This week as the nation recognizes and honors the service and sacrifices of the members of its armed forces we should also honor the many animals that have accompanied our soldiers into war. For as long as people have gone to war they have brought animals with them. Specially trained animals have filled the roles of transportation of both soldiers and equipment, communication, detection, fighter, sentry, mascots, and sadly sometimes as the carriers of explosives – becoming weapons themselves. The list of the types of animals that have filled these roles is long, and each used its special abilities and characteristics to help their human counterparts by doing something the humans couldn’t or by enhancing the skill or effectiveness of the people they worked alongside.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blake Soller, a Military Working Dog (MWD) handler pets the head of his MWD Rico, at the War Dog Cemetery located on Naval Base Guam. From Wikimedia Commons.

They have lent us their strength, their speed, their agility, their sense of smell, their ability to intimidate and fight, and often their companionship. Some of these animals are familiar such as the horse, mule, and dog. Other animals that have served include, oxen, elephants, camels, birds, reindeer, dolphins, sea lions, pigs, and cats. The Library holds many books describing the roles and heroics of animals in war and I thought I’d share the story of a little mare from Korea that would eventually become a staff sergeant in the US Marine Corps.

A M-20 75 mm recoilless rifle being fired during the Korean War. Wikimedia Commons.

During the Korean War the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division put its large recoilless rifles to good use. Although they were highly effective, the guns were six feet long, weighed over 100 pounds, and fired shells weighing 24 pounds each, making them difficult to move and supply. The platoon leader, Lt. Eric Pedersen had the idea of getting a pack horse to assist his men. The idea was approved and he bought a small chestnut filly with $250 of his own money. The little horse was only 14 hands high and weighed about 900 pounds but she would prove to have a huge impact despite her small stature.

Reckless with her main caretaker, US Marine Sergeant Joseph Latham. Wikimedia Commons.

Once she arrived back at camp several marines, who were also experienced horsemen, were tasked with her training. PFC Monroe Coleman and Sgt. Joe Latham drew the duty. She was dubbed Reckless which was also a nickname for the recoilless gun that the platoon used. PFC Reckless’s “hoof-camp” training began the next morning. She learned to carry the gun and its heavy ammunition, became accustomed to the sounds of the firing of the gun, and learned to ride in a little trailer attached to a jeep.

Hoof-Camp training. From Reckless Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer (1955). The gift of Mrs. Howard Linn.

She also mastered lying down when under fire, and running for cover to a bunker when “incoming” was yelled. Her training was so effective that she was able to make trips from the ammo supply up to the gun emplacements by herself after being shown the route only a few times. In addition to supplying the guns with ammunition, Reckless assisted with other tasks. She was especially useful stringing out telephone wire from spools carried on her pack. She was able to string more telephone line in a day than 10 men on foot. She also carried wounded soldiers from the front lines back to medical assistance.

Sergeant Reckless pictured with a reel of communication wire. Wikimedia Commons.

The highlight of Reckless’s military career would come in 1953 when she participated in the Battle for Outpost Vegas. During a single day of the battle Reckless traveled back and forth to the front lines 50 times. She traveled 35 miles, carrying nearly 9000 pounds of ammunition, and brought wounded marines back to the supply point. During the battle she was wounded twice, once in the flank and once above her eye, but she continued to make the trek back and forth to the front. Her efforts earned her a promotion to corporal.

Sergeant Reckless under fire during the Korean War. From Reckless Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer (1955). The gift of Mrs. Howard Linn.

Reckless became a true member of her platoon and was able to wander about camp and into tents freely. She frequently insisted on being the center of attention, and must have had a bit of goat in her as she was known to eat anything and everything. She especially liked scrambled eggs and coffee, and would enjoy a beer with her compatriots. She also ate items such has her blanket, hats, and even poker chips!

Reckless hanging out with her platoon-mates. From Horse Stars Hall of Fame.

In April 1954, Reckless received a battlefield promotion to sergeant from Randolph Pate, the commander of the 1st Marine Division. Later that year she rotated out of Korea and made the journey to her new home at Camp Pendleton in California.  Here she received her final promotion to staff sergeant on August 31, 1959. The ceremony included a 19-gun salute and a 1,700-man parade of Marines from her unit. Her military decorations include, two Purple Hearts, the Dickin Medal, the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Korea Medal, and the French Fourragere.

