Recently I spent some time working with a bestiary compiled in 1607 by Edward Topsell.  The short version of its title is The Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts, the the full title does an admirable job of summarizing the contents:  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes : Describing the true and lively figure of every beast, with a discourse of their severall names, conditions, kindes, vertues (both naturall and medicinall), countries of their breed, their love and hate to mankinde, and the wonderfull worke of God in their creation, preservation, and destruction : necessary for all divines and students, because the story of every beast is amplified with narrations out of scriptures, fathers, phylosophers, physitians, and poets : wherein are declared divers hyerogliphicks, emblems, epigrams, and other good histories, collected out of all the volumes of Conradus Gesner, and all other writers to this present day.

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The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes by Edward Topsell (1607).  The gift of Thomas E. Marston

Edward Topsell was an English cleric who authored several books.  Today he is best remembered for his zoological works.  The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes was published in 1607, and he followed it up with The History of Serpents in 1608.  In 1658 the two works were published as a single volume, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents.  

Topsell was an archival researcher.  He didn’t venture out into the field and make first hand observations.  Rather, he mined historic accounts for information and compiled the results.  The list of authors consulted is several pages long.  He relied heavily on Conrad Gessner’s, Historiae Animalium (1551-1558), but we also see Aristotle and Pliny among his sources.  The result of all this research is a large collection of entries on a wide variety of animals.  Each entry includes a description of the animal and its behavior, where in the world it can be found, and how it relates to man.  Frequently these entries are accompanied by illustrations.

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Horse (p. 282-435)

Many of the animals covered would have been well known to Europeans.  In general, these entries contain reasonably accurate  images and data.  Some, such as that for the horse, are quite extensive, and indeed these sections about horses and other equines, hounds, and big game animals, such as various deer, are the reason this book is in the NSLM collection.

Occasionally his descriptions or the accompanying images seem a bit… off.  For example the abilities attributed to the squirrel strike me as a tad inflated.  He reports that the squirrel’s tail is used by the animal as a sunshade and umbrella, and that it also functions as a wing, noting the tremendous jumps it makes between trees without sinking, or from great height to the ground without injury.  Ok, I can perhaps understand that, but then the entry goes on to say… “The admirable witte of this beast appeareth in her swimming or passing over the waters… to pass over a river, shee seeketh out some rinde or smal barke of a tree which she setteth upon the water,  and then goeth into it, and holding uppe her taile like a saile, letteth the winde drive her to the other side…” (p. 658).  I’m certainly no expert on squirrel behavior but this seems highly unlikely to me.  And then there’s the accompanying illustration.  This is the fiercest squirrel I’ve ever seen!

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Squirrell (p. 657)

The hedgehog appears as expected in its portrait, however its fighting abilities are described in a surprisingly offensive light.

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Hedg-Hog (p. 277)

“The hedghog rowleth upon the serpent piercing his skin and flesh, (yea many times tearing the flesh from the bones) whereby he scapeth alive and killeth his adversary, carrying the flesh upon his speares, like an honorable banner won from his adversary in the field” (p. 279).

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Cat (p. 103)

His description of the cat rings true.  “Once cattes were all wilde but afterward they retyred to houses wherefore there are plenty of them in all countries…  It is needelesse to spend any time about her loving nature to man, how she flattereth by rubbing her skinne against ones legges, how she whurleth with her voyce, having as many tunes as turnes, for she hath one voice to beg and to complain, another to testifie her delight & pleasure, another among hir own kind by flattring, by hissing, by puffing, by spitting, insomuch as some have thought that they have a peculiar intelligible language among themselves” (p. 105).  However, Topsell also recounts the legends that cats steal ones breath at night, and that they are often the familiars of witches.

Nearly all of the entries include recipes utilizing parts of the animal to create cures for a wide variety of diseases.  Everything from headaches and psoriasis, to epilepsy and the bloody flux might be vanquished.

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Asse (p. 20)

For example the ass can help us with tooth trouble and baldness.  “The poulder of an asses hoofe burned and beaten, laide in vineger and made in little bals, and one of them put into the mouth and there held, helpeth the loosnesse and paine in the teeth.  There is a collection of certaine hard matter about an asses legges, called Lichen, which if it be burned and beaten and put into old oyle, will cause haires to grow out of baldnes, and it is of such force, that if is be applyed to a womans cheek, it will produce the same effect…”(p. 27).

