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  The words describing content on the earlier masthead have been replaced by illustrations and we can see a variety of hunters, fishermen, and shooters, shown in scenes surrounding the title.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

Anyone who has ever witnessed a horse race will undoubtedly recall the riot of color and pattern displayed by the jockeys on their jackets and caps.  Although this flamboyant wardrobe, known as racing colours, adds to the cachet of the sport, the colors and designs serve an important function in the racing world.  Each is unique to a specific horse owner and this “livery” allows judges, announcers, and spectators to more readily tell the horses apart.

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By Paul – HDR Style Horse Racing Photo, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

While reports of color being employed in horse or even chariot races go as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, the racing colours we are familiar with today have their origin in Great Britain in the mid 1700’s.  Up until then races were much longer, up to 4 miles, and usually had relatively few entrants.  This made it easy to tell the horses apart as the small field would tend to get strung out over the long distance of the race.  But as the popularity of racing grew so did the number of horses entered.  Additionally races began to be run over shorter distances at courses.  Both trends resulted in confusing clusters of horses and disputes over which horse had won.  Initial attempts at adding colored jackets were unsuccessful as multiple owners used the same colors or individual owners changed colors frequently.  By 1762 it became clear that something had to be done.

On October 4, 1762, the members of the English Jockey Club requested that owners submit specific colors for jacket and cap. To register their colors and to use them consistently in an attempt to distinguish riders among a field of horses or to settle disputes that might arise. This resulted the famous Newmarket resolution:

“For the greater conveniency of distinguishing the horses in running, as also for the prevention of disputes arising from not knowing the colours worn by each rider, the underwritten gentlemen have come to the resolution and agreement of having the colours annexed to the following names, worn by their respective riders…”

The document goes on to list 19 owners and the color assigned to each.  Once an owner had chosen and declared a jacket of a particular color, it became his property.  He was only permitted to run his horses under that color, and no other owner could run their horses under the same color.  However, after the passage of several years, ownership of the colours could be resigned and a new owner could obtain those colours as their own.  The Duke of Devonshire’s Straw-Colour is still in the same ownership today making them the oldest in continuous use.

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A cigarette card showing the Duke of Devonshire’s racing colours.  From Flickr Hive Mind

After quite a few false starts the racing community in American eventually followed suit and the Jockey Club began registering racing colours in 1895.  The first registered set was the scarlet jacket and cap belonging to John A. Morris.  Although registered in 1895, it is said these colours were in use at the Metairie Track in New Orleans in the mid 1850’s.

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Colours of John A. Morris.  The oldest in the United States.  Bill Christine’s top 10 most iconic silks

Over time patterned design elements for the sleeves and body of the jacket, and the cap have been added to the permitted colors allowing for a great deal of creativity.  Today there are over 28,000 registered colours.

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The Benson and Hedges Book of Racing Colours by The Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain, (1973) National Sporting Library & Museum.

The rules for design of racing colours continue to develop.  In the United States owners may choose to have an emblem or up to three initials on certain designs.  While in Great Britain bespoke designs that don’t have to adhere to the traditional rules can be created and registered for a large fee.

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A bespoke set of racing colours.

What would you choose?  A simple, elegant, single color, or something wild with several colors and design elements?  Try creating your own colours and see if they are available for registration here.


 

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

NSLM is pleased to announce that Dr. Charles Caramello, a John H. Daniels Fellow, has recently had his new book published by Xenophon Press.  Eighteenth Century Equitation: “Military Equitation; A Method of Breaking Horses and Teaching Soldiers to Ride” by The Earl of Pembroke & “A Treatise on Military Equitation” by William Tyndale, provides facsimile copies of two classic English manuals on military horsemanship from the late 1700’s, and enhances them with notes and commentary by Dr. Caramello.

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Eighteenth Century Equitation: “Military Equitation; A Method of Breaking Horses and Teaching Soldiers to Ride” by The Earl of Pembroke & “A Treatise on Military Equitation” by William Tyndale with notes and commentary by Charles Caramello (2018).