Reckless’s life in retirement was good. Thanks to a pair of Saturday Evening Post articles she was well known before she arrived stateside and she made several public appearances. She was also the guest of honor at the Marine Birthday Ball where she is reported to have eaten both cake and the centerpieces. While at Camp Pendleton she was bred several times and had four foals. In 1957, 1959, and 1964 she had the colts Fearless, Dautnless, and Chesty. She also had a filly in 1965 or 1966 that died only a month after her birth and was never named.

Sampling the centerpieces. From The Camp Pendleton Historical Society.

Reckless died on May 13, 1968, while under sedation to treat injuries from a fall into barbed wire. She was reported to be either 19 or 20 years old. Her resolute determination under fire inspired the love and loyalty of those that knew her and many who had only heard of her. She has been memorialized in a sculpture by Jocelyn Russell at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a similar sculpture by Russell at Camp Pendleton, and most recently at the Kentucky Horse Park which installed the same bronze sculpture by Russell.

Hundreds of veterans, servicemembers, and civilians gather to view the full-size bronze statue at the close of the dedication ceremony of Korean War Horse Veteran Staff Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va., July 26, 2013. SSgt Reckless is listed as a National hero and served as a Marine in Korea from 1952-1953. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, were in attendance. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kathy Reesey/Released) Unit: MCB Quantico Combat Camera. Wikimedia Commons.

If you are interested in learning more about Reckless or about other animals that have served in war, drop in to the Main Reading Room and I’d be happy to show you some of our books on the subject.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.

The permanent collection at the National Sporting Library & Museum has over 1,300 objects, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, weathervanes, and dog collars. That’s right, dog collars.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. and Mrs. Tim Greenan began collecting dog collars, eventually amassing 187 of them. In 2014, they donated their entire collection to the NSLM, making the museum one of the largest (if not the largest) repositories in the world for these niche objects.

Dr. Greenan and the Curatorial department are developing an exhibition for 2022 that will display the objects alongside works of art that feature similar collars. The show will also highlight the relationship between dogs and humans and how that relationship has evolved throughout the centuries.

It’s hard to remember a time when dogs have not been Man’s Best Friend snuggling up on our laps and eagerly awaiting our return. Initially, they were trained for war, hunting, working, fighting, and scouting. The one shown below dates from the 18th century and is firmly utilitarian.  The spikes repelled attackers and protected the canine.

Dog Collar, 18th century, British, metal,
7 inches diameter x 1 inches wide

The brass one below would have been used for bear baiting or boar hunting. It is important to remember to not look at such collars through 21st-century eyes, but rather keep it in context of the 18th century. While we view it as cruel, bear baiting was considered a regular sport for all societal classes at the time. This collar is inscribed “WILLIAM ECKLES ISLAND HILL 1792.” The sharp sawtooth edges would have protected the neck of the dog wearing it.

Dog collar, 1792, British, brass,
6 inches diameter x 2 1/2 inches wide

The large horsehair collar below (and my favorite!) is from the 18th century, possibly from Goa, India. It is decorated with orange agate cabochons and is almost 12 inches in diameter. You can imagine that this is also quite heavy and would probably have been worn by a mastiff.

Dog collar, 18th century, possibly Goa, India, horsehair leather with agate cabochons and brass mounts with ring attachment
11 3/4 inches diameter x 2 7/8 inches height x 3 1/2 inches wide

As dogs were domesticated, they also served as a status symbol: the breed, pedigree, and, of course, the collar. Tiffany & Co., known for their wonderful and highly sought-after jewelry, also produced many everyday objects, including the below silver dog collar from 1831-1832. It is inscribed with the owner’s name, “GEO. H. INGERSOLL ./ NEW YORK.,” is adjustable, and came to the collection with the owner’s choice for a lock. It was not uncommon for dogs to be stolen, their identification to be removed, and then be resold on the street as dogs in need of a home. The lock served to discourage would-be thieves.

