Monday, July 16, 2012

A curling-related dime novel from 1906

by Bob Cowan

The mid 1800s to the early twentieth century was the era of the 'dime novel' in the USA. These were printed on cheap paper, and usually had colour cover illustrations. They targeted a young, working class readership, with Wild West adventures, detective stories and historical romances. In Britain the name given to these ephemeral publications was 'penny dreadfuls' (see here). They were the precursors of comic books and the mass market paperbacks of today.

Dime novels illustrate the reading tastes of an increasingly literate audience, and now provide a resource for researchers of popular history and culture. They also show how twentienth century printing techniques were developing.

One source says of dime novels, "Once the bane of the middle-class, these little books were considered the corrupters of youth and stepping-stones on the path to perdition."

Recently I was excited to come across a dime novel featuring curling!

'Frank Manley's Sweeping Score: A Wonderful Day at Curling' was No 20, January 19, 1906, of Frank Manley's Weekly, a thirty-two page magazine for boys which featured the adventures of Frank Manley, a young athlete who seems to excel in every sport he undertakes. The description on the magazine says, 'Each number contains a story of manly sports, replete with lively incidents, dramatic situations, and a sparkle of humor'. There were letters to the editor in the back of each issue.

It was one of a number of titles published by Frank Tousey, 24 Union Square, New York. Frank Manley's Weekly was first published in 1905, and ran for at least twenty-one issues.

This is a scan of the first inside page of the magazine, and you can see from the colour how much the cheap paper has deteriorated. It is of course 106 years old.

The story itself is wonderful, involving as it does ice yachting, as well as curling! Frank Manley and his friends in the Woodstock Junior Athletic Club successfully help a Russian, Count Sassaneff, retain possession of valuable diamonds as he is hunted by a group of villains (the Nihilists). At one point in the story, the diamonds are hidden in a rubber ball which ends up under the ice during a game of curling when the umpire (a middle aged Scotsman called Tam Samson, would you believe) falls through in his excitement! Needless to say there is a happy ending.

For the curling historian, there is much of interest. The sport is described as being played on outside natural ice, using the crampit for delivery. Individuals play a points competition, before the inter-club match. In that game the hero attempts a double raise with last stone of the last end, the opposition lying six!

"But to Manley there came sudden hope.
He saw a shot that was possible - barely possible.
It called for the most brilliant kind of a shot, however.
A careful posing, then a quick decisive delivery, and Manley's heart was very nearly in his mouth.
Up went the the stone in grand style and with crushing force.
It struck the stone at the hog-score - struck it dead - and this, in turn, struck dead Manley's own middle stone.
Now, in turn, Manley's own middle stone struck the winner of (sic) the tee and lay there.
'Match to Bradford'!"

The author of the story writes under the pseudonym 'Physical Director'.

The same person writes about curling in a 'Practical Talk on Training No 52' which is included in the magazine:

"Curling is a sport that deserves to be highly popular in these United States. I wish all of my young readers could go in for it during the winter months.
In the first place, it is a game that must be played out of doors, in the keen, bracing, frosty air of the ice season.
It is a game that is played with stones that range in weight from thirty-two and forty-two pounds.
It follows, as a matter of course, therefore, that here is plenty of good, solid, muscular work.
These stones have to be slid over the ice, the usual length of the rink being forty-two yards.
Not only is considerable muscular work demanded, but there must be the greatest accuracy.
Taken all around, for strong muscular work, for training of the eye, and for teaching coolness and judgment, curling is about as grand a sport as can be found for the winter.
Then, again, curling calls for the exercise of good nature. The cross, snappy curler is soon driven from the game.
The sport makes for good-fellowship, and will do more than any other winter sport to foster good feeling in an athletic club."

What follows are ideas on how to raise funds to support athletic clubs for young people, and the statement, "Clean outdoor sport is the best possible kind of training for a boy."

Frank Manley's Weekly was the successor to Young Athlete's Weekly, which also had an issue featuring curling. This has survived too and is in the collections of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, see here. That story is entitled 'Frank Manley's Knack at Curling: The Greatest Ice Game on Record'. I wonder what young Manley got up to in that issue?

As well as Bowling Green State University, Stanford University and the University of South Florida have extensive collections of dime novels and the like.


Georges Dodds has sent the following: "you state 'Frank Manley's Weekly was first published in 1905, and ran for at least twenty-one issues.' – there were 32 issues [no.1 (1905:Sept.8)-no.32 (1906:Apr.13)] – the entire run is held by the TC Andersen Library Children’s Lit (Hess Collection) at the University of Minnesota.

