Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Rare Find: Hetchins Lugs

The entire lug set, purchased last year from Paul Hetchin.
 The set includes the main lugs, fork crown, bottom
bracket, and the decorative tangs that would be
 brazed on to the seat stays. 
I recently got an interesting submission of what I can only imagine is a pretty rare and special find. Through a Facebook group called The Bicycle Cafe, I've gotten to know a fellow Retrogrouch, Paul Fuller, who does some of his own frame building. Paul sent me some photos of these lugs that he purchased from Paul Hetchin, which had previously belonged to his father, Alf Hetchin -- of the very well known Hetchins brand of bicycles.

A scan of the 1987 Hetchins catalog. From Historic Hetchins.
Many people are familiar with the famous Hetchins bicycles -- notable for their extravagently cut lugs and, in some models, "curly" stays. The most famous model, the one with the most ornate lugwork, is the Magum Opus.

There is lots of information about the Hetchins brand out there, but probably one of the best, most comprehensive sources, is Historic Hetchins. The brand goes back to the early 30s, having been founded by Hyman "Harry" Hetchin, and later run by his son Alf until the mid 1980s when the company was sold and combined with Bob Jackson Cycles.

The lugs shown above and below date to the mid-1980s, about the time that J.R.J. Cycles (better known as Bob Jackson) was taking over the Hetchins frame building operations. Alf Hetchin and his main frame-builder Jack Denny stayed on for a few years to supervise production. Alf Hetchin died in 1995, and his son Paul isn't really connected with the bicycle business that bears his family name. Today, the Hetchins company is run by David Miller (current company site), with Paul Riley as his frame builder. According to Historic Hetchins, they make about 12 bespoke frames per year.

Here is what Paul Fuller says of the lugs he acquired. "The set is unique, unused, and I think has some historical interest. I feel protective of them." Paul goes on to describe them as Magnum Opus Deluxe Phase III lugs -- likely prototypes, having a slightly different design than what was used in production. The lugs were "placed in a box, put into a storage room, and forgotten." Alf's son Paul sold these lugs to Fuller about a year ago, "still in the box they were in."

The exceptionally ornate seat lug.
Lower head-tube lug.
Upper head tube lug.
Very beautiful bottom bracket shell.
Lower head lug and twin-plate fork crown.
Paul has the complete set of lugs shown, as well as a full set of classic Reynolds 531 tubes -- but is not certain if he should build with the lugs. I can understand that indecision. Does one take these very precious, unique lugs -- particularly given the rarity of such a find -- and considering the lugs are so clearly associated with a great and historic bicycle brand -- and use them to build a bicycle that, while very special, would NOT be a Hetchins? A less scrupulous person might use them to make a counterfeit Hetchins (there are lots of them out there!) but I know Paul has no intention of doing that. But it does pose an almost ethical dilemma!

On the other hand, the intent of making lugs is to build bicycles -- and building a special bike that respects the history and tradition of the Hetchins name -- while not actually being a Hetchins -- would still be pretty incredible. It's a tough decision. And I can see why Paul Fuller feels "protective" of the lugs he has acquired.

To wrap it up, Fuller says, "Paul Hetchin told me that his father was a humble man who did what he loved, and would be honored to know people still regard vintage Hetchins as top of the line frames." Whatever he decides to do with these, I think Paul has been entrusted with something really special here. Thanks, Paul, for sharing with The Retrogrouch Blog!


  1. If he wants to make a frame, he should do it - it's all useless otherwise. Just stamp the dropout "H-NOT"

    1. I get that -- but I totally understand the hesitation. Paul didn't explain his reasons for his indecision -- I'm just speculating here. To many of us (myself included) there is a huge difference between making a well-intentioned "replica" or perhaps an "homage" versus making a "knockoff" or some other kind of "copy" that is designed to fool somebody. But it's worth noting that for many in the vintage and collectible world, it's really a fine line and can be a pretty touchy subject -- especially when it pertains to something so highly sought-after and collectible as a Hetchins. As I pointed out (and follow the link to the Historic Hetchins site) there are a lot of "fakes" and copies out there. There are some collectors out there who bristle at anything that might someday get re-purposed by a subsequent buyer down the road who gets a new paint job and decals and tries to pass something off as the genuine article. I agree - a good, reputable person who makes an "homage" bike can take steps to make sure it doesn't get "abused" later -- and I don't think there would be anything wrong with going ahead and building with the lugs. But I also understand why someone might be hesitant. And Paul may be unsure what to do with the lugs for a completely different reason. Even if he doesn't end up using them, I think they're still a pretty cool item to hang onto from a collectible standpoint.

  2. If a frameset is to be built with these unique lugs, then the appropriate thing to do is ship them and the 531 tubeset to Paul Riley. The result would be a unique and true Hetchins built by the legitimate heritage builder and having a correct, sequential Hetchins serial number and demonstrable provenance. Anything else must be open to confusion or outright fraud after the frameset is passed on from the original owner.

    1. As I said above -- it's a pretty contentious subject. For every person who would say "go ahead" there's probably another who would say "no way." You re-iterate one of the very issues that makes it so contentious for collectors -- the question of what happens years later if someone less reputable gets possession of the bike. Anyhow -- thanks for reading and commenting on The Retrogrouch.

  3. I became friendly with Paul Hetchin about the time these lugs were bought, After I contacted an ebay seller, who was selling items on behalf of the family. Many conversations later, mostly about football, a box arrived at my house......shoebox sized. Inside, was a collection of never before seen photos of Alf and Hyman Hetchin, some old receipts, original decals, and in a small box, the absolute best part! When they were looking for a new head badge design, they received the rough 'prototype' back, which was painted merzak, but with no address details etc, and the fine points of the lions face incomplete, etc......!
    They are obviously the star in my small collection!