Coming from a non-sporting background I’ve learned a great deal about sporting topics since I joined NSLM three years ago.  One of my favorite discoveries is an American game bird, Scolopax minor, or the American Woodcock.  This bizarre bird also goes by a large number of colloquial names such as the Timberdoodle, the Whistledoodle, the Labrador twister, the Bogsucker, the Mudsnipe, and the Hokumpoke, just to name a few.

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Photo: Fyn Kynd/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The timberdoodle is a small bird with a well-camouflaged chunky body, a short neck and tail, and a very long, narrow, bill that ends in a prehensile tip.  This mobile tip allows it to find and grasp earthworms, the woodcock’s preferred food, as it probes underground with its bill.  The ears are positioned ahead of its eyes, between the eye socket and the base of its bill.  Its large eyes are located high and far back on its head giving it one of the broadest fields of vision of any vertebrate.   In order to provide space for this configuration, the woodcock’s brain is essentially upside down.  Its cerebellum is found under the rest of the brain, just above its spine, rather than in the usual position in the rear of the brain case.  No other bird sports this configuration.

Besides being odd looking the timberdoodle is also oddly behaved.  They have a very distinctive walk that resembles the inverse of a pigeon’s.  They step forward heavily with the front foot and rock their body back and forth while keeping their head still.  It is speculated that this disturbs worms in the ground allowing the woodcock to target them.  Regardless of function it is quite entertaining to watch.  Their vocalizations are also unusual.  The most common sound is described as a “peent,” and more closely resembles the call of an insect than of a bird.

Woodcocks eat their weight daily in earthworms and other invertebrates.  This diet requires moist ground and woodcock cover usually consists of young, dense forest with  plenty of damp, brambly, and brushy areas.  They drink a lot of water and rather than tilting the head back in the fashion of other birds, the timberdoodle uses its bill like a straw and sucks up a drink.

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Woodcock range map by Lang Elliott.

The range of the American woodcock covers the eastern half of North America from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  They breed in the north and migrate south for the winter.  They are crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk, and migrate by night.

In breeding season males sing and perform aerial displays to attract females.  Females brood and raise the chicks, usually four, alone.  Her nest is a simple hollow on the ground.

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Woodcock eggs.  From the Missouri Department of Conservation

After 21 days of brooding the eggs split longitudinally and chicks, which are able to travel within just a few hours, emerge.  The chicks are born with nearly adult sized feet and their bills start out at 15 mm and grow 2 mm a day.  They will begin probing for worms after two days, are nearly full grown and flying in less than a month, and the family breaks up at 6 to 8 weeks.

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Hen and chicks.  From Linda Rockwell’s Photo Feathers blog.

The enemies of the woodcock include domestic dogs and cats, foxes, and various raptors.  Their eggs are sought after by opossums, raccoons, skunks, and snakes.  In order to lure a predator away from her nest, the hen will create a distraction by faking a broken wing some distance from the nest and then breaking into flight at the last second as the predator attacks.  There have also been rare but persistent reports of woodcock hens flying out of harms way with their chicks clutched between their thighs.  Most modern authorities are skeptical of this behavior but the tales of witnesses continue to come in.

The American woodcock is a game bird whose hunting is regulated to a short period of time and a low bag limit.  The hunting can be challenging due not only to the woodcock’s preferred environment but also to its sometimes stubborn refusal to flush from cover.  One author I read said that he had to practically kick the bird out of cover.  Due to this predisposition to freeze in place and to it’s excellent camouflage, it is best to use a good bird dog, a pointer, retriever, or setter, to flush the birds from their cover. 

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Two hunters and their dog in classic woodcock terrain.  From Living Water Guide

Finding them is not the only challenge.  Once flushed, they burst from practically underfoot in heavy cover and then fly rather erratically, zigging and zagging or suddenly dropping back to the earth.  Getting a good shot off is not easy.  If a hunter manages to bag a woodcock or two the birds make a dinner that is either adored or hated, there is no middle ground.  They are said to have a liver-like flavor.