In addition to real animals, Topsell includes a number of mythic animals and monsters.  He tries to give us the same sort of information on these as he does for the other animals but largely ends up recounting physical descriptions, legends, and rumors about these beasts, their behavior, and methods of dispatching them.

Judging by the number of authors contributing to the unicorn entry, these magical equines were widespread at one time.  One thing they all agree on is that the unicorn may be subdued by a virgin.  Beyond that information differs.  Their horns can be used in a wide variety of medicinal tonics, and if one is made into a cup, it can either detect, or neutralize poison depending on the account one believes.

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Unicorne (p. 711)

The Mantichora is supposedly a variety of hyena.  “This beast or rather monster (as Ctesias writeth) is bred among the Indians, having a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatnesse, roughnesse, and feete are like a lyons, his face and eares like unto a mans, his eies gray and collour red, his taile like the taile of a scorpion of the earth, armed with a sting, casting forth sharp pointed quils, his voice like the voice of a small trumpet or pipe, being in course as swift as a hart; his wildnes such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man” (p. 442).

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Mantichora (p. 441)

“His body like the body of a lyon, being very apt both to leape and to run, so as no distance or space doth hinder him, and I take it to be the same beast which Auicen calleth Marion, and Maricomorion, with her taile she woundeth her hunters whether they come before her or behind her, and presently when the quils are cast forth, new ones grow up in their roome, wherewithal she overcommeth all the hunters: and although India be full of divers ravening beastes, yet none of them are stiled with the title of Andropophagi, that is to say, Men-eaters, except only this mantichora” (p. 442).

In the new world there resides a beast known as Su.  “There is a region in the new-found world, called Gigantes, and the inhabitants thereof are called Pantagones; now because their country is cold, being far in the south, they cloath themselves with the skins of a beast called in theyr owne toong Su… The true image therof as it was taken by Theuetus, I have heere inserted, for it is of a very deformed shape, and monstrous presence, a great ravener and an untamable wilde beast” (p. 660).

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Wilde Beast (p. 660)

“When the hunters that desire her skinne set upon her, she flyeth very swift, carrying her yong ones upon her back, and covering them with her broad taile:  Now forsomuch as no dogge or man dareth to approach neere unto her, (because such is the wrath therof, that in the pursuit she killeth all that commeth neare hir:) the hunters digge severall pittes or great holes in the earth, which they cover with boughes sticks, and earth, so weakly that if the beast chance at any time to come upon it, she and her young ones fall down into the pit and are taken.  This cruell, untamable, impatient, violent, ravening, and bloody beast, perceiving that her natural strength cannot deliver her from the wit and policy of men her hunters, (for being inclosed, shee can never get out againe), the hunters being at hande to watch her downfall, and worke her overthrow, first of all to save her young ones from taking & taming, she destroyeth them all with her owne teeth; for there was never any of them taken alive, and when she seeth the hunters come about her, she roareth, cryeth, howleth, brayeith, and uttereth such a fearfull noysome, and terrible clamor, that the men which watch to kill her, are not thereby a little amazed, but at last being animated, because there can be no resistance, they approch, and with their darts and spears wound her to death, and then take off her skin, and leave the carcasse in the earth.  And this is all that I finde recorded of this most savage beast” (p. 660).

If you’d like to check out Topsell’s information on your favorite animal or to take a look at some of the other monster entries just contact me and let me know.  I would be happy to get the book out of the rare book room for you.


SONY DSCErica 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

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Gamekeepers are employed by land owners to ensure there is enough game or fish for the owner’s sport. People in this occupation use an intense knowledge of the land and of wildlife to create habitats best suited to the game they hope to cultivate.

The Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell (Wikimedia Commons)

Activities include, building coverts, planting food sources, breeding birds, and eliminating predators.  Although the focus of such efforts is game and game birds, other wildlife in the area often benefits was well.

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Training setters.  Victorian and Edwardian Field Sports from Old Photographs, by J.N.P. Watson (1978). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Mrs. Jacqueline B. Mars.

Gamekeepers also organize the hunts. Not only do they guide hunters and stalkers to the best spots and provide game law information, they are also involved with the tools of the hunt. They rear and train hunting dogs, flush game, and collect and document the bag of the hunt.

