The Rules of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club provide in relation to the 'House', which is defined as 'the area within the outside circle at each end of the sheet', that 'with the tees as centres, circles having radii of 1.22m (4 feet) and 1.83m (6 feet) shall be drawn. Additional inner circles may also be drawn.'
There is no provision for painting the ice or any part of it in order to create the coloured, target-like houses which are such a characteristic feature of present-day indoor curling. There is no doubt that coloured circles add a great deal to the visual appeal of the game. In fact, the coloured circles are what strikes the casual television viewer as the characteristic image of the game
The purpose of the colour is, however, to assist the curler to assess where each stone is lying in relation to the house, and, perhaps more importantly, the tee, when it is his turn to deliver the stone.
Painting the circles is a comparatively recent custom. For a large part of the history of curling the curler played to a house which was only scored in the ice. It was difficult to see from the hack how the stones lay in relation to the tee.
The original way of reducing this difficulty was to mark the tee with a moveable object, known as the 'tee-marker'. This was usually made of wood so that if a stone perchanced to come into contact with it, it did nothing to affect the running of the stone. The marker had to be small in cross-section so that it took up as little room as possible, and high so that it could be seen above any stones that were lying near it. What better shape for this device than a bottle? Hence in many a place the 'tee-marker' was known as 'the bottle'. In other places the shape was like a skittle.
J. Gordon Grant in The Complete Curler, (1914), writes, “In addition to the bottle which is occasionally to be found in the ‘press’ of the club-house, another ‘bottle’ can sometimes be observed on the pond – a solid wooden ‘bottle’, totally unconnected with aqua vitae. It is usually about the size of an ordinary quart bottle, and stands on and indicates the position of the tee to the man on the crampit. It is not an indispensable adjunct of the game (as many consider the other bottle to be), and, accordingly, some clubs never make use of it…if the ‘bottle’ is in the way of a moving stone, it ought to be removed temporarily out of the way of the stone, but often the skip is too late in trying to reach it, and accordingly the ‘bottle’ is knocked down or sent skimming along the ice. But this is not really of any consequence, as the collision with the ‘bottle’ has no appreciable effect on the motion of the stone; the ‘bottle’ gets the worst of the encounter.”
Robin Welsh in his International Guide to Curling, (1985) classed the tee-marker as one of the pieces of curling equipment which was extinct in Scotland, just like the 'duster'. I have never seen a 'bottle' used in indoor play but when I began to curl at Haymarket in the early 1960s some of the older skips still used the 'duster' to indicate either a stone to be struck out or the place a draw had to end up. At the risk of sounding a bit like Chic Murray I should explain that the duster was called the duster because it was a duster – one of the bright yellow variety with which we’re still familiar, and the skip used to wave it to the player and then throw it down on the ice in the place where he wished the stone to finish.
For some reason, which I have been unable to discover, the 'bottle' came to be called the 'dolly' in Switzerland. (In fact, one of Switzerland’s most famous competitions is for the Dolly Cup of Geneva Curling Club, which will be played for the 53rd time on November 26-28, 2010.) Neither the Oxford English Dictionary or the Dictionary of the Scots Language has an entry for 'dolly', in the curling sense.
Curiously, A Noel Mobbs in his book, Curling in Switzerland, (1929), which deals with all aspects of the game in that country and in which one might reasonably have expected the author to elaborate on the use of the dolly, only mentions the 'Dolly' to define it as 'A wooden skittle placed on the ice to make the position of the tee visible from the other end of the rink'.
David B. Smith
Top photo: This splendid 'bottle' was specially made for a rink of Aboyne Curlers, under their president, the Rev. T.S. Gray, at the Grand Match of December 24, 1934, the last to be held at Carsebreck. Curiously the Annual for 1937 which records this Match does not include this rink!
Above: Two tee-markers beside a stone of standard size. The red one on the left featured in the curling scene in the film My Life So Far. The film crew repainted it. The other one is from Dunblane.