The Library has numerous books about woodcocks and woodcock hunting.  In addition, the woodcock has been featured frequently in sporting art.  In fact, the Library’s annual auction this year (May 29-June 5) has two woodcock etchings.  The first is by Roland Clark (1943)…

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and the second is by William Schaldach (1940).

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For more information about this unusual bird drop by the Library and I’d be pleased to share our books about the Timberdoodle with you.  Or read more about them at the various sites I’ve linked to in this week’s blog.


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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This year marks the 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby, the oldest continuously run horse race in England.  It is a grueling four and a half mile, cross country race over the Wolds of Yorkshire that has been run annually on the third Thursday of March since 1519.  The Library holds a copy of The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington which can shed some light on the history of this ancient race.

It was founded by 48 hunting gentlemen who all contributed between 5 and 30 pounds.  The rules drawn up by this group are dated 1519 so one assumes that the race began that year.  However, the earliest recorded mention of the race that Ellerington could locate was found in testimony dated 1556 which refers to the previous year, 1555.  The account books of the Earl of Burlington show entrance fees for the race in 1679, and the race appears regularly in the Racing Calendar during the 1700s.

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Two entries for the Kiplingcotes Derby in the Library’s collection.  The upper is from An Historical List of Horse-Matches Run, and of Plates and Prizes, Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1746. (Gift of Russell Arundel).  The lower is from Racing Calendar: Containing an Account of the Plates, Matches, and Sweepstakes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland &c. in the year 1773 by James Weatherby (Gift of Edmund Twining III).

Among the fifteen rules governing the race are some rather specific requirements.  Any horse, gelding, or mare of any age is eligible to run but all entrants to the race must appear at the Winning Post and submit their stakes money to the clerk at or before 11am.  Anyone that misses this deadline is not eligible to race.  The race must be completed before 2pm.

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Winning Post. Image taken from Hull & East Yorkshire History Calendar. 

All horses must carry a rider weighing 10 stone, or 140 pounds.  Riders lighter than this will have to carry weights upon their person in order to meet the requirement as opposed to carrying additional weight in a saddle cloth as is common in the present day.  Ellerington notes at least one winner that ran into trouble with weights and was disqualified as a result.  In 1961, Jean Cole-Walton carried 11 pounds of lead weights in her pockets in order to meet the 10 stone requirement.  During the race they fell from her pockets.  Although she was the first to pass the winning post, she ended up weighing 11 pounds under the minimum and was disqualified as a result.

The winner of the race is awarded prize money and the Kiplingcotes Plate.  The original plate later became known as the East Yorkshire Plate and has since been lost to history.  Today winners get prize money and a trophy.  According to the rules the second rider to pass the winning post wins the stakes money or entry fees.  Depending on how many horses are entered this could, and frequently does, result in the second place rider winning more money than the first place rider.

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Kiplingcotes Derby trophy. Image taken from Driffords and Wolds Weekly.

On the day of the race, horses and riders present themselves at the Winning Post to register, pay their fees, and get weighed.  After the 11:00 cutoff time for registration, the rules of the race are read to the riders, following which the participants walk the course back to the starting point which is a stone post in the parish of Etton.  The race is run from this starting stone back to the Winning Post.  Alison Ellerington’s map and description of the course are worth quoting in full:

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The Kiplingcotes course from The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington (1990).

“The course starts 160 feet above sea level and heads in a north westerly direction.  Following the road, the horses galloping along the grass verge climb steadily to 368 feet over Goodmanham Wold.  Galloping towards Enthorpe Woods, over the old railway bridge, the going is slightly downhill, dropping 303 feet — a lull before the hard climb towards the finish.  At Enthorpe Woods the course is now on a green lane left by the commissioners after the enclosures during the 1800s.  From here horse and rider drop a little before the long steady climb up to 438 feet above sea level.  This part of the course is usually thick pulling mud, which tires a horse even more should one make the mistake of riding along the middle of the track instead of trying to keep well into the side by the field.  The course from here is a steady pull up to the main A163, where it levels out with a straight gallop down the grass verge to the winning post over on Londesborough Wold: a hard testing four and a half miles.  Not only do the contours of the Wolds make the race tough, the weather does not usually help; a cold biting wind normally blows and it is not uncommon for snow to be present still, or, failing that, a stinging rain” (p. 15).

