Antique beagling whip



This little beagling whip came from an online auction.
It had looked great in its photo.
And indeed it has an antler handle well carved as a hound’s head ( complete with the surprised expression that the dogs on these whip handles always seem to sport ).
It has a lovely collar decorated with a scene of a hound chasing a fox by a gate.
The short shaft or stock is made of golden malacca cane with a good patina. The rawhide open keeper needs re-binding but is otherwise fine.
The only problem was with the hound’s eyes – or more accurately, eye.
It had lost one of its original glass eyes, leaving an empty right socket that looked downright sinister.

Left eye of whip handle

The left eye is present and correct

Whip handle missing hound's eye

Just a socket where the right eye should be

It looks like something out of a horror film – so – what to do ?

This was my first thought – not exactly practical, but it amused me for five minutes :

Beagling whip with eye patch

Actually, I think he looks quite rakish.

But obviously that wasn’t the answer. On careful inspection of his remaining eye it looked to be made of glass. So I hit the internet.
I now know that there are many different sort of glass eyes out there – eyes for actual people, eyes for taxidermists, eyes for toys, eyes for the macabre end of the interior decorating spectrum.
After a LOT of searching I found some suppliers of 3mm diameter German handblown glass eyes.

Whip with glass eyes

And they were too small….
Back to the internet, different company, 4mm diameter eyes.
I’m spending so much time on this whip I almost feel like I should be giving it a name.

Whip with glass eyes

A selection of 4mm eyes

The eyes are handmade and vary fractionally in size. So I chose the one that most closely fits the socket.

Beagling whip with two eyes

The iris is a bit paler and a bit smaller than the original eye, but I think it’s the closest that I’m going to get. I’m certainly not going to try replacing the original eye. I still need to find some sort of cement to hold it in place

And then all I have to do is get the keeper re-bound


Several years ago I had an interesting whip, it was black and made of a length of wood or vine, the three branches of which twisted around each other. It can be seen at I had bought it as part of a small collection of sidesaddle whips, and never managed to identify it.

So I was surprised to find another two very similar whips at a local auction last year

Twisted wooden whips

I was still pretty clueless about them.

Until today. I was researching some spurs, using the marvelous French museum online database “Joconde” (the French name for the Mona Lisa). As so often happens when searching for things on the internet, I wandered away from my original search. I was happily scrolling through the results for “fouet” (most of which were kitchen balloon whisks ), when suddenly I saw my whip.

It was in the collection of the Pithiviers Museum of Art & History, which has an ethnographic collection. It was donated to the museum in 1910 from the collection of Louis Gosse (1876 – 1939). The piece originated in the High Ubangi region , the Ubangi river is a large tributary of the Congo.
I still haven’t identified the type of wood or creeper, or the function of the whips, but at least I have somewhere to start…

African whip

I found another example at Brooklyn Museum, not much extra information there – it is described as a plaited twig whip from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was collected on the 1922 Museum Expedition, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, along with many “chicottes” – whips made from twisted rhino hide. There are many disturbing accounts of the hide whips being used on people, but I have not found any descriptions of these lighter twig whips being used for this purpose, which is sort of comforting. Sort of.

Congolese whip

Ubangi whip


I bought one of these whips years ago at the sale of the contents of Dr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It was an extraordinary sale, full of natural history specimens and ethnographic objects from around the world as well as bizarre taxidermy tableaus – read more & see images here or here

Lacebark whip

Old label on whip

The whip had an intriguing half-label attached. It read “Lace T… Bark and remaining ….. whip”. I spent a while trying to research it, but could not find much infomation.

A website visitor told me that the fibres were produced by “ponding” – the soaking and punding of the wood in water, which sounded reasonable.

I had almost forgotten about it until I saw another example at auction a little while ago. This one was in better condition with a lace-like ruff surviving at its top.

Lacebark whip
After some more reading I found that the full name of the wood is Lacebark. Wikipedia tells us that “The lace-bark tree is a tree native to Jamaica, known botanically as Lagetta lintearia, from its native name lagetto. The inner bark consists of numerous concentric layers of interlacing fibers resembling in appearance lace. collars and other articles of apparel have been made of the fiber, which is also used in the manufacture of whips”.

There is also an interesting paper about the plant from Kew Gardens here

The “ruff” is quite soft and does look convincingly lace-like .

