1890s Sea Horse Bicycle from Sutro’s – SOLD


Circa 1890s Sea Horse Bicycle – SOLD

Rare, hand-made, golden fantasy sea-theme bicycle.
From display at San Francisco’s world-famous Sutro’s Baths and adjacent Cliff House. Said to be one of just eight or 10 made.

Now on display in Australia.

Product Description


Ca. 1890s Golden
Sea Horse Bicycle

From Sutro’s Baths
(1886-1966) and
The Cliff House,
San Francisco, CA*

This is a full size bike, 48″ L x 36″ H, and comes with the custom (heavy) brass stand.
*There is a sibling bicycle to this one on display at The Heritage Museum in Sandwich, MA. 

The information the museum has acquired about the bicycle through the years is varied. With the help of pioneer carousel historian, Fred Fried, the most convincing information leads to Sutro’s Baths and the Cliff House. Their notes also suggest that filmmaker, George Lucas has one in his collection. The sci-fi film genius was born and raised not far from Sutro Baths in Modesto, CA.

Sutros-in-1958-film-the-lineupA inquiry letter from the 1970s at the museum says of the golden bicycle: “The bike was in the Cliff Side Museum from 1901 until 1966, the year the building had a fire. It is believed to have been made by a Chinaman. The chain is in the 1890 period. I phoned Fred Fried. He had seen it in the window of the Cliff House.”

Cliff-house-in-1958-film-the-lineupThe bicycle was acquired from an Oakland, CA, dealer who said it came from The Cliff House. Inquiry to The Cliff House brought the reply that it may have been an exhibit in Sutro’s Baths at some point. The 1890s chain fits in with the timeframe of the 1890s construction of the Sutro bath house. The bicycle may well date back earlier, however, as Sutro acquired many of his great display items from the estate sale of San Francisco’s Woodward’s Gardens, a combination amusement park, museum, art gallery, zoo, and aquarium operating from 1866 to 1891.

Sutro-baths-museum-diplayBut, Adolph Sutro was a notorious collector of all things and could have acquired the bicycles in his travels. In fact, some say that the eccentric Sutro built the 3 1/2 acre bath house to give him a place to display and show off his stuff.

The world-famous Sutro’s Baths officially opened in 1896 and was said to have a 10,000 bather capacity. This bit of history, courtesy of, says, “What couldn’t you see at Sutro Baths? Egyptian Mummies? Stuffed birds, stuffed apes, stuffed snakes fighting stuffed jaguars? Totem poles? Cigar-store Indians? How about tropical plants? Pinned insects? Coin collections? Photograph collections? Fine Art Collections? They were all there.”

One of the bikes was at some point on display at the Cliff Side Museum and/or The Cliff House, according to historian, Fred Fried. The Cliff House and Playland owner, George Whitney, bought the baths from Sutro’s grandson in 1952, and as the paper reported – as first order of business – “he did some house cleaning”.

The Heritage Museum notes continue and report one of these bicycles sold at the Crow Canyon Park Museum auction by Hewlett’s Antique Auctions of LeGrand, CA in 1987. Shortly after, the museum contacted Al Sphil, who owned the objects that were sold at that auction. Sphil said that;  “There were eight or 10 of these bicycles made by a Chinese man, and that all of them were bought for Sutro Baths by George Whitney. One was put on a rope and ran back and forth above the baths.” Mr. Sphil says he saw the bicycle that ran back and forth and saw the other bicycles in storage. Later, someone bought all of them from Sutro Baths and sold them off. He said there was an article about these bicycles in the San Francisco Chronicle sometime between 1898-1900.

Sutro-baths-roof-walkIt is also rumored in the notes at the museum that filmmaker George Lucas owns one of these. Lucas was born and raised in nearby Modesto, CA, and likely visited the Sutro Baths as a child. Understandably, the golden fantasy sea-creature bicycle could have made a great impression on the young creative mind. And, one of these bicycles was offered for sale in the fall 1988 edition of The Clarion by Double K Gallery of West Hollywood, CA.

The July 2003 edition of Maine Antique Digest shows another of these bicycles was offered for sale by R.E. Van Anda and Sandra J. Whitson of Lititz, PA. The history published along with this bicycle was never checked, claiming that the “Sea horse bicycle with fish pedals and seat is from the 1902 Georges Melies film Le Voyage Dans la Lune, a landmark in the history of filmmaking. There was a carousel with four monkeys riding bicycles…” Well, the age and rarity of the bicycle is true, but the fantasy bike was not in the film. The asking price for that one was $35,000.

Sutro’s Baths Documentary:

There is film history relatively associated associated with the item as among the earliest examples of moving pictures were many shorts produced by Thomas Edison. In 1897, Edison filmed the water slide at the new Sutro’s Baths.

Thomas Edison’s 1897 film of Sutro’s:

Additional Information

Dimensions 48 x 36 in