An 1877 Mug Mystery

1877 mug
The 1877 mystery mug

Past weekend, HTBS received a question from Dave in Ontario, Canada. Dave and his son have acquired an old pewter rowing cup and they would now like to know more about the cup and the team. Dave writes:

‘It is a James Dixon & Sons 482 pattern mug and is engraved with the following: “A.R.C. Club Fours, 1877, 7 Boats Started, Winning Crew…” Then unfortunately someone has all but obliterated the names. Although they have been scratched, we can make out the following: Bow – Robertson, L.H. #2 – [surname scratched] E—-, P.G. #3 – [surname scratched] —-, R.P. Str. – [surname scratched. possibly O’Brien (?)] H.’

Dave continues to mention that he is fairly confident that ‘A.R.C.’ refers to Argonaut Rowing Club of Toronto and that the stroke, O’Brien H., probably is Henry O’Brien, one of the men that founded the club in 1872.

ArgonautRCLogoWhile Dave continues to do research at the library, HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn had found some information in A History of American Amateur Athletics and Aquatics, with the records (probably published 1892), which was compiled by Frederick William Janssen. Among the ‘Officers of the club’ for Argonaut RC is H. O’Brien, who was the first president and continued to be head of the club until 1887. You will find a digital copy of A History of American Amateur Athletics and Aquatics here. The information about Argonaut starts on page 190, but while the book contains regatta records, there are no early records from 1877, and no records from club races. (Unfortunately, the copy is poor and pages 249-254 are upside down.)

A History of American Amateur Athletics and Aquatics gives interesting information about early rowing clubs in Canada and the USA, some of which do not exist anymore. Of course, Argonaut RC still exists, so take a look at their website here.

Dave’s quest to find out more and identify the rest of the members of the 1877 crew, seats two and three, continues.

Dave is hoping to get a photograph of the 1877 crew, which might be around at Argonaut RC. If any of HTBS readers have information to share, please post them in the comment section or send them to HTBS editor, at gbuckhorn – at – gmail – dot – com

Thank you!

One of Argonaut’s famous scullers during the 1910s, Everard Butler, N.A.A.O champion in 1910 and 1911. In the photo, Butler is seen sculling at the 1912 Olympic regatta in Stockholm, where he placed third, sharing the bronze with Mart Kuusik, Russia.


  1. Deciphering a series of club initials on a trophy can be a very frustrating challenge. If there is a full date, the contest took place in the British Isles and it was reported to the British Rowing Almanack, then one is in luck – simply pluck your answer from the chronologically ordered results list (with just the year, settle in for a long stroll through pages of densely crowded agate font). As to why a name might be so abbreviated, length – for reasons of space and cost – could certainly be a factor, and “Argonaut” a candidate. My own collection has at least two anonymous “A.R.C.” trophies, as set forth below. The oddness of the fish server / crumber underscores the lack of conformity in prize selection in the (relatively) early days of sport, but the truly unusual element of this piece is the desecration of the names. I own a mug with a bullet hole in it (the original pot shot?), but I’ve not seen scratched out names in a half century of collecting.

    19/08/1876 Single handle glass-bottom pewter mug with tapered shape; no maker marks; “4” stamped near lip by handle; machine cut decorative flourishes; inscribed “A.R.C. / Scratch Fours / August 19th / 1876. / Won By / E.J. Reynolds” Height 12.9cm

    [c.1880] Silver plate fish server [crumber?] with bone handle inscribed “A.R.C. Spring Eights P.B. Pattenden Bow.” Length 14”

  2. Tom: To establish provenance, find out the names of the rowers who LOST this race. One of them no doubt bought or stole the mug and scratched out the winners’ names. Bill L

  3. It is also worth pointing out that Dixon, the manufacturer of the mug, was based in Oxford, England. I have other Canadian prize mugs from the period that were not made by Dixon (the manufacturer is not indicated in any way), suggesting that local product may have been available for prize-giving rather than importing pewter mugs from England to Canada for that purpose, and that the UK make could suggest that this was for a UK club. But between the fit of A.R.C. and the O’Brien name with the Argonauts and the indication that this item was apparently found in Toronto, I would tend to go with the owner’s views.

  4. Thanks Everyone. Our research has proven fruitful! We have located 2 articles in the Toronto Mail in May & June 1877 that make reference to the Argonaut “Club Fours”. It appears that our crew were: L.H. Robertson (Bow); P.G. Elliot, (2nd); R.P. Palmer (3rd) and Henry O’Brien (stroke). Mr. O’Brien was also President and founder of the club, so the crew is referred to as “The President’s Crew”. The races took place on June 2 & 3, 1877. The earlier article also provides the names of the other 6 crews. Quite a turnout! The second article, printed on June 4th, paints a lively picture of the events.
    Thanks again everyone for your interest and input. Much appreciated.

  5. Great work, Dave. This is a terrific example of how original research can – and in this case did – illuminate the origins of an artifact. Were all local papers from the 19th and 20th century accessible for online digital searching, these tasks would make identifying otherwise inscrutable trophy inscriptions much easier. It would appear that you were able to tap into one such resource – good on ya!

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