You learn something new every day – today I learned that leather slipper stirrups were also known as “Devon” stirrups and I learned rather too much about Basil leather.

Leather slipper stirrup

This is a rather worn leather slipper stirrup – it was an early form of sidesaddle safety stirrup, the rider’s foot could not get caught in it in the event of a fall.

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

Slipper stirrup in catalogue

This illustration comes from a 1901 Bliss & Co Catalogue which gives various safety stirrup options

Catalogue listing

Various options are offered for the metal stirrups : “Malleable” (which sounds faintly alarming – who wants a bendy stirrup iron ? Maybe they mean something else), this could be polished or nickel plated, or else Steel, Nickel Plated Steel or Nickel.

The leather covered options could use Hogskin (today we’d probably say pigskin) or “Basil”.

I had no idea what Basil was, but found an excellent French website (www.basane.fr) that gave an excellent explanation & history. It is a leather made from small hides such as sheep, tanned using plant based agents. Its reputation deteriorated from the mid 19th Century when the wool was removed from the skins by using bacteria, which also affected the quality of the hides. For this reason Basil was a cheaper option than Hogskin

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Hunting whips or crops are generally sold as “ladies” or “gents”. Indeed I have catalogues from the 1920′s & 30′s which sell them as such.

From time to time I am asked what the difference is between them.

I guess it’s a matter of size – most men are larger than most women, so men’s whips are often longer, have a greater circumference or thickness of stock and sometimes a heavier handle.

various hunting whips

Things get a bit more complicated when dealing with antique whips. They can be rather long compared to modern examples. I have always assumed that this is because the rider, if male, employed an “old fashioned hunting seat” with their legs far forward, or if female, often rode sidesaddle where a longer stick could be useful. If anyone has any better theories I would love to hear them.

Anyway, this means that the length of the crop doesn’t necessarily tell us for whom it was made. More useful may be the weight, size of staghorn handle and circumference of stock or shaft. Unhelpfully, the old catalogues don’t give any of these details, actually, the new ones don’t seem to either…

Most of us are somewhat larger than our forbears. An average British man in 1900 was 5’6” (1.68m) tall and a woman 5’2” (1.58m), in 2010 an average British man was 5’9” (1.77m) and woman 5’4” (1.6m)

(please note : these figures came from Wikipedia, they may not be remotely accurate and different figures apply in other countries, and when I say our forbears were smaller, well that’s true in the 19th & 20th centuries, but there seem to have been some rather tall people around in the medieval period, and that’s enough disclaimers )

Along with increased height came increased weight, foot size & head size – have you ever tried to find antique boots or hats that fit ?
So that whip bought and engraved for “Robert” in 1928 might look better in the hand of “Roberta” today.

I’m still trying to find a better way of dividing the hunting whips on my website – somehow I don’t think a section of “whips for small men & big women” will attract the sort of attention I want.

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