Racing game in a box

A mahogany box, a bit battered around the corners & missing the lock escutcheon, but once it would have been rather handsome. And it has distracted me from all the things that I should have been doing for far too long…

Antique horse racing game

When opened, it has a red velvet lined interior with compartments for two gilded red morocco leather shakers, some bone die and twelve hand-painted lead racehorses with jockeys. But, frustratingly, no instructions or playing board.

I thought to myself “Never mind, I’ll just look it up on the internet. There can’t be that many antique horse racing games”.

I was very, very wrong. Here are a few :

Minoru made by John Jacques & Co of London contains eight painted horses & jockeys, a double sided cloth race track, cards and betting chips. It was named after the Edward VII’s horse Minoru, the winner of the 1909 Derby.

Ascot also made by John Jacques & Co from 1880. Six lead horses on strings are wound towards the wooden game box. Confusingly “Ascot” is also the name of a French version of Totopoly from 1946.

Sandown Racing game by Ayres dates from 1910-20. It features a roulette style wheel which determines the moves of each horse on the track.

Escalado by Chad Valley came out in 1929. Apparently the horses raced on a vibrating track. Later versions had plastic horses.

Totopoly was first produced by Waddingtons of Leeds in 1938. This game hade a reversible playing cloth / board. The first half of the game concentrated on buying and training horses and the second half racing.

Jeu de Course by M.J. & Co, a French mechanical game from the early 20th century

Newmarket from the 1930′s
Good Going by J.Hill & Co from the 1930′s
The Long Green by Milton Bradley from 1936
The Favorite by Glevum a mechanical game from the 1930′s (in view of the spelling, probably American) – this game relied on wire clips and elastic to move the lead horses, it looks really complicated.
The Derby by Bandai

I couldn’t find my game anywhere (although I liked the look of the novelty horse racing version of Scalextric).

Bone dice and labels

I did find a reference to a box of lead racehorses in a rather grand Victorian games compendium. So, are these Victorian horses? Two have paper labels on their bases, and there were some loose labels in the dice compartment.

La Martine name label

Lead racehorse name

Lead racehorse name

Lead racehorse name

Lead racehorse name

Lead racehorse name

After a little research I found all of these horses either in the General Stud Book or John A Seavens’ book “Portraits of celebrated racehorses of the past and present centuries: in strictly chronological order, commencing in 1702 and ending in 1870 together with their respective pedigrees & performance recorded in full” . Snappy title, eh?

Lamartine came second in the Port Stakes, Newmarket in 1852. The horse was also recorded as belonging to a Mr Powney and winning the 1853 Craven Stakes at Goodwood in “The Slaveholder Abroad; or Buck’s Visit with his Master to England” by Ebenezer Starnes in 1860.

Buckhound is recorded in the Seaverns book as belonging to the Duke of Richmond in 1850.

Confessor (or “The Confessor”) won the Great St Leger in 1851 and seems to have had a successful stud career between 1855 & 1867.

Touch-Me-Not won the Chesterfield Stakes at Newmarket in 1860 while owned by Captain Brabazon.

Gipsy Boy (note the spelling) and Heartbreaker are both recorded in the General Stud Book in 1860.

So the game is probably mid-Victorian, dating from around 1860.

antique lead racehorse


antique lead racehorse


antique lead racehorse

Considering its age it is remarkably complete. The horses are in pretty good condition, the paint is rubbed on some of the horses and jockeys, but the different coloured silks can still be seen, right down to the stripes. The figures would have been painted by hand, and there is some variation between them.

The reins of each horse are made of thread, they have all survived. The horses’ legs are all still present, but there have been some fairly major pastern injuries, many of the forelegs bow slightly backwards. Perhaps the horses were slammed down on the gaming board rather enthusiastically.

Now the race just needs a track. I’m guessing that it does come from a Victorian compendium, so if I come across a complete one maybe it will have its original board or cloth. I would love to know the distance raced & how many horses ran at once, twelve seems rather excessive. More research needed…


antique whips with silk handle

antique whips with silk handle

antique whips with silk handle

antique whips with silk handle

antique whips with silk handle

antique whips with silk handle

Next time I find myself cringing at the sight of a neon pink riding whip or a crystal encrusted browband perhaps I should reconsider.
“Bling” has been with us in the horse world for quite some time.

An antique dealer friend once told me that Victorian riding whips were all about “power, sex & status”. He had a point – before sports cars and ipads came along a fine horse and elegant attire were pretty good ways of advertising one’s wealth and taste to the world.

Personally, I prefer the gold and silver mounted whips on the left to today’s more “colourful” examples.

I bought the thinner sidesaddle whip on the left a couple of years ago. It has a silver cap and collar. The cap is engraved “Callow & Son Park Lane”. The handle of the whip is covered in finely braided silk. The braiding is really well done, the threads of the blue sections are arranged so that the colour fades from dark to light in each section.

Callow & Son are listed in the 1879 “Dickens Dictionary of London” by Charles Dickens Jr – the publication only listed tradesmen / shops which had a Royal appointment. Swaine & Adeney and Callow & Son are listed under whipmakers. (As an aside, Charles Dickens Jr was the son of Charles Dickens the novelist, the son was responsible for many publications including Dickens’ Dictionary of London, an Unconventional handbook. It is full of useful information such as the location of the nearest racecourse or workhouse – perhaps the latter was necessary after the former. Anyway, reprints are available, or find it at )

Back to whips – I have just acquired the two heavier whips. They were sold as racing whips. For once I know a little of their background – they were sold by the Earl of Lonsdale at Christies in 1980.

Both have woven silk covered handles and 15 carat gold caps and collars. One is engraved “Callow & Son Park Lane”. The similarity to my other whip intrigued me, so I thought I’d research Callow & Son a little more – I was quite excited to find a Thomas Callow recorded as a London silversmith in the late 19th century – but it isn’t the right Callow. One of these whips has the goldsmiths mark “TJ”, probably Thomas Johnson, and the other “EHW”, who I can’t identify.

I have seen another whip for sale with a braided silk grip like these – also by Callow & Son. It is possible that they were the only company of whipmakers who used this style of decoration.

I visited Tyntesfield in North Somerset a while ago. (Tyntesfield is a fantastic house owned by the National Trust which still has most of its victorian interior & contents – read more here )

In the entrance hall there was a whip rack which held a hunting whip and a couple of sidesaddle whips. One had a decorative threadwork handle (see later images), and the other was braided blue silk. Now I wonder if it was also made by Callow, I should have asked to look more closely at it at the time. I guess I’ll just have to go back…

This last whip shows decorative linen threadwork.