* 3. 1936-1938 Murray Mercury & Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky

Schwinn had been the market leader in bicycle design since 1933 when they announced new ‘Balloon Tire’ models. As the company proclaimed in their 1933 catalogue: “It is a great source of much pride to us to present the industry with this catalogue of Arnold, Schwinn fine bicycles. Particularly we are proud of the new Arnold, Schwinn Balloon Tire Bicycles, representing the first major improvement in bicycles since the advent of the coaster brake, nearly 50 years ago.”

In collectors’ circles, ‘Balloon Tire Bicycles’ are now considered a separate genre that started in 1933. The new 26 inch balloon tyres were wider than the 28 inch tyres previously used on bicycles, and they were the first to be fitted with inner tubes.

But bicycles at that time also underwent a major styling revolution, with each company creating increasingly stylish streamlined designs that mirrored the railway trains, Greyhound buses, and the most luxurious automobiles of the era.

Consider the influence of trains such as the B&O Royal Blue (pictured below) on the style of other forms of transport.

B&O Royal Blue, 1937

1937_Mercury_08

Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky


Born in Moscow in 1901, Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky emigrated to Switzerland in 1919. He studied automotive engineering and, combining this acquired knowledge with a fertile imagination, he embarked on a career of designing custom-built sports cars for the rich and affluent.

He relocated to North America in the late 1920s and became one of the top industrial designers of the 1930s, making major contributions to streamline design in the Art Deco era. [Art Deco was born in 1925, the name coming from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, held in Paris, which celebrated living in the modern world. Today, Art Deco refers to a mix of styles from the 1920s and 1930s. The Art Deco era ended with the start of WW2].

In high demand as a stylist, Count Alexis designed diverse products, including clothes, toasters, furniture, the Emerson BD-197 radio (nicknamed the Mae West), boats, the 1936 Labatt Streamliner truck, pedal cars (for Murray’s Steelcraft company) as well as vehicles for Cord, Auburn, the White Motor Company, LeBaron, Packard, American Austin, Bantam and others.

One of his most notable automobile designs was the 1934 12cylinder Packard 1108 Sport Phaeton (for LeBarron), said to be one of the most beautiful designs of an American coachbuilder.

1934 12cyl Packard 1108 Sport Phaeton

A new magazine for men called ‘Esquire’ came out in Autumn 1933. Sakhnoffsky became the technical and mechanical editor and the magazine became a showcase for Sakhnoffsky’s design concepts. Each month readers were treated to drawings of futuristic cars, trucks, boats and other examples of mechanical wizardry. He served on Esquire until the 1960s.

When Murray Ohio Company of Cleveland, Ohio decided to enter the bicycle market in 1936, they commissioned the Count to design their product range.

Count Alexis designed a 1940 Nash roadster called “The Golden Chariot ” and plated in 24 karat gold to sell war bonds during World War II . This car was for sale during the 1940s for $25,000 and there is a newspaper clipping on the rear of the photo describing it . It was owned by Professor Andrew Primo , New Orleans, Louisiana . The car was shown during a war bond drive with a sign attached , ” Kill a Nazi ! Kill a Fascist ! One Dime One Bullet will kill a Jap ! … History is in the making.” According to the article this was the first war bond car made.

Joining the US Army in WWII he rose to the rank of Lt. Col. at war’s end.

In the early 1950s Sakhnoffsky teamed up with Preston Tucker (After Tucker’s tumultuous acquittal from an SEC trial over the Tucker ’48) funded by investors from Brazil. They began initial designs to build a sports car called the Tucker Carioca. But Tucker’s travels to Brazil were plagued by fatigue and upon his return to the United States he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Tucker died from pneumonia as a complication of lung cancer. The Tucker Carioca was never developed.

The Count died in 1964.

1937_Mercury_01

1937 Mercury Men’s Semi de Luxe Bicycle

Model No 50

19″ Frame

26″ Wheels

 

1937_Mercury_09 copy

This 1937 Mercury is in wonderful unrestored condition, just as nature intended 🙂

Note the extra long handlebar stem – it is missing its dual pod headlamp, which mounts onto the stem. This is an item which has a value considerably more than that of the bicycle! I really like this model of Mercury, designed by Count Sakhnoffsky, so I can live without the headlight for now.

TO SEE FULL-SIZE PICTURES

& MORE DETAILS

AT THE ONLINE BICYCLE MUSEUM

PLEASE CLICK HERE

Published on February 11, 2010 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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