Saturday, May 21, 2011

Alloa Medals

David B Smith writes, " I have just had the rare pleasure of repatriating – through the good offices of! – a priceless piece of curling heritage, a medal presented in 1860 to Alloa Prince of Wales Curling Club. How this ornate silver medal got to New Zealand is not known, but it is now back in the land of its birth.

As the illustrations show, the medal is of unusual design, for although oval medals are fairly common, they are usually taller than wide, whereas this oval is, as it were, lying on its side. That enabled the designer and silversmith to attach from the bottom rim a pair of crossed curling brooms which are balanced by two dangling miniature stones of granite with silver L-shaped handles. I know of no other medal with two dependent stones.

The suspension at the top is a casting of the Prince of Wales feathers, and the border is a richly worked casting of thistles.

I had often wondered why there were two clubs in the very small burgh of Alloa, the Alloa CC and the Alloa Prince of Wales, and why one of them was apparently named in honour of the Prince Consort. The donation inscription provides the answer. The donor was David Cousins 'OF THE PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL ALLOA': the club took its name not from royalty but from licensed premises!

The obverse bears the donation below a finely engraved version of Sir George Harvey’s very popular painting of The Curlers. On the reverse is a list of seven winners, of whom two won it twice, for this was a points medal, on dates from February 11, 1860, to February 7, 1873.

I find that if one addresses oneself to local librarians and archivists they are very ready to help; and so I sent an email about the medal to Clackmannan libraries, and asked if there had been any report in any of the contemporary newspapers of the presentation of this fine medal. Within hours I had scans of the three pieces in the Alloa Journal, which dealt with it.

The first reported thus:
“ALLOA PRINCE OF WALES CURLING CLUB. – Some kind friend of this club has commissioned one of the members to purchase another point medal. The name of the donor will be given when the medal is ready for presentation. Meantime the competition for its possession takes place to-day at two o’clock on Gartmorn Dam…”

It was next reported that “The Alloa Prince of Wales Club assembled on Gartmorn last Saturday, to compete for their newpoint medal. After a keen game, Mr Robertson of the Ferry Inn was declared the winner, having taken seven points…” Twenty one members competed and the scores ranged from zero to seven, although it must be remembered that under the scoring system current in 1860 the maximum score for a successfully played shot was one, and not two as at present, and there was no score for a partly successful shot.

The mystery surrounding the gift was dispelled shortly after the competition at a meeting of 'this flourishing club' held in the Prince of Wales hotel. “…After some routine business, the worthy host of the hotel stated to the president and the meeting, that he had much pleasure in presenting a medal to the club – that although the medal had been already played for, and honourably won by Mr Robertson, of the Ferry Inn, it had not as yet been announced , and he believed that it was, with the exception of two members and himself, a mystery regarding the name of the donor. He, however, had pleasure in stating that he was the donor. He had had in view for long the presentation of such , and especially now as he was advanced in years, and unable to take an active part in the roaring game; he therefore hoped that the club would accept of his heart-felt gift. The president, in name of the club, returned thanks to the donor, and thereupon put the ribbon, to which was attached the medal, round the neck of Mr Robertson, wishing him much enjoyment of it for the season. Mr Robertson made a suitable reply. The medal, we may mention, is most beautiful in design, and cannot fail to meet with the approbation of all who may have the opportunity of inspecting it. It can be seen at the hotel for a few days. The inscription on the medal is as follows:- ‘Presented to the Alloa Prince of Wales Curling Club, by David Cousins, of the Prince of Wales Hotel. Alloa, Feby. 1860. Gained by Wm Robertson, 11th Feby. 1860’”

One piece of mystery remained. Who was WJM’D whose mark showed that he had made the medal? My friend, George Dalgleish, Principal Curator, Scottish History, National Museums of Scotland, and a great expert on Scottish silver, told me there was a silversmith, William J Macdonald, sometime at 139 Princes Street, Edinburgh, who was probably our man. Using that information I looked in the Edinburgh Post Office Directory for 1859-60 and found him, described as 'working jeweller, 31 Castle Street', whose house was at number 12. That the National Library of Scotland has recently put all the extant Post Office Directories for the whole of Scotland online has made this sort of research very much easier.

The Prince of Wales curlers were not unique in possessing a beautiful and splendid medal. The older club, the Alloa CC, was also the owner of a marvellous specimen (above) given to them in 1844 by James Johnstone of Alva, a local laird. It is one of a very small group of very ornate medals which bear on the front surface miniature curling stones set among crossed brooms. In this case two stones are made of bloodstone and the other two of reddish hardstone.

The taste for fine medals continued. I have in my collection- one of my earliest acquisitions - a silver medal given to Alloa CC in 1868. It is a more straightforward medal: a suspension of crossed brooms from which hung formerly a diminutive silver stone, and within a buckled belt, an engraved contemporary curling scene."

Illustrations from top:
• Alloa Prince of Wales Curling Club medal, obverse.
• Reverse.
• The 1844 medal.

• Alloa Curling Club, medal. This photograph shows the engraved scene on the obverse and the border, detached. In my collection.

• The reverse. The medal assembled.

Images are © David B Smith


Christine_Australia said...

Wow! That's my ancestor on the back of that medal! How exciting to know that he was a champion curler! If you ever want to sell the medal...

Moira Fraser said...

Alexander Gall’s son could have quite possibly taken the medal to New Zealand when he immigrated there. Just a thought.