American Flyer Bicycle Toys
By Leon Sweet
I would like to credit the late Hilly Lazarus and Evertt L. Murray as contributors to this article, as they each wrote articles for the American Flyer Collector’s Club about these toys and some of my information comes from those articles, in the 1983 Summer issue and the 1984 Fall issue.
I would like to start by saying that I and other collectors are unsure that these toys were actually made by American Flyer. I have observed the late “Motorcycle Mike” toy (the hunchbacked man wearing a beanie) in a box marked Quadriga Mfg., Chicago, Illinois and Evertt L. Murray reported that he observed a “Slippery Slim” toy in a box that listed Western Toy and Novelty Co., Chicago, Illinois at the bottom of the instructions on the outside of the original box. Mr. Murray did not report if the toy he observed was in a box marked American Flyer. I recall seeing one of these toys in a box marked American Flyer on eBay, but do not recall the details of the box.
AF catalog back cover c. 1915-1916
I can say that three of the toys were shown on the back of the American Flyer catalog c. 1915-1916 and the 4th version was shown with two of the previous, which would indicate that it was made by the same manufacturer.
These 4 bicyclists were named; however, it appears that the names of the riders, with the exception of “Uncle Sam”, changed throughout the years or different publications that they were offered in.
Slippery Slim - Motorcycle Charlie
“Slippery Slim” of the American Flyer catalog cover, was also called “Motorcycle Charlie” in the M. Smythe Company catalog of 1917, but was called “Slippery Slip” in the September 1918 Butler Brothers catalog Possibly the “Slippery Slip” was a typo in the Butler Brothers catalog as it differs from “Slippery Slim” by only one letter. This toy bears a striking resemblance to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Little Tramp” character and could in fact have been modeled after that. I have read that Charlie Chaplin was the first major star to have suffered from unauthorized uses of his image, so this certainly could have been one of those unauthorized versions. This may also account for the character being named “Motorcycle Charlie” in the M. Smythe catalog.
Motorcycle Mike - Motorcycle Cop - early
“Motorcycle Mike” is unique in that this name was used on two different characters. The first character to use this name was on the back of the American Flyer catalog, which showed the motorcycle cop.
Unknown catalog similar to John M Smythe merchandising c. 1917
However, in the M. Smythe catalog, “Motorcycle Mike” is a hunchbacked man with a beanie. The September 1918 Butler Brothers catalog shows a Motorcycle Cop, which looks like the first version of “Motorcycle Mike” that was shown on the Flyer catalog.
“Motorcycle Mike” - man wearing beanie
“Uncle Sam” is shown as himself in all versions of the catalogs.
Some interesting notes about the toys. In the American Flyer catalog, the bicycles are shown with straight forks; however, in later catalogs only the 2nd version of “Motorcycle Mike” is shown with a straight fork and the other toys are shown with curved forks. I believe that all of the versions with straight forks exist, but the only one I have with straight forks is the 2nd version of “Motorcycle Mike”.
“Slippery Slim” - early
I have observed at least two variations of the lithograph for the “Slippery Slim/Motorcycle Charlie” toy. I believe that the earliest version has a clear and highly detailed lithograph and the late version has a less detailed version with his face being more reddish in color.
“Slippery Slim” - late