Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Curler's Buckle

David B Smith writes:

At a recent auction sale at Bonham's in Edinburgh there was offered a most unusual lot.

This is how it was described in the catalogue and online: “Of curling interest; a William IV silver belt buckle, maker's mark IR, Edinburgh. Of rectangular form, each corner with curling stone, the long sides with crossed curling brooms encircled by laurel wreaths, the short sides with foot irons, length 11.5 cm.”

None of the trustees of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Charitable Trust had ever seen such a buckle before, and after some email consultation among them in Scotland and Sweden (where the European Curling Championships were taking place) it was decided to try to buy the object for the nation and add it to the Trust's collection.

I am happy to report that the trustees' bid was successful.

The buckle looks even better than its description. When it was made by IR in Edinburgh in 1830 he was thinking four and a half inches and not 11.5 cm. That is a tall buckle and its weight is commensurate with its size.

The decoration is bold. Each of the curling stones has the smooth flat top surface that one expects from a stone of the 1830s. The brooms are roughly in proportion to the stones.

The last element of the design which appears top and bottom is an arrangement of 'crampits', or 'foot-irons', or 'tramps' which were iron, spiked devices made to be strapped to the instep of the curler's shoe and give him a more secure footing on the ice.

Since such devices are beyond the ken of curlers of the present day the photograph shows what they were like.

By the end of the nineteenth century their use had been abandoned in most of Scotland except the south west. The Rev. John Kerr, in a remarkably sour series of Curling Reflections in the Glasgow Herald of 21 May 1902, said: “In the same tournament (viz. The Waterlow Cup at Lochmaben) I was much disappointed to see the antiquated and barbarous 'tramps' still in use in a good many cases. These are bound to the feet, and their spikes, which, of course, are intended to keep the curler firm on his feet, do much damage to the ice. I thought it had been decided to forbid and forgo them altogether They are what C-B would call 'methods of barbarism' not worthy of civilised warfare.

(The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations answered the question of who C-B was. In a speech at a dinner of the National Reform Union on 14 June 1901 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal party in the House of Commons, said : “When was a war not a war? When it was carried on by methods of barbarism.”)

These two crampits are from Lochmaben, late nineteenth century. From Curling: An Illustrated History by David B Smith, John Donald, Edinburgh, 1981.

Top photo © Royal Caledonian Curling Club Charitable Trust

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