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Keepers bring in some of the bag.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is an old profession, probably it’s been around ever since individual people owned large swaths of land.  In Medieval times gamekeepers were royal appointments and tended to focus mostly on protecting deer and wild boar as these were favorite royal game animals. Traditionally gamekeeping is a male occupation, however in his book, The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, Jonathan Garnier Ruffer describes the exploits of at least one early female gamekeeper.

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Female gamekeeper.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In the 1820s Polly Fishbourne was the gamekeeper at Holkham estate. She had a reputation for ferocity and so was fortunate to find herself in a profession that offered a ready target for her aggression – she was the bane of the local poachers. Women also make appearances as gamekeepers during World War I, often filling in for their husbands.

The Library’s resources on gamekeeping are focused on Great Britain from the very late 18th century through the 20th century.  Some books are essentially gamekeeping text books such as, The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910). This book gives a detailed description of the keeper’s daily activities over the course of the year.

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The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910).

Other books give a more general overview of the lifestyle and tasks of the gamekeeper.  For example, The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879) not only talks about the gamekeeper’s techniques and work, but also describes his living conditions, and the likely occupations of his wife.

For me, the most interesting books by far are the autobiographies written by the gamekeepers themselves. These colorful accounts of how the authors came to be gamekeepers and of the adventures they had during their careers are quite entertaining.

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Gamekeeper, John Wilkins.  The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

A good example is this excerpt from The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892), in which he describes tricking a known poacher into stealing a clutch of rotten eggs, and the encounter that follows…

“”Good morning, John,” says Harry, as soon as he sees me.  “Good morning, Harry,” says I, politely. “I was just remarking,” says Harry, “What a pity it is to cut down such nice, young oak timber, just growing into money.” Whereat his two companions burst out laughing, thinking, no doubt, how nicely he was smoothing me over. “You seem amused, my dear,” he went on, pleasantly, addressing the maid, who had a nest full of eggs in her hands. “She is so fond of bird’s eggs, John.”  This to me, of course. They all laughed again at this, and I, nothing loth, joined in. When I thought that they had laughed enough, at my expense, I stepped up to Harry, who was still on the grin, and said: — “Yes, and so are you fond of bird’s eggs, aren’t you?”  In a moment his countenance changed, and the grin grew ghastly, as he angrily asked what I meant. “I mean,” said I, “That pocketful of pheasant’s eggs you took from that clump of briars up yonder.” And before he knew what I was up to, I struck his pockets with the flat of my hand, and smash went the rotten egg!

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The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

At this he began cursing and swearing, but I merely remarked: — “Good morning, Harry.” Then, turning to the other two, I observed :– “you won’t be so fast to laugh at John Wilkins another time, perhaps.” Thereupon I left them, I indulging in a little mirth on my own account, but you should have seen the change that came over their countenances!”  (Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, p. 112-113)

Interestingly, in addition to the books on gamekeeping, the Library has quite a few about poachers and poaching.

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A selection of books about poachers and poaching.

They tend to fall into categories similar to those on gamekeeping. Topics include the various tools and techniques of the poacher, specific guides for capturing various types of animals, general woodcraft advice, and techniques for avoiding gamekeepers and the law. The personal accounts of poachers are even more colorful than those of the their opponents, the gamekeepers.

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The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879, this edition 1973) National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The fascinating thing about the tales of ‘gamekeeper vs. poacher’ is how they’re told with a sense of nostalgia by gamekeepers and poachers alike. Despite the injuries sustained on both sides in these conflicts, and the often stiff penalties incurred by the poachers, including fines, prison, and transportation, the participants describe these events with pride.

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The Poacher’s Companion by E. G. Walsh (1982). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The stories I read were all by retired old men. Perhaps, the distance of time smooths off the rough bits and they are just reliving the glories of youth. They put me in mind of the old Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons.

Gamekeeping continues today. While the job has evolved over time, many techniques remain the same. Today there are formal training programs at colleges, and professional  gamekeeping organizations. To see what is involved check out The Scottish Gamekeepers or National Gamekeepers.

To learn more about gamekeepers, poachers, wildlife conservation, shooting, and hunting, come see me in the Main Reading Room and I’ll be happy to get you started.