Dog collar, 1831-1832, American, silver,
4 1/4 inches diameter x 3 /4 inches wide

The inscriptions could sometimes be whimsical and silly.  The one below is from the 1920s or 1930s and reads, “I’M / H.O. SWINFORD’S DOG / WHOSE DOG / ARE YOU?”

Dog collar, 1920s or 1930s, American, leather, 4 inches diameter x
1 3/4 inches wide

The image below shows an Italian collar from the 1940s with distinctly Roman motifs. One crest has an image of Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus. The other crest shows the she-wolf that nursed the twins after they were abandoned. Incredibly appropriate motifs to adorn such an object!

Dog collar, 1940s, Italian, leather,
5 1/2 inches diameter x 1 3/4 inches wide

Stay tuned as we continue to learn about these everyday, yet fascinating, objects. We’ll be posting more teasers in preparation for the forthcoming 2022 exhibition.

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

Visitors to Middleburg earlier this month were met with an interesting sight.  On the afternoon of Sunday, October 6th the NSLM partnered with Emmanuel Episcopal Church to host an interfaith Blessing of the Animals event and the community turned out in force to participate. 

Pastor Gil Gibson, Reverend Gail Epes, Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob, and Reverend Gene LeCouteur. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Our front lawn was full of people who brought their animal friends to receive blessings offered by Episcopal priests The Reverends Gene LeCouteur and Gail Epes, Pastor Gil Gibson of Aldie Presbyterian Church, and Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob of Culpeper. 

Horses waiting for their blessings. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

There was a festive feel to the day as people enjoyed mingling with other animal lovers and meeting their pets.  The clergy circulated through the crowd imparting blessings to many dogs, a cat or two, a rabbit, several horses and ponies, and even a parrot. 

Reverend Gene LeCouteur blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

In addition there were several community partners that had tables at the event.  Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, Middleburg Humane Foundation, War Horses at Rose Bower, and Potomac Cairn Terrier Rescue, all shared information about their programs with attendees.  The afternoon was a celebration of the animals in people’s lives and the joy that comes from those relationships.

Reverend Gail Epes blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Interestingly none of this would have happened but for a rich Italian kid born more than 830 years ago.  Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, later known as Francesco, was born in Assisi, Italy at the end of 1181 or beginning of 1182.  He was the son of a wealthy silk merchant and by all accounts lived a privileged and carefree life, indulging in fine clothing and food, and spending his days listening to singers with his friends.  After a brief career as a soldier Francis began to turn away from his life of material wealth and focused on his religious life.  Eventually he would renounce his former life entirely and would go on to found the Franciscan Order. 

By Andrea Vanni – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11140810

Among his key beliefs was that humans were but one among the creatures created by God.  He called all creatures his brothers and sisters and is said to have preached to the birds which flocked around him transfixed by his voice.  He believed that nature is an integrated system to which humans belong but also steward. 

Saint Francis of Assisi, as he is known today, is one of the most popular Christian saints.  He is the patron saint of animals and of ecology.  His feast day in the Christian calendar is October 4th. Blessing of the Animals services are typically held on the Sunday closest to that date in honor of Saint Francis.  If you missed the event on NSLM’s campus this year, mark you calendars for next year’s celebration and bring your favorite animal companion to the party.

*Fun fact: In 1220 Saint Francis is credited with creating the first nativity scene using real animals.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.

I might have been complaining a little bit to my colleagues at the lunch table when a co-worker suggested that I blog about the behind-the-scenes curating of Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand. “I think people would find it interesting,” she said.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Mrs. I. Tucker, Burr, Jr., M.F.H. The Norfolk, 1933, oil on canvas, 48 x 37 inches, Collection of the Burr Family

I thought that curating Leading the Field would be more straightforward. The vision seemed simple enough. First, gather as many of the 20 paintings as possible that were included in the 1936 exhibition, Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A., held at the Sporting Gallery & Bookshop in New York City. Then, find other works that would relate to Rand as an equestrian and a countrywoman.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Miss Charlotte Noland, Foxcroft School, 1929, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Collection of the Foxcroft School, Middleburg, Virginia

