Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What shape are your handles?

The open-ended handle is now so common that one sometimes wonders why there ever was a desire for a different design. But in some parts of Scotland and at some periods there was.

I suppose the earliest form of the closed handle was that of iron permanently fixed with lead into the top of the stone, but even in the earliest periods it appears that the L-shape was by far the most popular. In parts of Perthshire some, but by no means all, curlers liked a handle that was closed at each end and therefore attached to the stone in two places.

This very large triangular, or 'three neukit', stone from Coupar Angus weighs about 112 lbs.

It might appear that a closed handle would ease the carrying of a weighty stone but if the stone was balanced, as it needed to be for skilful play, neither form of the handle gave any advantage; and one finds examples of both types of handle on very heavy stones.

The heaviest stone of them all, The Jubilee Stane, has an L-shaped handle and tips the scales at about 117 lbs.

It was from original handles like these that the more sophisticated designs of the second half of the nineteenth century were developed.

This picture shows a very elegant, and expensive, handle for use with a single-soled stone. The basic handle is of cast brass but it has been very skilfully encased in thin silver plates which in turn bear engravings of thistles. It was located on two posts of iron permanently fixed into the top of the stone. At each side was a screw which when tightened made sure that handle and stone did not part company.

From the introduction of the double soled stone the basic form of the handle has consisted in a (roughly circular) plate into which the bolt is screwed. From this plate emerges in a curve the neck of the handle, often called the 'goose neck' because it resembles that part of that farmyard bird, and the grip is an extension of that, made of wood or ivory or bone or horn, embellished variously with rings of different metals and ivory and bone, and with plaques of silver, which could be engraved.

A small proportion of curlers liked closed handles even for their double-soled stones. The earliest example which I have come upon has been made from iron presumably by a local blacksmith, and it was connected to the stone by means of a central bolt.

Thereafter a number of variants upon this basic design found their way onto Scottish ice, but they were never common. One problem for the historian is that very few handle makers marked their products with a stamp or even initials, and so it is difficult to discover who made the handle, and when, and where.

This appears to be the simplest form, but the question arises – and perhaps some curler with engineering knowledge can answer it. "How is the wooden grip fixed to the brass of the handle?"

The question is still unanswered even with this sophisticated example.

This is the only handle stamped with the maker’s name and town; J SCOTT MELROSE.

The screw at the right hand side of this handle unscrews to allow the whole to come to pieces.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful selection of handles.I have a T handle in my collection.I would suspect more from the modern era.Would the T handles be more native to Canada or imported from Scotland?? I don't recall a makers mark on mine but will check when I get home( I'm enjoying Arizona for the winter)Shirley Adams

Anonymous said...

The only pair of such handles that I have ever seen are shown in the photograph on page 45 of my "Curling: An Illustrated History". I tried to acquire them but the owner was unwilling to part with them.

As far as I am aware they were Scottish.

Mike Frost said...

At the weekend I saw a pair of old stones with closed handles. There was a wooden insert in the horizontal part of the handle. The handle was fastened to the stone with a single bolt using a leather washer with "petal edges" under the handle. Is it possible from this description to give any idea of age or rarity?