitfire frame, for certain. Alas, Schwinn used that exact frame from 1949 through at least 1970.

Other parts imply late '50s, early 60s, but only a real collector could make a certain identification of the year. I suspect the fast tell is the head-tube badge -- most of the Spitfire head tube badges I've seen are light lettering on dark, this is the opposite.
posted by eriko at 12:10 PM on December 19, 2006


Judging from his age, and the good quality of the photograph, I'd guess it's from 1961-1963. High summer judging by the lushness, plus he's tanned, dressed as if he's on holiday and not wearing a watch.
posted by Flashman at 1:12 PM on December 19, 2006


Not to split hairs, Schwinn fans, but that cantilever frame was used from more like 1940 through 1970.
posted by fixedgear at 3:00 PM on December 19, 2006


Aww, I was hoping it was going to be a Penny Farthing.
posted by oxford blue at 3:43 PM on December 19, 2006


Not to split hairs, Schwinn fans, but that cantilever frame was used from more like 1940 through 1970.
posted by fixedgear


True. And it was the painted handlebars that led me to believe the bike is from the 40s. Every Schwinnn I've ever seen from the 50s and beyond had chrome bars.
posted by buggzzee23 at 4:22 PM on December 19, 2006


Look at the back of the photo. Some photo papers will have printing there that will give you a clue as to when the paper was printed and ergo, when the photo was printed.
posted by frogan at 6:22 PM on December 19, 2006


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