Monday, January 18, 2010

A blether about some favourite medals

Most clubs have, if not an actual medal, a note in their minute book that shows that they once had a medal. For a long period – from the beginning of the nineteenth century to its end - the medal was a very popular form of trophy, far more popular than the cup.

When I use the word 'trophy' I mean that the medal was played for year after year, and did not ever become the property of a winner unless, for example, in terms of the donation he had won it three times in succession, in which case he won it 'outright'.

This philosophy could cause difficulty if the medal was meant to be played for in rinks, but even here there was a custom in some parts of the country of having a match at points, involving all the rink members, and the winner of the points carried off the medal as his own.

An early form of embellishment of the obverse, or front, of a medal was an engraving of a curler in the act of throwing, or having just thrown, a stone.

The first of my favourites is new to the collection, for it was a Christmas present from my wife in 2009. As can be seen from the photograph it is of modest size, a standard medal of the sort which could be bought blank in many a silversmith’s shop, and then engraved to suit its purpose, whether for a curling or a ploughing match, or a horticultural society.

Not too many were as elegantly engraved as this one. The curler delivering the stone is wearing not only a tall, silk hat but on his feet are crampets, the pronged devices much favoured in the south west to give a sure footing. This they did, but at the cost of mangling the ice. Our curler appears below a ribbon on which are the words: RAISED BY SUBSCRIPTION. The stone he has thrown is of the older-fashioned variety, single-soled; that is, with its handle permanently fixed to the top surface.

On the reverse are the words which show that the club which subscribed for the medal was that of Springholm in Kirkcudbrightshire. Sadly, although I have applied to some of the oldest and most knowledgeable curlers of that part of Scotland, such as Ramsay Lamont and Tom Rennie, I have been unable to find out anything about the history of this club.

The other medal is also old, and slightly larger. One can tell that it is old by the suspension, which consists of two, crossed brooms of early to mid-nineteenth century shape. My daughter noticed it in an antique emporium in Victoria Street, Edinburgh, long since replaced, as it happened, by my favourite curry restaurant, Khushi’s, sadly, also no more in that location for it burned down some months ago.

The medal to which my daughter drew my attention was blank on both sides; and so it remained for some time. As I found the blankness a bit displeasing, I decided to have the medal finished as it might have been more than a hundred years before.

What better motif for the obverse than a bearded, Tam-o-Shantered curler delivering a stone? I knew just the design: one of the water colours by R.M. Alexander, which belong to the Scottish Curling Museum Trust, fitted the bill exactly. And I knew just the man to do the engraving, John Grant, the superb heraldic engraver in Edinburgh.

I had an important birthday coming up; and I resolved that the beautifully engraved medal should be a present from me to me.

All that remained to do was compose the appropriate donation inscription: just within the rim:


Quite a number of people have asked me from what Roman author the Latin quotation is taken. I have to confess that, Roman as it may look, it is entirely Scottish, made up by myself. It says: “He loved the ice and the stone.”

David B Smith.

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