 

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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 that we’ve completed reorganizing and re-cataloging the books in the Main Reading Room, I’ve begun work on the books housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

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The F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room in the lower level of the Library.

This room has a controlled climate that protects our delicate, rare, or unique items, including books, manuscripts, and ephemera.  Finding beautiful or interesting items within this collection is common but I thought I’d share a pair of items that really caught my eye recently.

The Library has many items housed in clamshell boxes.  Often these protective cases are used to save fragile antiquarian books from further damage and soiling, however, some books are issued in clamshells by their publishers.  These tend to be deluxe editions, usually with elaborate bindings and featuring signatures from the author and or artist.  One such volume is Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

This rather subdued green case does indeed contain a deluxe volume, one of only 50 produced.  The lid of this case hides a surprise.  Mounted inside are 18 hand tied fishing flies in pristine condition.  It was quite the surprise to pull open the lid and find these delicate works of art.

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the flies.  They were all tied by Jack Gartside.

In addition to the book, and the flies, there is a folio containing unbound plates of all the black and white illustrations that appear in the book.  Each signed by the artist, Alan James Robinson.

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Illustration by Alan James Robinson, in Trout & Bass (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The six watercolor images from the book are also included as unbound plates.  Each is individually cased and is signed by the artist, Alan James Robinson.

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Cutthroat Trout by Alan James Robinson, in Trout & Bass (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The whole collection makes a very nice deluxe edition and housed safely in its clamshell case, and in the controlled climate of the Rare Book Room, it will continue to amaze visitors for many decades to come.

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Trout & Bass: a diverse collection of angling literature, both prose and poetry, compiled by Stephen Bodio (1993).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The second item of interest turned up in a container marked simply “ephemera.”  Among its contents we found a large wooden box with a colorful illustration on its lid.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Sliding the lid off we discovered the box contained a puzzle.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

A cube puzzle to be precise.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

This sort of puzzle features a different image on each side of its cube shaped pieces, so there are six puzzles in one box.  Very efficient!  The six in one feature isn’t the only advantage cube puzzles have over traditional jigsaw puzzles, their cubical pieces are also much harder to lose than the small flat pieces that make up a jigsaw.

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An individual cube from the puzzle.  Three of the six images/sides are visible.  Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

In addition to the image on the lid of the box, there are five posters showing the other five images that can be assembled from the cubes.  One is of fox hunting, two of wing shooting, and two of stag hunting.  All are by John Sanderson-Wells. 

The simple appearance of the cube puzzle is deceptive.  The user has to first figure out which of the six sides on each piece belongs to the design they are working on, and only after that can one determine where the piece belongs in the overall image.

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Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  Housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Both these items are behind the locked door in the Rare Book Room but that doesn’t mean you can’t see them.  You just need to contact us prior to your visit for an appointment.  You can also schedule a tour of the Rare Book Room during which you will see an assortment of the interesting and unique items housed there.  To make an appointment or to book a tour, contact us at info@nationalsporting.org


 

SONY DSCErica 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’ve recently been cataloging some of our Cecil Aldin books and I’ve been enjoying his work so I’m sharing it, and some of what I’ve learned about him, here with you.  Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) was a successful and prolific artist.  He is probably best known for his dog portraits and sporting scenes, but his illustrations filled books, magazines, and newspapers, and frequently appeared on posters.

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Full Cry, from The Fallowfield Hunt.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

Aldin believed that it was critical to work from life.  In much the same way that writers are told to write what they know, he drew and painted things that he knew well.  He was a life long hunter and followed fox hounds, harriers, beagles, and bassets during his sporting career.  In fact he attained the office of Master twice.  First as Master of the Peppard Farmers’ Harriers, and later as Master of Foxhounds for the South Berks Hunt.

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Aldin, third from the left, as Master of the Peppard Farmers’ Harriers.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

His long and intimate knowledge of hunt riding gives his hunt scenes authenticity.  He frequently sketched in the saddle and was able to capture the idiosyncrasies of individual riders to such a degree that people who knew them were able to identify them in paintings.

After his death his daughter published one of his sketchbooks and it provides interesting insight to his artistic process.  I love how the setting is so concrete while the riders, horses, and hounds drift through the scene like ghosts.

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The Aterstone.  From Hunting Scenes (1936) by Cecil Aldin.  The gift of Harry T. Peters, Jr.

