In July 1836, a stage coach at Walham Green suffered an accident: runaway horses overturned the coach and several passengers suffered broken limbs. One of the passengers was forcibly thrown from the coach, but escaped with only a strained back. That passenger was named James Pollard, a painter of coaches and carriages who was also a great traveler across the English countryside in pursuit of his occupation.

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“Omnibuses Leaving the Nag’s Head, Holloway,” Cat. No. 140, from James Pollard 1792-1867 by N. C. Selway, 1965. National Sporting Library & Museum.

James Pollard (1792-1867) was the son of engraver Robert Pollard (1755-1838). The elder Pollard strove to encourage his son in an artist’s career, and young James worked alongside his father producing drawings and designs for engravings while honing his skills as a painter.

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“‘Fly Fishing,’ from a painting by James Pollard, engraved on wood by F. Babbage,” from Animal Painters of England From the Year 1650, Volume II by Sir Walter Gilbey. National Sporting Library & Museum.

In 1820, James was commissioned by Edward Orme to produce a painting of a mail coach for a signboard of an inn. The painting caught the eye of the Austrian ambassador, who requested another by the same artist. Three more orders came in, and James was on the road to an established career painting coaches, horses, and passengers. He would go on to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1821 and again in 1824.

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“The Bath & Bristol Mail Coach By Moonlight,” Cat. No. 19, from James Pollard 1792-1867 by N. C. Selway, 1965. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Pollard was a sportsman, and although he enjoyed most success as a painter of coaches, he also painted other sporting scenes. He was an avid fisherman and painted angling scenes multiple times. He also painted scenes from the Epsom races and occasionally foxhunting scenes.

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(after) James Pollard (English, 1792-1867) Aylesbury Grand Steeplechase, The Light Weight Stakes: Starting Field, Plate 1, 1836 aquatint on paper, 15 ¼ x 20 ½ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012

In 1825, James married and went into business for himself as an independent artist. He enjoyed great success in the 1830s, but in 1840 his wife and youngest daughter both died. It was reported that James never truly recovered his old form. His career suffered, though he continued to produce paintings into the late 1850s. In his later years, he retired to live with his son and family, and he died in 1867 at 75 years old.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. 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 John by e-mail 

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Most of us have probably seen a wooden duck decoy in an antiques store, at an auction, or in a friend’s home, but the decoy was a utilitarian tool long before it became a collectible sculpture.  Hunters of waterfowl have used decoys from earliest times to lure their quarry into striking range.  Rather than attempting to stalk skittish birds which would fly off at the slightest sound, hunters could lay a trap that would get the birds to come to them.  By putting out a spread of decoys the hunters might trick the target birds into thinking the area safe and welcoming.  As the birds fly in for a landing, the hunters are able to bag a few and put some food on the table.  The use of decoys made waterfowl hunting a reliable source of food.

Decoys have been made out of handy materials such as reeds, carved from a variety of woods, made of cork or injection molded plastic, and even been tethered live birds.

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Duck decoys ca. 400 BC–AD 100
Lovelock Cave, Humboldt County, Nevada
Tule rush, feathers, cordage, paint, 31 x 12 cm
Collected by Mark R. Harrington
13/4512, 13/4513.
Image from The National Museum of the American Indian.

Excavations in 1924 at Lovelock Cave, Nevada revealed a cache of duck decoys made by Native Americans approximately 2000 years ago.  The bodies are made of tule and some of them have duck feathers attached to make them seem more life-like.  Today they can be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

In the United States, following the Civil War, subsistence hunting of waterfowl was rapidly replaced by market hunting.  The booming cities of the country required staggering amounts of food, and fowl of all sorts was on the menu.   To meet this need hunters began to harvest waterfowl in huge numbers.  To do this, they needed equally large numbers of decoys.  With a wide spread of decoys, several flocks of waterfowl could be lured into a small area.  Hunters would then use extremely large shotguns called punt guns, to harvest as many as 100 birds with a single shot.

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Waterfowl hunter with mounted punt gun.  By Sydney Harold Smith (or collaborators on his behalf) – This file has been provided by York Museums Trust as part of a GLAMwiki partnership., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31565244

At the same time the popularity of sport hunting was on the rise.  The wealthy members of shooting clubs created an additional demand for decoys.  Some market hunters began to supplement their income by carving and selling decoys to sport hunters.  Regional carvers emerged specializing in the local varieties of waterfowl.  This trend towards the commercialization of decoy carving was intensified when over-hunting led to the regulation of wildfowl shooting.

In 1913, the Federal Migratory Bird Law, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, effectively ended market gunning in the United States and transformed waterfowl hunting into a highly regulated sport.  Many of the men that had made a living through market hunting now turned to decoy carving.  As specific carvers became highly sought after, wait lists for custom, hand-carved decoys became common.   Seeing an opportunity, entrepreneurs such as George Petersen, Jasper N. Dodge, and William J. Mason opened factories to produce decoys on an industrial scale.

 

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Early factory Mallard drake.  George Petersen Factory.  Image from RJB Antiques.

Fast forward to the present day and what began as hunting equipment has become valuable American folk art.  Decoys carved by individuals, as well as those made in factories, are in high demand.  In 2007 two decoys by A. Elmer Crowell, a carver from East Harwich, Massachusetts, were sold in a private sale for $1.1 million each!  His preening Pintale drake duck, and sleeping Canada Goose, are both quite beautiful and have each set records in past sales.  I expect they will again the next time they are for sale.

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Preening Pintail drake, circa 1915.  Image from Antiques and the Arts Weekly.
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The sleeping Canada Goose decoy, circa 1917.  Image from Antiques and the Arts Weekly.

The Library holds numerous books on the history of the use and manufacture of decoys, as well as books dealing with the collection of them.  If you have a decoy sitting on the mantle piece perhaps you can come to the Library to research it’s origins.


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

Now is the time when people set their resolutions for the new year. The Library’s main resolutions for 2019 are:

(1) Complete setup of the Library’s new Digital Repository
(2)  Catalog the periodicals collection

Speaking of the periodicals project, we were going through some old copies of Thoroughbred Record to catalog them, and picked up the New Year’s issue for 1936 (January 4).

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Thoroughbred Record, January 4, 1936

We came across an article on New Year’s Resolutions by “Salvator,” the pen-name of John Hervey. The article fell under the paper’s “Marginalia” heading.

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Salvator has quite a few ideas for resolutions, all of them best practices for people associated with horse racing in some fashion. For example, he has insightful (and cynical) resolutions for bettors:

Remember that the average of winning favorites is about 38 per cent.
That playing hunches is playing dunces.
That inside info is outside bunco.
That book-makers are your natural enemies.
That the totalisator, only, cannot be bought.
That all players die broke, anyhow.

Or his resolutions for jockeys:

Less rough riding.
More judgment.
More respect for the judges.
Less anxiety to beat the starter.
More skill at the finish.
Drastic treatment for swelled-head.

He even suggests resolutions for the racing commissions, track managers, and breeders. For trainers:

More interest in good horsemanship.
More interest in good horses.
Less interest in bad horses.
A stern stand against “dope.”
More consideration for horses as horses.
Less consideration for them as gambling tools.
And iron hand on subordinates.

How many of Salvator’s resolutions still hold up today? For us, we’re confident our projects will move forward to completion in the coming year, and hope all the best for the resolutions of our NSLM members and blog readers. Happy New Year!


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. 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 John by e-mail