Dr. Caramello is a Professor of English, and the Senior Advisor for Graduate Education at The University of Maryland.  He was accepted as a John H. Daniels Fellow for 2017 and conducted his research using several editions of Pembroke’s and Tyndale’s works in the NSLM’s collections.

His introduction and notes serve to set each piece in its historical context and to assist the modern-day reader in connecting with 18th century writing.  Additionally, the included facsimile copies of these works make them easily available to the general public.  The originals are housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room and require an appointment to view, but this new book may be accessed by the general public at any time in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

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John H. Daniels Fellow, Dr. Charles Caramello.

According to Dr. Caramello’s  introduction, “[e]questrian readers of Pembroke and Tyndale will engage with two eminently sensible military horsemen, learn from two seasoned trainers of horses and riders, and, if lucky, discover something new and unexpected about equestrian sport.” If this piques your interest please drop by the library and have a look.

Dr. Caramello has returned as a John H. Daniels Fellow for 2018 and is currently completing a book-in-progress, Horsemen, Horse Soldiers, and Grand Illusions, and is conducting research in the NSLM archives for a projected book on equitation between the two World Wars.


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

For approximately 75 years, from the 1850’s into the 1920’s, horses formed a key element of firefighting companies.  Prior to the introduction of horses, humans pulled the firefighting equipment to blazes.  The superior strength and speed of horses allowed longer ladder wagons, and larger pumpers and chemical wagons to be used, and the equipment and firefighters arrived to the scene of the fire much more quickly.

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Engine Company No. 3.  From Wikimedia Commons.

Horses chosen for service with the fire department had to meet certain criteria.  Often departments had specific weight requirements for horses.  For example, the weight requirements in the Detroit fire department were as follows:  Horses pulling hose wagons must weigh at least 1,100 pounds, to haul a steamer 1,400 pounds, and for a hook and ladder wagon 1,700 pounds.  Both mares and stallions were eligible for service.  The key traits necessary included strength, speed, obedience, intelligence, and fearlessness.

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Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

After their frantic dash to the scene, horses were expected to stand calmly amidst the chaos while their human partners fought the fire.

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The team pulling the ladder wagon waiting calmly.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

At the fire station, the horses were housed in stalls next to the equipment they were to pull.  When an alarm sounded, the stall doors would open and the horses were trained to dash to their positions in front of the wagons.  Harnesses suspended above them were dropped onto the horses’ backs, specially designed collars were snapped closed, and the team was charging out of the station house in only a few seconds.

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A three horse harness ready for horses to dash into position.  Note the stall doors in the background on the right.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

This video  from The Aurora Regional Fire Museum’s exhibit, Getting There • Getting Water • Getting Rescued: 150 years of the tools and technology used to fight fires and save lives, shows the fire horses in action.  We can see how quickly the team responds to an alarm, and how excited the horses are to jump into action.  The various types of wagons used can be seen, including pumpers and a ladder truck, as they roll out of the station.

The fire horses were well cared for and received daily exercise and grooming.  Some departments were large enough to employ their own veterinarians and farriers, and some had horse ambulances to support their equine members.  Working together in such strenuous and stressful conditions, it is not surprising that the firefighters developed strong bonds with their horses.  This can be seen in the numerous tributes to specific horses as they retired or died in the line of duty.

Chubgreenerpastures
Obituary for the popular retired fire horse Chubby.  From “Firefighter Chubby” on the Craft Company No. 6 site.

The members of the Rochester Fire Department petitioned the local cemetery to allow them to bury fallen fire horses in the fireman’s plot.  When the cemetery refused, the local chapter of the American Legion erected a bronze plaque in honor of all the horses that served in the fire department.  It reads,

Our FireHorses
Glorious in beauty and in service;
Faithful Friends
We cannot call them dumb
Because they spoke in deeds
In every hour of danger
Perpetual remembrance
Enshrines their loyalty and courage

By the 1920’s fire departments began exchanging their horses for trucks.  In many towns ceremonial “last runs” were held in which the fire horses responded to a false alarm and the public lined the streets in tribute.

last run
Last run of Barney, Gene, and Tom, Dist. Fire Dept. horses. From the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

Although their day had passed their contributions to the community were honored and they still feature prominently in many firefighting museums across the country.


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