Compare this sketch of the South Berks near Shinfield with a final painting of a similar scene.

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South Berks near Shinfield.  From Hunting Scenes (1936) by Cecil Aldin.  The gift of Harry T. Peters, Jr.
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The South Berks.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

Aldin was surrounded by dogs and hounds of all sorts his entire life.  Here are a couple pictures of his “models” in the studio.

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From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This photo and the following etching of Micky the wolfhound once again show Aldin working from life.

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Micky napping in the studio.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Micky the wolfhound.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Aldin’s favorite model was the bull terrier, Cracker.

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Cracker on Sentry Duty.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Cracker outlived his master by over two years.  He was so popular with the public that his own eventual death received coverage on the radio and in the newspapers.  Several papers printed obituaries.

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Cracker’s obituaries.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Aldin’s life story is full of interesting episodes and people.  One story that really caught my eye has to do with the remount station that he ran during World War I.  Despite the doubts of the war office, he staffed his remount station entirely with women.

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A group of women remount workers at Purley Remount Depot.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

From his hunting experiences he knew many  women who were skilled horse handlers.  In the end there were over 100 women, from all social classes and of all ages, working in the remount station.  It was so successful that by the end of the war, women were employed in remount stations across England.

If you would like to read more about Cecil Aldin’s life, or to see some of his illustrations and paintings, stop by the Library and see me.  I’d love to share some more stories from his interesting life.


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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 recently ran across the book Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes in the Library’s collection.  It’s a small book that pairs colorful illustrations with whimsical collective nouns for groups of various sorts of fish.

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A Hover of Trout.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.
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A Cluster of Porcupine Fish.  Brian Wildsmith’s Fishes (1968).  NSLM Main Reading Room.  The gift of George Chapman.

Many collective nouns, such as flock of birds, school of fish, class of students, or pack of hounds, are authorized or accepted terms in English.  However, there is a seemingly limitless variety of group nouns being created by everyday English language speakers.  The generation of these terms is a word game that allows speakers to customize their language on the fly, displaying their cleverness and imagination.  Collective terms tend to focus on a characteristic or behavior of the thing being named.

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A Paddling of Ducks.  Image by R. G. Daniel.

For example, a paddling of ducks, or a murmuration of starlings.  A quick google search for collective nouns provides many examples of this dynamic language generation.

The writer of this blog details how attendees at a mathematics conference came up with group nouns for mathematicians.  My favorite was “A distribution of probabilists.”

Here is a list of group nouns for Pokemon.

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A Mischief of Pikachus.  Image from Zam.com

The website All-sorts.org leverages the power of Twitter to collect group nouns.  They recently held a contest in which participants submitted images illustrating their favorite collective noun.  Here is “An Orchard of Macs” by Chris Dobson…

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An Orchard of Macs.  Illustration by Chris Dobson.

and “A Tangle of Octupuses” by Rachel Wilson.

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A Tangle of Octopuses.  Illustration by Rachel Wilson

Even Downton Abbey gets in on the fun in season four.  While watching several men who are contending for Lady Mary’s attention depart, Rose asks, “What’s a group noun for suitors?”  Cora replies, “What do you think? A desire?”  Rosamund responds, “A desire of suitors. Very good.”

While we are all familiar with these fun terms, I’ll bet you didn’t know that the tradition of generating clever or whimsical group nouns goes back at least to the late 1400’s.  The Boke of St. Albans (1486) is a manual on hunting, hawking, and heraldry for the education of gentlemen.  This education includes the correct terms for groups of animals.  Knowing the jargon is a critical indication of membership in any group and aristocrats are no exception.  The list, Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, provides the appropriate terminology for discussing groups of animals in a hunting setting.

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The Boke of St. Albans (1881) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Interestingly it also includes quite a few humorous terms for groups of people and professions.  Demonstrating that people at that time enjoyed clever or especially apt terms just as we do today.  And perhaps suggesting to gentleman that displaying their wit and humor by creating such a term is acceptable behavior.

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The Gentleman’s Recreation by Nicholas Cox (1674) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Later books of courtesy reprinted many of these terms and expanded on them.  The Gentleman’s Recreation (1674) and The Complete Sportsman (1775) are two other examples that the Library holds in addition to later editions of The Boke of St. Albans.