We already knew the names of all the sitters and hunt affiliations of the works in the 1936 exhibition and had close ties to the hunt world. NSLM Board Member and former Joint Master of Piedmont Fox Hounds Turner Reuter helped make phone calls and connections, and I contacted the other hunts. Gary Dycus, another Rand researcher, also offered helpful leads. The first paintings fell into place quickly.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Dr. Howard Collins, ex-M.F.H. The Millbrook, 1935, oil on canvas, 44 x 32 1/2 inches, Collection of Jen and Blair Collins

In the early stages of the project, I met Emily Mazzola who was working on her Masters of Arts in Art History at the University of Connecticut. She had kept a spreadsheet of all the Rand titles she came across along the way. Several of these titles jumped out at me as paintings of the artist’s family and farm: Gren with Gun and Dogs, 1903; John — Sketch on Dykeman, 1924; North Pasture—H.H.F., 1925; Boys with Horses, 1928;  Bill on Polo Pony, 1930s; J.A.R.[John Alsop Rand] – Riding Clothes, 1930s; Silo and Cows – H.H.F, 1930s; W.B.R. [William Blanchard Rand] – Pink Coat, 1930s; Velvet Cap, Whip and Gloves, 1930s; and Chris in Horse Stall. Surely, some of these paintings would still be in the family’s hands.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Hamlet Hill in the Snow, 1923, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches, Private Collection

Despite what I considered to be a solid list of leads, it turned out to be one of the most challenging list of exhibition loans I have undertaken in my career. Most of the paintings were still in private hands and had passed through one, two, and sometimes three generations. Twisting branches of family treesdivorces, re-marriages, estates, and family alliancesled to dozens and dozens of possible candidates, countless hours of ancestry and obituary research, and a multitude of cold calls and emails to strangers.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Mrs. Fletcher Harper, 1930, oil on canvas, 43 x 29 1/4 inches, Private Collection

It is always exciting to track down an owner of a work; however, it is only the first step. Unlike institutional loans in which we navigate through a bureaucratic process of approvals and paperwork, securing private loans is about building relationships founded on trust. Loan form completion, conservation standards, and scheduling of packing and pickup around busy schedules can start to seem insurmountable. Lenders reach a tipping point when they truly feelnot just thinkthat their altruism will have a benefit that outweighs the prospect of empty walls and concern over the safety of their cherished pieces.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Jake in Hunting Clothes, 1936, oil on canvas, 42 x 32 1/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

Of the 22 lenders to Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand, all of us at NSLM owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 16 individuals who committed to their loans. I first started the journey towards a better understanding of the artist Ellen Emmet Rand believing that transcribing the 767,000 words of her 17 years’ worth of diaries would be the most daunting aspect of the project, but thanks to NSLM Visitors Services colleagues taking on the transcriptions, this was not the case. Instead, Rand’s words became an earwig in my brain encouraging me to continue to track down loans for the past three years. Thanks to our generous public and private lenders and Rand’s own words, Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand presents exciting new scholarship with paintings, sketches, illustrations, and photographs gathered from across the miles.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Boys with Horses, 1928, oil on canvas, 79 x 64 3/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

Don’t miss the exhibition before it closes on March 22, 2020. If you would like to schedule a tour, please contact Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Valerie Peacock. For the further reading, please see the Ellen Emmet Rand Slept Here blog.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), The Hound Show at The Riding Club, (Last Show at the Riding Club), January 31, 1936, oil on panel, 27 1/2 x 23 1/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

Hello everyone and welcome to my first blog post as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator here at NSLM. I started in late June and it has been a (pleasant) whirlwind. I have many goals as the educator, one of them being to build a strong relationship between the education department (i.e. me) and the library department (Erica Libhart, Mars Technical Services Librarian and Michelle Guzman, George L. Ohstrom, Jr. Head Librarian). Both departments have much to offer, so using our collective brain power to cultivate engaging programming, displays, tours, and pop-up exhibitions will reap great rewards here at NSLM.

