28 January 2017
Tim Koch makes a bid:
‘The World’s Online Market Place’, eBay, is only 22 years old but it is now so much a part of our lives that it is strange to think that there was a time when such a thing did not exist. The founder, Pierre Omidyar, tells the story that one of the first things sold was a non-functioning laser pointer which went for $15. Omidyar contacted the winning bidder to make sure that he understood that his purchase did not work. In response, the bidder explained that he was actually a collector of broken laser pointers. It was an early lesson that everything is worth something to someone. Among the things that have been subsequently sold are: a grilled cheese sandwich which allegedly bore a picture of the Virgin Mary ($28,000); William Shatner’s kidney stone ($25,000); lunch with Warren Buffet ($2.3 million); a haunted rubber duck ($107.50); the window from which Oswald shot Kennedy ($3 million); the meaning of life ($3.26). Not surprisingly therefore, there is even a market for old rowing memorabilia and, at the time of writing, there seems to be a particularly rich crop, albeit some seemingly overpriced. Of course, if something very expensive does actually sell, by definition it is not overpriced. However, I suspect that the seller of an unremarkable wooden footplate may not get the £40 that he is asking for.
The two pictures above are ‘stereoviews’, two nearly identical images mounted side by side. When looked at through a stereo viewer they give a three-dimensional image. These were most popular from 1854 to 1938 and were produced in vast quantities. They are for sale separately (Eton here and Radley here. The two crews pictured raced each other over the Henley course in a private match a few days after the 1858 Henley Royal Regatta. A 1924 history of Radley notes that:
Coats, as now worn, white, with Maltese Cross in crimson, were designed for this race; also ‘jerseys’ made of course flannel, short sleeve, and trimmed white. Efforts were made to get woven cerise jerseys; but no manufacturers could produce lambswool to hold the dye. The hat worn was the same as now. There was no First Eight cap.
Despite their sartorial efforts, Radley lost by ‘two-thirds or three-quarters of a length’. The photographer (Poulton) was busy during the Henley of 1858 and Tom Weil’s Beauty and the Boats: Art and artistry in early British rowing (2005) has stereoviews of the Cambridge University crew for the Grand, the Henley Boat Club crew and the Exeter College, Oxford, crew with their boat, the first eight without an external keel.
The seller of the Trinity Hall beaker also has a collection of five solid silver miniature presentation oars and a silver gilt miniature presentation rudder for sale. The picture above shows a solid silver and gilt miniature rudder for the ‘Mortlake and Barnes Amateur Regatta 1847’. Below that, the first and third silver oars down are hallmarked for London 1847 and 1848. The second down says ‘Richmond Amateurs Regatta No 2 1846’ The fourth is marked ‘Mortlake and Barnes Amateur Regatta 1847’ and the fifth is engraved ‘Isleworth Regatta 1848’.
The fact that the prizes cover a period of only three years are from regattas that are geographically close in West London suggest that they were won by one man. ‘Mortlake and Barnes’ regatta continues to this day, albeit as ‘Barnes and Mortlake’, as does ‘Richmond Amateurs’, albeit as ‘Richmond Amateur’. The oar designs are from the days of fixed seat and fixed pin rowing. There was no squaring and feathering of the oars and the heavy handles provided a counterbalance to aid the large body swing that was required before sliding seats.
The seller of the silver rudder pictured above notes that according to the Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta website, the regatta was officially founded in 1867 but there are records of races in the 1850s. Today the event is the local regatta for the villages of Wargrave in Berkshire and Shoptalk in Oxfordshire (both near Henley) and it offers races for Canadian canoes, dinghies, dongolas, punts and skiffs.
The hand-coloured lithograph above, while not great art, claims to be a very early depiction (1830) of racing at Oxford where the first ‘bumping race’, the peculiar form of racing which originated at the university town, was recorded in 1815. I had a long e-mail exchange about this item with a distinguished group of rowing historians/fellow nerds (delete as you feel appropriate). Ultimately and pleasingly, three different approaches came to much the same conclusion.
Peter Mallory (author of the four-volume, 2,500-page Sport of Rowing: Two Centuries of Competition) took a technical view and was adamant that, as two of the boats portrayed have iron outriggers, the picture is from after 1845, probably much after considering the narrowness of the hulls. He gives a ‘broad estimate’ of about 1860, not 1830 as claimed by the seller.
Tom Weil (a highly knowledgeable and respected collector of rowing memorabilia who has donated his vast collection to institutions in Britain and the U.S.) has one of these prints in his collection and says that
the image is one of twenty-four prints after Canon George Robert Winter (1826-96), seven of which….. are rowing related, published [in Tom’s view] between 1852 and 1860 by Ryman of Oxford and titled (as a series) ‘Eton and Oxford. A Few Familiar Scenes.’