You correctly mention Bowling Green State University, Stanford University and the University of South Florida as having large dime novel collections, but the largest and most complete such collection in the US, is at the University of Minnesota (

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Charles Aird's Jubilee

David B Smith writes:

The Kilmarnock Standard of April 23, 1892, printed a long account of a dinner held in the town to celebrate the Jubilee of one of the town’s notable curlers, Charles Aird of the Kilmarnock Townend Club.

After the presentation to him of a valuable timepiece and to his daughter-in-law of a gold brooch, accompanied by appropriate speeches, the curler himself “gave an outline of his career as a curler which we think it best to print in the homely, colloquial style in which it was spoken.”

I agree; so here goes:

“My first start at the curling was on the Townhead Dam the year the Caledonia Club was formed, and also on other dams round about, sometimes at the 'Farrel o’ Bread' or 'Bessie’s Bog' – in fact, any place we could get ice. In the year '38 we had thirteen weeks' frost at one time. The Boyd Street folk and the Dean Street folk played a game, two rinks a side – on Bonnyton Loch; then we all met at nicht and had a chappin’ or twa o’ yill. I mind o’ Sawney Boyd, the shaemaker, sitting doon on the flaer singing something aboot “Dae ye no see the shaemaker’s son rinning awa' for a bawbee's worth o' roset.” (Laughter) The winners challenged the losers to play them the following Saturday, not expecting the frost to continue. However, it did so. We went on this way till we had played for seven Saturdays all running.

After Bonnyton Loch was closed I sometimes played on the Bonnyton clay-holes, and I have had a game too on Hillhead bog. Wherever we went I had aye my stanes to carry back and forrit myself, so that was surely what you would ca' a guid apprenticeship. (Laughter)

I joined the Townend Club in the year '42, that being the year the New Farm Loch was opened. My first start after becoming a member was at Lochwinnoch to play the Johnstone curlers for the district medal. I played for several years on that loch, also at Barr meadow. I played in the national game and for the big jug presented by the late Lord Eglinton, which I have no doubt cost hundreds of pounds. Then I played in a match between Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. I next played at Loch Broom, in a match between Mauchline and our own club. I have also played in a game on Cunninghamhead Pond for the district medal – Dalry against Townend. I played on Craufurdland Loch for the district medal; then later on for the big jug, and as you all know, for the gold curling stone, presented by the late Lady Craufurd of Craufurdland, times without number. I have played several games at Eglinton flushes, made by the late Lord Eglinton purposely for the big jug games.

I mind one time playing in a private game, one rink, for a load of meal for the poor. The game was between Eglinton and J. O. Fairlie. Then I played in a game at Coodham for the district medal – Townend against Tarbolton. I have also played a game on the late D.C. Gairdner's artificial pond at Coodham in J.O. Fairlie's time, and likewise on the late A. Finnie's artificial pond. I remember, too, having a game at Ashgrove, one rink, against Saltcoats and Ardrossan for dinner and drink. We met once on Dundonald Loch to play the Irvine curlers for the district medal, but they never put in an appearance. However, we managed to finish it up ourselves in Dundonald.

I once played in a game at Auchans Loch for the big jug, and I have also played more than once for the big jug on Merkland Loch, and also at the same place for Mr D.C.Gairdner's silver curling stone, which our rink won, and I took it home with me. Then I played a game at Newfield Loch for the silver kettle presented by Mrs Finnie, which our rink won, and which I took home with me. So you see I had both the silver curling stone and the silver kettle in the house at the same time. I filled the kettle up to the brim, which took about six bottles o' the real Campbeltown out of auld James Ramsay's shop in Boyd Street. (Laughter.) I handed it round freely to ane and a' to drink the health of a' keen curlers, and if there had been a hole in the curling stane I would have filled it tae with the same stuff. (Laughter.) So you see, although I have now reached my jubilee in the roaring game, I don't mean to give it up, but will throw a stone as long as I am able. I have now been a skip in the Townend Club for 46 years. (Applause.)”

Top photo: Charles Aird, a tailor who lived in High Street, Kilmarnock, from a carte de visite given to David by his grandson in 1977.

Charles Aird's stones are in the Dick Institute. Kilmarnock. The handles are fashioned from a single piece of wood and are inserted into a circular hole in the top of the stone, and were kept in place by wet cloth wrapped round the dowel. Height 6.5 in., circumference 29 in., sole 7 in., weight 42 lbs.

On the top of the stone are painted the owner's name and Townend Club in gold. Such high stones were popular in Kilmarnock until the end of the nineteenth century.

The 'big jug' as Charles Aird calls it in his speech, or 'The Jug' as it is generally referred to at the present day. It is still the most prestigious trophy contended for by Ayrshire curlers. This photograph shows a Kilmarnock Townend rink who won it in 1948-9. L-R: J. Lambie, skip, J. Gibson, Jr., L.B. Richmond, and R. Wylie.

The illustrations are from David's archive.