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The Complete Sportsman by Thomas Fairfax (1775) in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at the NSLM.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In his article, Proper Terms: An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of Phrases in “The Book of St Albans,” 1486, entitled “The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys” and similar lists, for The Philological Society in 1914, John Hodgkin collects lists of these collective nouns found in early manuscripts and books and analyzes their generation and historical development.  The collection of lists is worth a look, not least for the ease of reading them compared to reading the historical fonts found in the original books.  Hodgkin argues that many of these words were never used in actual conversation and that some of them were not even meant as collective nouns at all.  He goes on to give the likely origins of each of these terms, many of which are confusing to modern readers, but reveal the same sense of humor and whimsy as our modern-made terms once they are explained.

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Tapster. Image from OpenClipArt.org

For example the collective term for tapsters or wine drawers is listed as, “A Promise of Tapsters.”  “Refers to the usual habit of tapsters or wine drawers, who say that they “are coming now, sir” when they have every intention of attending to about a dozen other thirsty souls first” (p. 163).

What are some of your favorite collective nouns?  Let me know in the comments section.


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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

Phar Lap is Dead!  The terrible headline traveled around the globe and plunged Australia into mourning.  Why was this headline news?  Who was Phar Lap and why were Australians heartbroken by his death?  Phar Lap was a thoroughbred race horse with an incredible story.  It is the story of an inauspicious beginning, a triumphant rise to fame, and a tragic and mysterious death.

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Phar Lap.  From The Age

The horse that would be named Phar Lap was born in New Zealand, by Night Raid, out of Entreaty.  At the yearling auction at Trentham the chestnut colt was lot 41, the last one of the day.  He was large and clumsy, but based on his pedigree alone, Australian trainer Harry Telford wanted him.  Telford had convinced American David J. Davis to buy the colt sight unseen.  Telford’s brother placed the winning bid, 160 guineas.  A better bargain has never been had on a race horse but that fact would not be revealed for some time yet.

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Harry Telford.  From Museum Victoria

Phar Lap was shipped to Australia to embark on his training and eventual racing career.  When he arrived he was skinny, had developed boils on his face, and was so gangly and clumsy that Davis flat out refused to pay to train him.  Telford couldn’t afford to buy the horse from Davis, however they came to a lease arrangement where Telford would feed and train the horse for three years in exchange for two thirds of its winnings.  Initial training efforts were not very successful and Telford decided to have Phar Lap gelded and turned out for a while to mature.

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David J. Davis.  From Museum Victoria

As a two year old, his training got underway in earnest.  The regimen included grueling workouts where Phar Lap carried heavy weights up and down the coastal dunes.  It was in Telford’s stables that Phar Lap would meet and bond with the young strapper Tom Woodcock.  Tom fed and cared for the horse, and spent more time with him than any other human being.  The two developed a deep friendship and Tom was rarely more than a dozen yards away from Phar Lap for the rest of the horse’s life.

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Tom Woodcock and Phar Lap.  From Phar Lap, the story of the Big Horse, by I. R. Carter (1965).  NSLM. The gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith.

Phar Lap’s racing record is 51 starts for 37 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds, including a streak of 14 consecutive wins between September 1930 and March 1931.  The highlight of this series was an impressive three length win at the Melbourne Cup while carrying the high weight of 138 pounds.  

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Phar Lap wins the 1930 Melbourne Cup by three full lengths, finishing with a time of 3 minutes and 27 seconds.  IMAGE CREDIT: National Library of Australia / Wikimedia Commons

He frequently won by several lengths and preferred to give ground early in a race and then run down the horses ahead of him.  He also frequently carried heavy weight handicaps, although that didn’t seem to bother him except for the 1931 Melbourne Cup race in which he failed to place while carrying 150 pounds, 52 more than the winner of the race.  He had incredible stamina and often raced a grueling schedule.  In one week in 1930 Phar Lap not only won four races in seven days, including the Melbourne Cup, but also survived an assassination attempt.  Someone shot at him from a car on Saturday morning, he raced and won the same day, won the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, and two other races on Thursday and Saturday.

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Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track c 1930
Charles Daniel Pratt, 1893-1968 – Held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria

The public fell in love with Phar Lap.  The 1930s were difficult depression years in Australia and the people latched onto the horse’s rise from obscurity to complete domination of the racing world.  He was an underdog who succeeded through hard work and heart, overcoming obstacles such as heavy weight handicaps and even an assassination attempt, in his unstoppable rise to the pinnacle of Australian racing.  They saw in him traits that they valued as a nation, and they thrilled to see him win.