Tom adds further information on the artist:
Canon George Robert Winter, rowed 7 for Oxford against Cambridge in the 1847 Grand Challenge Cup, and 5 in the Oxford eight that won the 1848 Grand as well. (He) was a Brasenose man. ‘Mr. Winter, now a clergyman, is well known as an amateur artist of much skill and humor. His chalk sketches of Eton and Oxford are reproduced in Oxford, and adorn many an undergraduate’s rooms to this day. He had rowed stroke of the Eton Eight in 1845 …’ Treherne and Goldie, ‘Record of the University Boat Race, 1829-1883’.
As to the age of the print and the collection in which it was sold, Tom writes that ‘various sources give various dates for the publication of the portfolio’. He notes that The Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) records Winter as artistically active in the years 1842 – 1852 and that, on the evidence currently available, he says that he ‘would go with the combined Tom Weil and YCBA attributions – c.1852 – which would make it a year after (Winter) received his M.A. and entered into his Rectorly occupation’.
William ‘Bill’ O’Chee (author of Brasenose College and the Origins of Oxford Rowing and who is currently working on a history of Brasenose College Boat Club) identified the little bridge in the print as Saunder’s Bridge, about 300m from the Bumps finish, next to where the OUBC Boathouse was built in 1881 and where the University College Boathouse is now.
Bill also identified the crew on the left (with the ‘Bumblebee Zephyrs’ ) as Brasenose College (BNC). He studied the Bumps charts for 1851 to 1853 and initially thought that the print depicts either the second half of Bumps in 1851 (when BNC chased Balliol but did not ‘bump’ them) or the first night of Bumps in 1852 (when BNC ‘bumped’ Balliol). However, further examination of the BNC Minute Book showed that the 1852 bump was not near Saunder’s Bridge. Bill concludes:
This means that it must depict racing in 1851. I therefore believe it was published in the first half of 1852, or late 1851, and depicts events from the missed bump on the last night of 1851.
This CSI–HTBS investigation into the Winter print is a great example of the varied collective knowledge of HTBS contributors coming together to rediscover a piece of history and to preserve that knowledge for the future.
There is yet another rudder for sale on eBay though this one is real, that is made of wood and full size. It has a modern label attached which claims that it is from the 1877 ‘Dead Heat’ Oxford– Cambridge Boat Race. However, the seller admits, ‘Sadly a label without concrete provenance isn’t enough for me to confirm what it claims to be’. The River and Rowing Museum in Henley also has a rudder said to be from the 1877 race plus a section of bow. While there could be two rudders from the infamous race in existence, I suspect that parts of the pair of boats in question are rather like pieces of the True Cross. Some of the Conclave of rowing historians that I mentioned above were unanimously dismissive of the ‘1877’ suggestion.
Tom Weil: I can’t accept that it is from the 1877 dead heat – the sterns by then would have supported a little horizontal flap rudder, not this vertical stern transom thing – this looks like it belongs to a cutter or waterman’s wherry.
Peter Mallory: Such a stern setup would have quickly become obsolete after the introduction of iron outriggers in 1845.
Bill Miller (Friends of Rowing History): If you look at the 1853 Wargrave award rudder you’ll see that it is shallower than the wood one. This indicates that the wood rudder was from a deeper cutter and is thus pre-1853.
Historians are always interested in material ‘new to the market’ and a photograph album belonging to ESPK James, a student at Corpus Christie, Cambridge, 1907-1910 is certainly that. The seller helpfully informs us:
105 photos in an album which belonged to ESPK James……. The album is primarily a photographic record of his time at Corpus Christi and in particular of many rowing events…. James was a member of many societies and clubs (which) feature in many of the pictures….. Photos include: Internal and external building shots….. The Literary Society, The Gravedigger Club, The Chess Club, May Races 1907, 08 & 09, The Lent Crew, The Lent Boat 1908, The Plough Reach, Ditton Corner, Grassy Corner, The May Boat Crew 1908, The May Concert 1908 and the May Quartet 1908, R H Bell’s dinner 1909, Second Lent Crew and Boat 1909, C L Mainwaring’s Dinner 1908, The Bump Supper 1909, Henley Thames Challenge Cup Crew 1909, The Wingfield Sculls 1909…., The Crew 1910, plus eight commercial photos of buildings, rowing & cricket.
Sadly, Captain Eric Samuel Pennant Kingsbury James, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was killed in action on 17 March 1915, aged 27. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission citation reads:
Only son of Edward and Sarah James of 79, Larkhall Rise, Clapham, London. Foundation Scholar, St. Paul’s School. Open Classical Exhibitioner and M.A. of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
More apparent evidence, were it needed, that The Great War seemed to disproportionately take the brightest and the best. I hope that James’ album finds an appreciative home and is not broken up. It would be nice if it went back to Cambridge and to Corpus.