Since 1519 there have been at least a few years when the race was only technically run.  In 1947 deep snows prevented entrants from reaching the Winning Post.  A local farmer, Fred Stephenson, was read the rules by the clerk of the race and proceeded to walk his horse through the course in order to maintain tradition.  Stephen Crawford did the same thing in 2001 when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease prevented the running of the race.  He kept the tradition alive again last year when the condition of the course was deemed too dangerous for racing.  Hopefully this week will see good weather and a successful race to mark the 500th anniversary.

If you’d like to take a look at Alison Ellerington’s book, The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race, you can find it in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

*Update:  The 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby was won by Tracey Corrigan on her horse Frog.  They triumphed over a field of 36 competitors and it was her fourth time winning the race.


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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

A recent reference question sent me on a hunt to find out if any fillies had ever won the Kentucky Derby.  It turns out that three ladies have won the fabled race at Churchill Downs.  The first was a chestnut mare with a white blaze named Regret who won the 1915 contest.

Regret was bred and owned by Harry Payne Whitney, a member of America’s horse racing royalty.  He was the leading American owner by earnings six times between 1905 and 1930, as well as the leading American breeder from 1926 to 1932.  Her trainer was James G. Rowe, Sr., a former jockey who had an illustrious second career as a trainer of racehorses.  Over his career he trained more than 30 champions.

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Regret at Saratoga.  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

For her debut season in 1914, Regret ran in and won a series of three races at Saratoga.  The first was the Saratoga Special, the second was the Sanford Memorial, and the third was the Hopeful Stakes.  In all these races she ran against colts, including the season’s best juvenile colt, Pebbles, in the final two.  Following this brilliant first season she was rested until the Kentucky Derby in May 1915.

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Regret with trainer James Rowe (left) and owner Harry Payne Whitney (right).  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

At the time, the Kentucky Derby was not the iconic American race that it is today.  Most of the prestigious races were based in New York.  Matt Winn, the general manager of Churchill Downs, was working hard to raise the cachet of the track.  In order to lure top competitors to the Derby, he decided to make it the richest race of the season.  The winner’s purse was $11,450 and a gold cup.  This outstripped the purses at eastern races, where the Preakness Stakes purse was $1,275 and the Belmont’s was $1,825 that year.

Regret led the field from the start and won the race by two lengths in 2:05 2/5.  The sensation of a filly beating the boys, the incredible purse, and Whitney’s statement following the race that, “She has won the greatest race in America, and I am satisfied,” all combined to help launch the Kentucky Derby on the path to in fact becoming the greatest race in America.  It would be 65 years until Regret had company.

Oddly enough it would be another chestnut filly with a white blaze that would finally join Regret as a lady of the Kentucky Derby.  The horse that would become known as Genuine Risk was born on February 15th, 1977.  At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of yearlings 14-year-old Matthew Firestone spotted her and lobbied his parents, Bert and Diana Firestone, to purchase the filly.  They agreed and Genuine Risk began schooling at the Firestone’s farm near Waterford, Virginia.  She is described as generally gentle but opinionated, and was known to sometimes run off with exercise riders.

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Genuine Risk following the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, pg. 2508.

As a two year old, she began training with LeRoy Jolley and made her debut on September 30, 1978 at Belmont Park.  She was undefeated in this first season of racing, and her winning streak continued into her second season.  She was doing so well it was decided to test her against colts in the Wood Memorial Stakes, a race that is often a precursor to Kentucky Derby appearances.  She ran the entire race just behind Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran and finished in third, 1 and 3/4 lengths behind the boys.  There was a bit of drama when her jockey claimed a foul but in the end the stewards did not agree and the results stood.