Having met every challenge available in Australia, Telford and Davis set their sights on conquering American racing.  It was decided that Phar Lap would make the long voyage across the Pacific and arrive in time to participate in the Agua Caliente Handicap on Sunday, March 20, 1932.

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Phar Lap being loaded onto the ship.  Taken from The Age

He arrived safely on January 15 to great fanfare and spent the next two months getting acclimated.  On the day of the race Phar Lap didn’t disappoint.  In front of a racecourse packed with 20,000 spectators, he let the pack lead him and then ran them all down effortlessly, winning by two lengths.  He broke the track record for the distance while he was at it.  Watch Phar Lap winning the Agua Caliente Handicap here.  Phar Lap was in peak condition and poised to take the American racing circuit by storm.  Sixteen days later he was dead.

After the Agua Caliente race, Phar Lap was taken to a breeding farm belonging to Edward D. Perry, near Menlo Park, California.  Here he was resting and training as plans were made for his tour of the United States.  On the morning of Tuesday, April 5th, Tom Woodcock found Phar Lap in obvious distress.  The vet that accompanied the party from Australia was summoned.  Initially they thought he was suffering from a colic attack but as his condition rapidly worsened, they began to suspect poisoning.  Despite their best efforts Phar Lap hemorrhaged and died shortly after noon.  By 3:30 the news was out.  Expressions of shock, disbelief, sadness, and condolence poured in from around the world.  How could this have happened?  As it turns out, this question still has not been definitively answered even 85 years later.

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Suspicions that Phar Lap had been poisoned surfaced quickly in the press.
Source: Museum Victoria

The initial autopsy noted that the stomach and intestines were severely inflamed and the lining of the stomach was badly perforated.  The speed of death was much faster than one would expect from colic and almost immediately rumors of intentional poisoning began to spread.  Multiple agencies and individuals investigated, often reporting contradictory information and results.  The possibilities are wide ranging.  He may have been poisoned, either intentionally or accidentally.  It’s possible that someone wanted to kill Phar Lap, after all he had already been the object of one assassination attempt.  Accidental poisoning may have resulted from eating forage that was tainted with insecticide, or through arsenic contained in a tonic.  He may have developed severe bloat, or intestinal tympany, from eating wet alfalfa.  Others have suggested colic or colitis x.  At a minimum one can say that the case continues to hold the public’s interest.  Every few years a new article is published claiming to have definitively solved the mystery.  The truth may never be known.

Amazingly, his death is not the end of Phar Lap’s story. Almost immediately his heart was preserved and given to The Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, where it was exhibited next to the heart of an army remount horse.  Phar Lap’s 14 pound heart dwarfed that of the remount which weighed only 6 pounds.  It can now be seen at the National Museum of Australia.

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Phar Lap’s heart.  From the National Museum of Australia

His skeleton went to The Dominion Museum in Wellington, New Zealand (now called The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).  For five years it was stored in boxes in the basement due to lack of funds to articulate and display it.  When a subscription list was opened in the Referee, the money was easily raised in just two weeks.  Phar Lap’s bones were assembled and his skeleton was put on display in 1938.

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From The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

His mounted hide is in The National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne.  It is a masterpiece of taxidermy and was completed by Louis, Leslie and John Jonas of Yonkers, New York.  Although they had never before prepared a horse, their outstanding workmanship on wild animal exhibits was well known in museums.  The exhibit opened in 1933 and remains one of the museum’s most popular.  Through these exhibits Phar Lap’s amazing story survives and continues to inspire those that hear it.

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Equus caballus, taxidermied mount of the racehorse Phar Lap. Registration no. C 10726.  Photographer: Benjamin Healley  Source: Museums Victoria
Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY (Licensed as Attribution 4.0 International)

The Library holds many biographies of famous horses. If you’d like to learn more about the lives, adventures and accomplishments of these fascinating animals, including Phar Lap, stop by the Main Reading room.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars 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

This weekend I’ll be going to the Virginia Foxhound Show.  It will be my first time at a hound show and although I’ll be going with someone knowledgeable, I’ve been doing a little homework and thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned thus far.