The first of these ventures is the upcoming traveling exhibition, A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, on loan from James Madison’s Montpelier and accompanying program, Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen, on October 8, 2019. In conjunction with the traveling exhibition and the roundtable discussion, the Library staff and I wanted to locate related items from the library collection for display in the lobby cases. We found several items in the F. Ambrose Rare Book Room as well as the Main Reading Room, that serve to chronicle the evolving representation of African American horsemen from the period of enslavement, through the Jim Crow era, and up to present day.

The earliest item that we found is a series of three lithographs dated 1840, depicting a race at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina. The images of three nameless, enslaved jockeys are accompanied by rhyming verse that refers to the riders as less than humans, and includes caricature of one of the jockey’s speech. These were authored by British conservative political Charles Newdigate Newdegate and seem intended to mock the American horse racing community. This item also exemplifies that some of America’s earliest and prolific jockeys were enslaved men.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witnefs, c. 1841, Charles Newdegate Newdiagte (British 1816-1887). Plate 1.
Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 1

Thoroughbred racing was popular in America, especially the South, beginning in the 1700s, and since its impetus has been defined by black horsemen. Prior to 1865 these skilled men were enslaved. After 1865, jockeys and horsemen gained popularity, but in the 1880s-1890s measures to marginalize and ban African Americans from competing in races or holding employment as horsemen systematically erased the large-scale presence of African American horsemen from the racing world.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 2

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 3

The second item is from a souvenir program for Keeneland Racecourse dated 1936, nearly 100 years after the lithographs.  An article titled “America’s Colored Archer: the Story of Isaac Murphy” describes the achievements of the African American jockey Isaac Murphy in glowing terms.  He is repeatedly described as one of the “greatest race riders” and was considered by the author as a model for all future riders.  Despite this, the overall tone of the article is that of an owner praising an especially good horse, hunting dog, or pet.  The author uses terms like, “little ebony boy,” “little Kentucky Negro,” “little Negro boy,” and “little jockey” with what appears to be no malice; making the prejudice all the more insidious.  He infantilizes and demeans Murphy in the same sentence in which he sings his praises.  The article, in 1936, would have been considered high praise for Murphy, but today we can see that the article has a white-centric viewpoint that frames the accomplishments achieved by Murphy in racial terms. 

For example, the title of the article “America’s Colored Archer: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, is a derogatory name given to Murphy in reference to his white, British, contemporary Fred Archer. For people of that time, the British had Fred Archer and America had the “Colored Archer”, Isaac Murphy. 

“America’s “Colored Archer”: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, in Keeneland Lexington, Kentucky Opening 1936, National Sporting Library & Museum OVR B 402. L333 1936; Gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith

Isaac B. Murphy
Isaac Murphy, head-and-shoulders portrait, 
in jockey uniform, facing left., ca. 1895. Photograph.
 https://www.loc.gov/item/2005690025/
Frederick Archer
Unknown artist, 1881
chalk, NPG 3961




This stands in stark contrast to the today’s representation of Isaac Murphy, including his 1955 induction into the Racing Hall of Fame and his depiction in The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Dr. Pellom McDaniels III.

Fast forward to today and the contributions of African Americans to the horse racing industry whether as jockeys, trainers, groomers, or hot walkers, are being explored and celebrated in books such as The Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend by Joe Drape, Race Horsemen: How Slavery and Freedom were made at the racetrack, by Katherine C. Mooney, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport, by Edward Hotaling, The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Pellom McDaniels III, and Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield, by Ed Hotaling.

The history of black horsemen, from stable hands, groomsmen, hot walkers, jockeys, and owners has been largely overlooked in mainstream racing history, due in large part to the efforts of white owners, jockeys, and other figures within racing to discredit black horsemen of achievements, knowledge, and skill. As an organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports we are acutely aware that a large portion of America’s Thoroughbred racing history has been marginalized. Through hosting the traveling exhibition A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, and the Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen  NSLM hopes to illuminate this fascinating sporting history for everyone.

To see  sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, the 1936 article on Isaac Murphy, and several contemporary books on African American Horsemen, please come by the Library starting October 8, 2019. 

