Much of the Elswick-Hopper history I’ve unearthed thus far is largely repetitive, citing a timeline of key dates. I suspect that most who have written about this company have acquired their years and sequence from the same one or two sources, so in a way these various family histories are somewhat incestuous! The high points seem to be that Fred Hopper got off the ground in the 1880s, his son took over in the mid-20’s, the brand was taken over in the mid-50’s, and then merged with Coventry Eagle, then Falcon, and then other marquees, ultimately dissolving bit by bit by bit until there was nothing left that had to do with bicycles. Elswick, in fact, became a label maker – a fact so strange that I can’t even wrap my mind around how such a corporate evolution took place.
I decided I was really more interested in the company itself and began to seek out what I could of the firm. Not surprisingly, I turned up an intriguing letter on Sheldon Brown’s website. David Cross, CEO of Elswick Hopper PLC from 1984 to 1994 wrote to Sheldon and offered some insightful information about the company history and what took place in their waning years.
Classic Rendezvous too, has reproduced a story about Elswick Cycles, Ltd, “makers of the famous Elswick and Hopper Bicycles.” The article by “Peter Pedlar” which originally appeared in the September 29, 1937 issue of Cycling provides a snapshot of one aspect of the company. (Oddly enough, the shipping department.) Further history, along with reproductions of various Elswick ephemera can also be found on the Old Bike blog.
I was very surprised to come across an article about Elswick, reproduced from the April 1949 issue of British Cycles and Motor Cycles. 1949…holy cow, this was my year! My very bicycle could have been languishing in the background of one of the photographs in the article! (But it wouldn’t have languished long. As the article points out, bikes were manufactured and literally rolled right out the door onto trucks and shipped out all over the world. Storage? Fuggedaboudit!)
So back to the future. It’s now 2012, sixty-three years since that article was written and since my bike rolled across the Elswick loading dock. I’ve begun the process of restoration. To be clear, my own thinking about restoration has evolved – especially from the days when I might have stripped the frame and painted or powder coated it. Finding replacement graphics is unlikely in any event, and my plans call for clean up, bring out the paint as best as possible, eliminate the rust, and make certain all mechanical details are addressed. No repaint. No touch up.
At the moment, the bike is in various pieces. The frame itself was on my bike stand for a few days where I cleaned every bit of grime from the painted and chromed surfaces. The wheels are pulled, as is the saddle, the cranks, and other small bits and pieces. I plan to re-use the chain and it is patiently waiting in line for cleansing.
Using Windex and aluminum foil, I’ve removed the worst of the rust from the shiny parts. A soft brass brush was necessary in some places; WD-40 breaks down grime and is a terrific cleaning agent; fine grade finishing steel wool is a good final buffer. A light coat of boiled linseed oil is an excellent preventive measure to ensure that the rust doesn’t return any time soon. Once coated, it takes quite some time for the linseed oil to “dry” – in fact it polymerizes, sealing the surface.
I also use linseed oil to bring back the luster in the black paint and to recapture what details remain in the pin striping and graphics. I’ve especially enjoyed watching these details re-emerge on the fenders and tubes. (The head badge, once cleaned up, is pretty cool also!)
The chainring has been buffed and is looking nice, I think.
I will likely replace the cable housing; I will definitely replace the tires (the rear is totally shot, but the front looks terrific.) Although not original, I am debating cream tires…possibly. The front fender is going to require some special attention and quite honestly I have not yet strategized precisely how I’m going to approach fixing it. And the saddle? Wow. I’m not sure if I can recreate the cover and may need to look for a vintage replacement. (Ironically, a beautiful one sold on Craig’s List two evenings ago for eight dollars. I was the second caller and lost out. Urgh!)