This loss cast doubt on whether running with the boys was too much for Genuine Risk and her appearance in the Kentucky Derby was doubted by many.  However, she recovered well from Wood Memorial race and the Firestones, her trainer, and her jockey all felt she would be competitive in the Derby and she was entered.  As the big day approached speculation abounded about all the contestants.  The Lexinton Herald polled 44 members of the media and only five predicted Genuine Risk as the winner.  Twenty-six of them predicted that she would finish out of the money altogether.

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Genuine Risk winning the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, cover.

As it happened, she held back for the first half of the race and then moved to the outside,  charged to the lead, and stayed there through the finish line where she joined Regret in a very exclusive club.  After 65 years there were now two Ladies that owned the Kentucky Derby.  Later Harper’s Bazaar named Genuine Risk one of its seven top women achievers for 1980.

The most recent filly to win the roses was aptly named, Winning Colors.  She accomplished the feat in 1988.  Like the two fillies that preceded her, she had a white blaze, but she had a roan rather than a chestnut coat.  She was bred by Don Sucher at Echo Valley Horse Farm in Kentucky.  At the July auction in 1986, trainer D. Wayne Lukas liked the looks of her and purchased her for an owner he represented, Eugene Klein.  Lukas and his son Jeff began training her among a stable of talented horses.  Her first race was at Saratoga on August 13.  She won by 2 1/2 lengths over Epitome, who would go on to become the champion of the two year old filly division.  She continued her racing career on the west coast of the United States winning all but one of the races she entered.  On April 9th 1988 in the Santa Anita Derby, she easily led a field of 3 year old colts and won by 7 1/2 lengths.  From that moment on there was no doubt that she would compete in the Kentucky Derby the following month.

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Winning Colors.  From The Blood-Horse, May 14, 1988, Cover.

On the big day at Churchill Downs she would charge to the front of the field and stay there the entire race.  In an exciting finale, she was challenged in the home stretch by Forty Niner who closed a seven length lead.  But Winning Colors held on to win by a neck, and joined Regret and Genuine Risk as a Lady of the Kentucky Derby.

To learn more about these wonderful fillies and their lives after the Kentucky Derby, or to brush up on your Kentucky Derby history, just drop by the Main Reading Room and I’d be happy to show you some resources.


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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

As I’ve been working on cataloging the Library’s periodical holdings, I’ve come to realize that these journals provided an outlet for artists and engravers, both of which were frequently employed to provide illustrations for publication.  One such journal that is absolutely crammed with lovely engravings is the French weekly newspaper, La Chasse Illustree, (The Illustrated Hunt) which ran under slightly varying titles from 1867 to 1914.  The Library holds the first year, 1867-8, and the tenth year 1877 as two bound volumes.

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Original 1867 masthead for La Chasse Illustree.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The original masthead includes the subtitle, journal des plaisirs de la ferme et du chateau, or pleasures of the farm and castle, and lists topics covered such as fishing, natural history, and travel.

By the tenth year the masthead has been updated somewhat.  The subtitle has changed to, journal des chasseurs et la vie a la campagne, or journal of hunters and country life.  The words describing content on the earlier masthead have been replaced by illustrations and we can see a variety of hunters, fishermen, and shooters, shown in scenes surrounding the title.

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The masthead in 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

As the title suggests this journal covers a wide range of sporting life.  Despite my inability to read the french text, a survey of the engravings clearly displays the variety of topics covered.

Here we find the expected hunters, such as this highland stalker.

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Highland hunter. Samedi 24 Mars 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

As well as images of the hunter’s companions, like this bird dog.

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Bird dog. Samedi 23 Fevrier 1878.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Hunters of every sort appear in the pages.  Not only men but also animal predators, including some rather exotic beasts like these leopards chasing after Tragopan Satyrs (a Himalayan pheasant)…

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Leopards.  Samedi 12 Mai 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

an octopus…

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Octopus. Samedi 1 Decembre 1877. T. Wood, Butterworth and Heath.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

and even a spider!