Join us October 8, 2019  for a Roundtable Discussion as scholars and museum professionals examine the content of Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing. Speakers include Dr. Pellom McDaniels III, Curator of African American Collections in the Stuart A Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, Leon Nichols, Founder of Project to Preserve African American Turf History (PPAATH), and Elizabeth Chew VP of Museum Programs at James Madison’s Montpelier. For more information please visit us here

Valerie joined NSLM in June 2019 as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator. She is responsible for developing K-12 programs, public programs, tours, and cultivating engaging in-gallery and Library experiences.  Valerie completed a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in England and earned her BA in History with a Minor in Professional Education from the University of West Florida. She previously worked as the Programs Assistant at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History where she helped facilitate onsite and outreach programs to over 8,000 participants and as the Curator of Education at the Pensacola Museum of Art where she successfully attained Autism Friendly Business Accreditation. When not working, Valerie enjoys spending her free time reading, hiking, or exploring new places and museums.

For more than 250 years the name Tattersalls has been synonymous with the buying and selling of bloodstock. Over 13,000 horses are auctioned off annually in 32 sales held at Newmarket, Ascot, and Cheltenham in Britain, and at Fairyhouse in Ireland. Total sales have topped 300 million guineas in each of the last two years.

Entrance to Tattersalls. Photo by Claudia Pfeiffer

The young man that would found this famous firm was Richard Tattersall. Born in 1724 at Hurstwood, Richard showed an affinity for horses at an early age and spent most of his time in the family stables. At about ten he was sent to Burnley Grammar School where he studied Latin, Greek, math, and rhetoric under the guidance of Ellis Nutter. Here he also worked with a writing master and learned basic accounting.

Hurstwood. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

At 14, Richard secretly bought his first horse. In actuality an old cart horse, to him it was a treasure. He hid the horse in a vacant byre and sneaked out to care for it and ride it. It wasn’t long before his father spotted him and the secret was out. As a result of this shenanigan Richard was given a choice by his parents. He could either stay in school and seriously pursue a scholarship to Cambridge or he could become an apprentice wool stapler working with a friend of his father’s. In the end it was decided that he would stay in school until he was 16 at which point he would begin his apprenticeship.

Richard Tattersall. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

The apprenticeship did not last long as the wool trade, although lucrative, did not interest Richard. By 1745 he had gone south to London to make his fortune. There is some speculation that Richard was a Jacobite supporter and was sent to London by his father to keep him out of the fighting but biographers differ on whether he was actually a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie or not. In either case Richard went to London and embarked on a career in the horse industry. His first position was with Beevor’s Horse Repository in St. Martin’s Lane, where he would rise to the position of head ostler. He was also always on the lookout for opportunities and wrote to his father about a lucrative trip to Scotland. He had heard of a Scottish nobleman that was selling his stud and Richard convinced a friend to go in with him to purchase it. He bought cheap and sold the stock for a healthy profit in York and London.

In 1753 Richard entered the service of Evelyn Pierrepoint, the 2nd Duke of Kingston, eventually rising to the position of Stud Manager. In this role he not only entered the world of bloodstock breeding but also that of the important and affluent individuals that were organizing and developing the horse racing industry of England. Three years later he married Catherine Somerville, a grand daughter of the 12th Earl of Somerville, and two years after that their only child was born, a son named Edmund. Over the next several years Richard continued to extend his network of friends and acquaintances in the world of horse racing. He developed a reputation for integrity, honesty, and business ability, and is quoted as saying “better to lose commission than a friend.”

Richard Tattersall (1724-95) with ‘Highflyer’ in the background by Beach, Thomas (1738-1806) Private Collection English, out of copyright

In 1766 he had amassed enough capital to enact his dream of building his own bloodstock auction. He entered into a 99 year lease with Lord Grosvenor for a parcel of land at Hyde Park Corner. It was on this tract of land that he would found the Tattersall’s firm. He began conservatively and adapted existing buildings into an office and horse boxes. Eventually he developed the site to include a house, an office, coach houses, kennels, stables, and exercise yards, covering 10 to 15 acres. In 1779 he outfitted two rooms for the use of members of the Jockey Club. These rooms quickly became an important gathering spot for the elite racing group.

Highflyer. From The story of Tattersalls by Peter Willett (1987). NSLM collection.

