A Jolly Way to Keep Sane!

A jolly way to keep fit!

Greg Denieffe writes:

I have struggled in the past to explain my relationship with ‘collecting’. The best I could do was – “It’s a man thing” or ”the person/event lives on in this object” and even “if I don’t save this for the future then it will be lost forever”. I think Walter Benjamin has come to my rescue with this quote:

O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than… a collector. Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.

This reason is good enough for me and I freely admit that the search is as important as the find and the research, probably more so.

The good news is that if you are a rowing collector you are not alone … check out this article in the April 2004 edition of Rowing News – imagine how big TW’s collection has grown since then!

Between 2005 and 2011, ABC Television in Australia broadcast a programme called Collectors. Episode 25, originally aired on 27 August 2010 featured Warren Anderson of West Australian Rowing Club and his unique collection of rowing machines.

The blurb for the programmes reads:

Today’s rowing machines are sleek, modern and fully electronic, with colourful displays of speed, number of calories burnt and distance rowed. The forerunners of today’s machines, invented in the late 1800s, however, look surprisingly similar to those of today, albeit without the flashing lights.

Collector Warren Anderson, who has been an active member of the West Australian Rowing Club for 30 years, has a wonderful collection of beautiful rowing machines, as well as some rare rowing memorabilia.

Warren’s interest in antique rowing machines started when he visited a rowing club in Lithuania. With a lot of internet searching and time-consuming negotiations, he tracked down the owners and began to buy some of the old machines. As far as he knows he is the only active rowing machine collector in the world.

The object of Warren’s collecting is to get rowing machines of a particular design so that he has a representative sample of machines since their invention 140 years ago; in Warren’s eyes quality is better than quantity. Most of the machines in his collection are fairly robust, having stood the test of time and muscle! The older machines, being cast iron, have very good fittings and with the occasional dab of oil, they work really well.

One of Warren’s machines, and one of the first models produced, was made in Britain in 1889. It features a hydraulic system with one-way gearing. Warren found it in Balmain in Sydney. Another is a 1905 Chicago-made combination exercise machine and rower, made for the home market. Warren’s favourite machine is a Swiss model made in 1932. It’s very simple, innovative design is really the forerunner of today’s machines.

Warren also collects rowing memorabilia associated with the WA Rowing Club and has such things as photographs, oars or medals. He has an extremely rare set of Henley Rowing medals from 1859 to 1861. Eventually Warren would like his collection to be donated to the WA Museum or other West Australian institution.

Warren’s favourite model is a 1932 Swiss model by Abplanalp Appliances Ltd. I found an advertisement for this machine in the 7 October 1931 edition of Punch, or the London Charivari. It boasts ‘The famous Swiss Physical Culture Expert has evolved what is virtually “a boat for the bedroom”’. Interestingly it also states that it is ‘All British Made’.

Watch the three minute segment of the programme here.

The River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames also has a collection of rowing machines which you can view in their online collection.

My own favourite of the early models is the Narragansett Hydraulic Rowing Machine. The Rowing History website provides the following background information:

The Narragansett Machine Company in Providence, RI, produced hydraulic rowing machines from about 1900 all the way through the beginning of the 1960s. The Narragansetts can be seen in numerous old photos of college crews training indoors. Some photos show them onboard ships transporting crews across the Atlantic for Henley and the Olympics. If you look closely the next time you watch Titanic, the movie, you’ll spot a couple of Narragansetts onboard in one scene. These machines were the foundation of winter training along with indoor tanks for the major college programs.

Rowing machine Titanic
Original photograph by Father Frank Browne.

Father Browne, the Jesuit priest who boarded the Titanic in France and disembarked in Cobh, Ireland, after being ordered to do so by his superiors, took hundreds of photographs of the ship including some of the ship’s gymnasium. The above photograph which has being re-coloured by Anton Lovynenko features the two Narragansetts and shipyard worker William Parr (background) with instructor T W McCawley (right over left!). Both men were lost when the ship sank on her maiden transatlantic voyage in 1912.

If collecting is not your thing, don’t worry, not everyone takes collecting seriously!

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