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Spider. Samedi 26, Octobre 1878. T. Specht.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The techniques used by hunters are also shown.  Here are two hunters using a blind to hide from their quarry.

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Hunters using a blind. Samedi 24 Aout 1867.  Yan Dargent, Huyot.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This chap is using a complicated looking trap to try and capture some birds.  His set up even includes a tethered live decoy which can be seen at the far left of the image.

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Bird traps. Samedi 8 Fevrier 1868. E Ade’ Stuttgart, E. Foeest.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

And this interesting cross sectional image shows another trap, this one for fish.

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Fishing with net. Samedi 28 Septembre 1867. F. Lehmert, Huyot.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

If you can make the trip to visit the Library I’d love to bring out these two volumes for you to spend an afternoon browsing through.  The illustrations I’ve included hardly scratch the surface of this fantastic collection of weekly journals.


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

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

Occasionally the drama of horse racing spills over from the racetrack.  In 1977 it splashed onto a mare called Fanfreluche, who was stolen from Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky, and was missing without a trace for several months.  This tale of intrigue was covered by many news outlets but for all things Thoroughbred, The Blood-Horse Weekly magazine is the ideal resource.  Fortunately the Library holds nearly a complete run of this essential Thoroughbred horse periodical and I was able to get all the details of this odd incident.

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Fanfreluche racing.  Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5).  NSLM periodicals collection.

Born in 1967, and owned by Jean-Louis Levesque, Fanfreluche had an excellent record on the track, earning $238,688 and being named 1970 Canadian Horse of the Year.  An injury during her fourth year ended her racing career and she embarked on a new career as a broodmare in which she would prove equally successful.  In 1977 she journeyed south to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to be bred to Secretariat and was soon confirmed as in foal to the famous Triple Crown winner.

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Fanfreluche.  Blood-Horse Weekly, July 11, 1977 (2924).  NSLM periodicals collection.

On June 26th Fanfreluche vanished from a grazing field she shared with several other broodmares.  She was last seen late in the afternoon by farm staff.  Later in the evening when the head count came up one short it was assumed that the missing mare was simply out of view.  The next morning the stunning truth was revealed, Fanfreluche was missing.

The State police and the FBI were called in.  Investigation of the area turned up two cut fences…

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A cut fence. Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5). NSLM periodicals collection.

and a trail that led along a stone wall to a wooded area near the road, where the hoof prints stopped.  Presumably the thief had a van waiting, loaded Fanfreluche into it, and made his get away.

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The escape route. Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5). NSLM periodicals collection.

The authorities, indeed everyone, expected a ransom call.  Although she was valuable, due to strict registration rules Fanfreluche wouldn’t be worth much to the thief.  In much the same way that a stolen artwork is difficult if not impossible to sell, a famous horse with registration lip tattoo would be impossible to pass off as another horse.  Inexplicably no phone call came.

After a week or two the State Police released these photos to the public hoping that someone had seen the missing mare.

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Blood-Horse Weekly, July 11, 1977 (2924).  NSLM periodicals collection.

In an attempt to drum up leads, a false story was circulated that Fanfreluche required medication.  Also a $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to a conviction.  In July an arrest warrant was issued for William Michael McCandless.  He voluntarily turned himself in and denied any connection with the crime.  He was arraigned on July 29th, but there was still no sign of the missing horse.

It wasn’t until December 8th that a tip led investigators to the rural town of Tompkinsville, Kentucky.  At the home of Larry McPherson a mare matching the description of Fanfreluche is discovered and her identity is confirmed from her lip tattoo.  McPherson had been in possession of the horse since shortly after her kidnapping.  One morning his neighbor had spotted a stray horse and assumed that it belonged to McPherson.  They called to alert him and he went out expecting to find one of his horses.

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The road where Fanfreluche was found (top) and the McPherson home (bottom).  Blood-Horse Weekly, Dec 19, 1977 (6199-6202).  NSLM periodicals collection.