In addition to his success as a horse dealer, Richard Tattersall was also a successful owner and breeder of horses. In 1779 he bought Highflyer from Lord Bolingbroke for 2,500 pounds. In his three racing seasons, Highflyer was never defeated and pulled in a total of 9,336 pounds in stakes money. Richard retired the horse to the stud barn. At the time everyone was after stock bred by the great Eclipse. Tattersall’s solution was to get as many daughters of Eclipse as he could and breed them with Highflyer thus combining the bloodlines of the two great racers. In addition to Highflyer’s the stud fees, Richard also made money buying Eclipse mares and selling them in foal to Highflyer for top dollar amounts. He also added the best of Highflyer’s daughters to his stud and sold their produce for large profits. Highflyer was champion sire of winners 12 times and his progeny included Derby winners Noble, Sir Peter and Skyscraper, the Oaks winner Volante, and the St. Leger winners Omphale, Cowslip, Spadille and Young Flora. This great success allowed Richard to build a country house he called Highflyer Hall.

Highflyer Hall in the 1950s. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

By all accounts Richard Tattersall was excellent company and truly enjoyed hosting his friends. He began a tradition of Monday Dinners at the lavish dining room at his Hyde Park establishment. These dinners were long affairs and often didn’t wrap up until late in the evening. He frequently entertained at Highflyer Hall as well where his friends, including no less than the Prince of Wales, could count on his well stocked wine cellar and excellent conversation. His popularity was so widespread that he was said to be “free of the road, as no highwayman would molest him, and even a pickpocket returned his handkerchief, with compliments.”

On February 21, 1795 Richard Tattersall died after a short illness. He was 71. He left behind a reputation for kindness, honesty, integrity, and geniality. He also left the well established Tattersall’s firm which his son, Edmund, took over. Direct descendants of Richard would continue to guide the development and growth of Tattersall’s until the death of Sommerville Tattersall in 1942. The firm has continued to prosper and is now known as Tattersalls, no apostrophe.

I’ve only touched on the main points of Richard Tattersall’s life. He’s an interesting character particularly because he operated during a time when Thoroughbred racing was getting well organized in Britain. The history of his family and his company are very much tied up with the history of British horse racing. The Library holds several biographies on Tattersall’s the family and the firm if you’d like to get the full story. Or for a more concise version I can point you to chapters in a variety of books on the history of the British turf.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.

To piggyback on intern Grace Pierce’s wonderful blog post a few weeks ago, I’d like to highlight a little more about Paul Brown. 

In 1986, his widow, Harriet, donated several works of art to the National Sporting Library, the predecessor of the NSLM. Within this generous artistic donation were personal papers, including almost one hundred decorated envelopes.  Though we don’t have the actual letters, the envelopes represent the courtship between the artist and his sweetheart, his future wife.

Both natives of Minnesota, Harriet went to school at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts while Paul’s family had moved to Garden City, New York.  They met after the Brown family had moved, his father staying in touch with friends back home.

The envelopes are sometimes addressed to “Harriet” but more often informally to her by her nickname “Sally,” sometimes spelled “Sallie” – the long letters allowing Paul to have fun, like in the instance below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.61

Many envelopes were decorated with images of stick figures, possibly enacting what Harriet was doing at school, for instance moving into Tyler House at Smith College:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.37ab
Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.44

Or cheering on Harvard against Yale:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.81

Shortly before her graduation, Harriet’s mother passed away, forcing the young woman to return home to St Paul. Her family lived for some time in the St Paul Hotel, a luxury hotel, then and now. The envelope shown below uses an elegant font that would not be out of place at a sophisticated establishment, her initials turning into its own brand. The motif on the left side mirrors that of the bellhop’s uniform, very much in the same manner that hotels tend to do – stamping their design throughout.

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.24

The artist often incorporated the postage stamp into the scene, like in the bellhop above, and in more abstract designs, like the one below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.13

His sense of humor came through, like the envelope below, poking fun at his golfing skills:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.32

One last memento to share: an envelope postmarked on October 17 and decorated with a “just married” banner, perhaps the last letter before their nuptials on November 12, 1923. A fitting end to such a sweet collection.  

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.78

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org