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The Original Big Wheel
The Penny-Farthing is a moderately difficult Metal Earth model with about 28 pieces on two sheets of metal. Assembled, it measures 3.42" x 1.18" x 2.87". This big-wheeled contraption from the Victorian era was the first machine to be called a bicycle.
Each Metal Earth model is laser etched in meticulous detail on one, two, or three 11 cm (4.33") metal sheets. Pop out the pieces by hand (or use wire cutters to get especially crisp lines), bend the tabs using needle-nose pliers, and fit them together as shown in the simple pictorial instructions. Metal Earth models are a little less challenging than our 3D wooden puzzles, but you do need some patience and dexterity because they're also much smaller. For maximum dramatic effect, display your model on the LED Display Base or the Solar Spinner (sold separately, see below).
Please note that Metal Earth models have sharp edges and are not suitable for small children. Metal Earth was formerly called MetalWorks.
Are you curious...?
Also known as a high wheel or high wheeler, this old bicycle design didn't acquire the penny-farthing name until it was nearly obsolete. British penny coins were much larger than farthings, so that the bike's wheel pattern reminded people of a farthing following a penny. In the 1880s, though, people just called them bicycles. When "safety bicycles" resembling our modern bikes started to appear in the 1890s, people called the penny-farthing "ordinaries" to differentiate them.
While the penny-farthing was the first machine to be called a bicycle, "bone-shakers" dated to the 1860s. To their manufacturer, they were "velocipedes", but their stiff wrought-iron frames with wooden wheels and iron tires (think wagon wheels) produced a jarring ride that stuck them with the "boneshaker" moniker. (Most boneshakers were melted down for scrap during WW1, and the few examples that escaped the forge are worth up to US$5,000 today.) When bicycles were only direct-drive (no chain drives yet), the penny-farthing's large wheel permitted greater speeds and a somewhat smoother ride, although pneumatic tires were still in the future.
The penny-farthing was a difficult and dangerous machine to ride. Because one's leg was fully extended between the seat and the bottom of the pedal stroke, it was impossible to touch the ground while seated. But the penny-farthing was faster, simpler, and lighter than its safer but terribly uncomfortable predecessor. Two inventions brought about its doom: chain drives (originally used on tricycles) allowed gearing that multiplied the rider's pedaling effort, and pneumatic tires provided a smoother ride on smaller wheels. The first of these so-called "safety bicycles" appeared around 1890, and by 1893 nobody made penny-farthings anymore, even though they remained the racing bike of choice until safety bikes were perfected in the 1920s. Today, bicycle enthusiasts ride restored penny-farthings, and a few manufacturers build them as curiosities.