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The Virginia Foxhound Club Hound Show at Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott’s “Montpelier,” Orange , Virginia, 1959, by Jean Bowman. National Sporting Library and Museum, Archive Collection (MC0040).

The developmental history of foxhound breeds can and has filled volumes.  The English foxhound was developed through the cross breeding of several varieties of hounds used to hunt hare and stag.  The goal was to create a pack hound with nose and stamina enough to hunt the red fox across long distances, with mounted hunters following behind.  As the story goes, the American foxhound’s development began with a pack of hounds imported to the colonies by Robert Brooke in 1650. Over the next 200 years additional imports of English, French, and Irish hounds were crossbred with the American hounds ultimately resulting in the modern American foxhound.

Although both the English and American foxhounds were developed to hunt fox, breeders select for traits most beneficial in their local terrain.  This divergent selection has resulted in hounds with distinctly different physical characteristics.  The best summation of this difference that I found is that, American foxhounds are the Thoroughbred of foxhounds, while the English are Percherons.

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Example of an American Foxhound.  Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1975 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

American foxhounds should have a slightly domed skull, long, large ears, large eyes, straight muzzle, well laid-back shoulders, a moderately long back, fox-like feet, and a slightly curved tail.

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Example of an English foxhound.  Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1973 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

By comparison, the English foxhound is a bit shorter and more heavily built.  They have a wider skull and long muzzle.  Their ears are noticeably shorter and higher set than the American hounds, and their legs are muscular and straight-boned, with rounded, almost cat-like paws.

While hound shows can be interesting to the layperson, and are certainly social events for the groups involved, their main purpose is to further refine the development of the breeds.  It is an opportunity for breeders to see what others have accomplished, and to display their own successes.  Bloodlines with favorable traits are identified and plans are made to add them to breeding programs.

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Program for the first Virginia Foxhound Show, 1934.  National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0071)

The first Virginia Foxhound Show was associated with the American Foxhound Club and was held in 1934 at the Montpelier estate of Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott.  The meet was suspended during WWII and did not resume until 1955 at which time it was run by the newly formed Virginia Foxhound Club.   The show continued at Montpelier until 1961 when it was moved to the Upperville Horse Show grounds.  In 1965 it was relocated for several years to William W. Brainard, Jr.’s  estate, Glenara, near Marshall.  Finally it settled at Oatlands in 1970 and remained there until 1996 when it moved to its current location at Morven Park.

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This emblem decorates the silver cups presented as trophies in The Virginia Hound Show.  National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0040)

Although the show originally focused only on American Foxhounds, in the late 1960s it began to open up and now features American, English, Cross-bred, and Penn-Marydel Foxhounds.  Today the Virginia Foxhound Show is the largest sanctioned hound show in the world.

Here’s what I’ve been told to expect at the show.  All handlers wear long white coats.  Those showing English hounds, sport bowler hats, while all others use riding helmets.  English hounds are shown off leash, showcasing natural movement.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1974 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

There are contests for the best of both sexes of, individual hounds, couples of hounds, and parent/offspring, within each class, American, English, Cross-bred, and Penn-Marydel.  The hounds are judged for conformation to an ideal breed standard.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1969 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)
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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1972 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

There are also pack classes of five couple of hounds.  These are judged as a unit on uniformity, conformation, and way of moving; on the obedience of hounds to huntsman; and on the responsiveness of hounds to huntsman.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1974 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

The Junior Handler Class is open to children associated with exhibiting packs.  There are two divisions, aged under 10, and aged 11-16.  Participants are judged on handling and presentation of the foxhound.  This promises to be quite cute as the children sport the same white coats and hats as adult handlers.  I’m looking forward to seeing all the hounds in person!

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1975 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

If you would like to learn more about foxhounds, hunts, or sporting dogs in general, the Library has many resources available.  There are extensive archival materials on various hunts, their hound pedigrees, journals of kennel activities, hound shows, and hunt diaries.  The Main Reading Room houses books on a wide range of breeds and strains.  You can also learn about training sporting dogs, kennel construction, or the medical care of these canine athletes.  Readers can catch up on current events in the hound community through Hounds magazine, also available in the Main Reading Room.  Come visit me in the Library and I’d be happy to connect you with any of these resources.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars 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