Instead it was an unknown horse.  He retrieved the horse and told the neighbor it wasn’t his and to pass the word around that there was a stray horse at his place.  He expected the owner to turn up shortly to claim their animal.  When no one did he reported it to the local police.  No one made the connection to the race horse that had been stolen about 150 miles away.  Eventually McPherson named the stray Brandy and occasionally used her for pleasure riding.   He reported that she was very gentle but was difficult to catch, and that she never seemed to like the name he had given her and had never responded when he used it.

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The McPhersons and “Brandy.”  Blood-Horse Weekly, Dec 19, 1977 (6199-6202).  NSLM periodicals collection.

The McPhersons were cleared of any connection to the theft.  Although Fanfreluche was in need of a brushing and having her hooves trimmed, she was none the worse for wear from her time as an ordinary horse.  She returned to the luxury of Claiborne Farm and in February gave birth to a healthy colt named Sain Et Sauf, or Safe and Sound.

Fanfreluche had a long and productive life before passing away in 1999 at the age of 32.  She is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and also won the Sovereign Award for outstanding broodmare.  She had 18 foals.  14 of them were winners, five were stakes winners, and three were champions.

William Michael McCandless was convicted of the theft and sentenced to four years in prison.  It wasn’t his first run in the with law and it wouldn’t be his last.

The Library has a large collection of periodicals dating from the late 1700’s to the present day.  Only our active subscriptions are available without an appointment in the Main Reading Room.  The bulk of the collection is in the Lower Level Reading Room which requires an appointment to visit.  I am currently working on cataloging the periodicals collection so in the near future it will be easy to see what we have available by using our online catalog.


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.

With winter weather closing in and the holiday season nearly upon us, one might find oneself stuck inside with visiting family and searching for an activity to fill the time.  If the allure of the television has waned, and you’d like to do something that gets everyone actively involved, I suggest going old school.  How about a card or dicing game?  If you’re rusty on the rules or want to try a new game, reaching for a copy of one Edmond Hoyle’s books would be a good place to start.

Beginning in 1742, Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) wrote several treatises on a variety of card games and backgammon.  In 1748 his publisher, Thomas Osborne, began to sell a compilation of Hoyle’s earlier works.  As a result of these publications Hoyle eventually became the acknowledged expert on the rules for many games, especially Whist.  The phrase, “according to Hoyle” has become idiomatic in English, meaning according to the rules, or according to the highest authority.

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Edmond Hoyle.  From Wikimedia Commons

Although today Hoyle is the most well known name in table game rule books, he was not the first to publish such works.  The Library holds two volumes of an earlier title, The Compleat Gamester.  The first edition of this book was published anonymously in 1674.  It covered numerous card games, games from the backgammon genre, and several outdoor sports.  Its full title was, The Compleat Gamester: Or, Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess. Together with all manner of usual and most Gentile Games either on Cards or Dice. To which is added, The Arts and Mysteries of Riding, Racing, Archery, and Cock-Fighting.”

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Frontispiece from the 1710 edition of The Compleat Gamester.  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Over the next 50 years the popular book was reissued and reprinted frequently.  Several new editions with additional material and various subtitles appeared.  NSLM holds an edition from 1710 called, The Compleat Gamester: or instructions how to play at all manner of usual, and most gentile games, either on cards, dice, billiards, trucks, bowls, or chess; also the arts and misteries of riding, racing, archery and cock-fighting.  To which is added, the game Basset; with a discourse of gaming in general.  The description of a gaming ordinary, and the character of a gamester.  With a song on the game at Piquet.  Despite this title, much of the material in the book does not concern how to play games but rather how to spot a cheater.  In this excerpt from the Epistle to the Reader that precedes the text, the author’s opinion of “gamesters” is made quite clear,

Mistake me not, it is not my intention to make Gamesters by this collection, but to inform all in part how to avoid being cheated by them: If I am imperfect in my discoveries, impute it to my being no profest Gamester, and the hatred I bear that hellish society; by whom I know I shall be laught at, and with whom if I should converse, I might sooner by my study come to be Nature’s Secretary, and unriddle all her Arcanas than collect from them any new unpractised secret by which they bubble ignorant credulity, and purchase money and good apparel with everlasting shame and infamy.

To conclude, let me advise you, if you play (when your business will permit) let not a covetous desire of winning another’s money engage you to the losing your own, which will not only disturb your mind, but by the disreputation of being a Gamester, if you lose not your estate, you will certainly lose your credit and good name, than which there is nothing more valuable (Compleat Gamester, 1710).

The author’s anonymity and the vehemence of his opinion of “gamesters” makes me wonder if he wasn’t expertly fleeced himself.  Perhaps this book is his revenge on the culprit.

Individual games are given basic descriptions but generally there is not much information on actual game play or strategy.  Instead the author offers clear descriptions of some techniques used by “gamesters” to cheat other players.  For example, he describes Piping, where the gamester’s accomplice, on the pretense of leisurely smoking a pipe, adopts a position in which he is able to view the cards of the gamester’s opponent.   The accomplice is then able to signal the contents of the dupe’s hand to the gamester.  The signals consist of various finger placements on the pipe, which the gamester can see and decipher.  Ironically given the author’s clear disapproval of cheating, the detailed descriptions he provides of it serve not only as a warning to would-be marks, but also as instructions for would be gamesters.

In addition to practical gaming advice, the author also offers commentary that is sometimes comical or clever.  I love this line about bowling, “A Bowling-Green, or Bowling-Ally is a place where three things are thrown away besides the Bowls, viz. Time, Money and Curses, at the last ten for one” (Compleat Gamester (1710), p. 35).

In 1719 in a bid to capitalize on the popularity of The Compleat Gamester, notorious bookseller Edmund Curll hired Richard Seymour to write The Court Gamester.   The volume dealt with Ombre, Piquet, and Chess.  Apparently Curll’s gambit of offering a book on a similar topic with a similar name to the popular Compleat Gamester paid off as there were four more editions published by 1732.  In 1734 the two titles were published together as, The Compleat Gamester in Three Parts.  The Library holds a 1739 edition of this combined title.

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Frontispiece of the 1739 edition of The Compleat Gamester: in Three Parts by Richard Seymour.  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Russell Arundel.

The work includes instructions and rules for card games (ombre, quadrille, quintile, piquet, basset, faro, whist, all-fours, cribbage, put, lue, brag, &c.), chess, English and French billiards, riding, horse racing, archery, cock fighting and bowling.

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Charles Cotton, the original Gamester.  From Wikimedia Commons

In addition to updating the rules of game playing, the preface of this book identifies the author of the original 1674 Compleat Gamester: “The second and third parts of this treatise were originally written by Charles Cotton Esq; some years since, but are now rectified according to the present standard of play” (page viii).  Charles Cotton is best known today as the author of portions of Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler.  He died insolvent in 1687, 13 years after the publication of The Compleat Gamester, but I could not find anything indicating that he had gambled away his money or been swindled by a nefarious gamester.  His motivation for penning the book remains a mystery.

Although The Compleat Gamester retained its popularity for three quarters of a century, eventually Edmond Hoyle’s publications eclipsed it.*  The final edition of Gamester appeared in 1754.

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A Hoyle’s branded book for sale today on Amazon.

Rule books featuring the name Hoyle are still in production today.  Over time new editions featured rules for new games and eliminated those for games that fell out of favor.  If you plan ahead a bit and lay in a couple decks of cards and some dice, along with a copy of Hoyle’s or even one of the editions of The Compleat Gamester, you’ll have an activity for snowbound evenings.  Maybe you’ll learn how to play Whist and can show off that knowledge the next time Jane Austen’s stories come up.

* David Levy’s blog, Edmond Hoyle, Gent. provided a great deal of the publication history contained in this post.  It is also chock full of interesting information on gaming, recreation, and book selling and publication in the 18th Century.  I encourage our readers to visit his blog and do a little exploring.


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