Lacebark wood


Lacebark lace from wood

I have seen other examples of lacebark items including more whips, collars and slippers in a few online museum collections. There is also an old report from The Advertiser Late Evelyn Observer

“June 3rd 1938 in State Library of Victoria

YARRAMIBAT Gifts Mrs. 1W. Le Francke, of Yarrambat, presented a whip made from the lace tree of Jamaica-a valuable gift-for the school museum. Other gifts are: Mrs. Warren, cross-section of motor – tyre showing construction; Mr. H. Allen, beautiful pieces of coral and many shells; Mr. Carter, many pictures of overseas towns; Mr. D. Claude Robert son (Melbourne), six new tennis balls for children’s tennis.” I find myself imagining a somewhat bemused reaction to this selection of gifts…..


A while ago I posted pictures of this whip on my facebook page. I was hoping that someone could identify it, but didn’t have any luck. I bought the whip at auction with some silver filigree buttons. A visit to the V & A last year identified the buttons as 19th century & German but told me nothing about the whip. I wondered whether it was South American and for a while thought the top looked a little like a Caucasian whip. The whole thing is very delicate and the braiding of both the silver & the hide is incredibly fine. The silver part measures 22.7cm (9″) and the total length is 71cm (28″).

Silver whip


Silver whip handle

So, I was delighted to see two fairly similar examples on a recent visit to Vienna. I was there for a feline medicine conference but there’s always time to visit a museum – albeit nowhere near long enough to do justice to all Vienna’s fantastic museums & galleries.

Back to the whip. We’d bought combination tickets to several museums – the arms & armour Museum (fantastic lorinery, I’ll put some images up at the end of this blog),the musical instrument museum, the fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Imperial Treasury or Schatzkammer. The first three were of enormous interest, we weren’t sure whether to bother with the treasury – not that excited by “bling”, but I’m so glad that we did.

Never mind the world’s largest emerald – in the very first room we entered there was a display case holding an embroidered velvet dog collar, elaborate falcon hoods and falconry lure and the hereditary grand equerry’s long whalebone whip with a silver gilt handle. There were fantastic robes, crowns, maces & reliquaries all beautifully crafted & decorated with amazing jewels. However, I found myself drawn to a case which held a bible and two small, fine whips. They weren’t identical to mine, but both had a loop at the top, fairly similar braiding, ended in three tails and were a similar size. I tried to take a photo, but the light wasn’t good enough.

I don’t speak German, so copied down the captions and ran them through an automated online translator. The word that really threw me was “geissel”. I didn’t entirely believe the first effort that came back with “flagellate”, as far as I’m concerned that’s a description of a protozoan or some such. So I tried again – “scourge”. Possibly not a horse whip then…. The whole caption translated as “38. SCOURGE OF EMPRESS ANNE (THE WIFE OF EMPEROR MATTHIAS) German before 1618. Silver, partly gilded; silk; brass. (Kap. 147) 39 SCOURGE OF EMPRESS ELEONORA (the second wife of Emperor Ferdinand II) German, 1st half of the 17th century”. I’d be very happy ( actually a bit relieved) if any German speakers out there would care to correct me. I’m taking comfort from the fact that my whip appears unused, perhaps a previous owner didn’t feel awfully penitent.


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.


Antique riding whip with serpents

This whip has a beautiful silver handle & collar, decorated with cast coiled serpents.
Unfortunately the covering of the shaft or stock has suffered some damage. Looking on the bright side – this does let us look at the construction of an antique whip.
The body or core of the whip is made of whalebone or balleen. This material is not actual bone but comes from the fibrous plates in the whale’s mouth, used for filter feeding. Whalebone was used for many purposes before the advent of plastics & fiberglass, because it was strong and flexible. Hopefully the images at the end of this blog show its layers or lamellae.

This core was wrapped first in thin paper (sometimes newspaper was used, which can be useful in determining the age of the whip ) . A layer of braided material would cover the paper – the imprint of this can still be seen on the paper. The braided material could be catgut, linen or more whalebone.

The grip of this whip is covered in braided whalebone – I believe this whalebone was cut into strips and steamed to make it flexible enough to be braided, similar strips of whalebone were also used on violin bow lapping.
Special looms were used to create the tubular covering, unfortunately not many of these survive, so I am looking into ways to get the whip re-covered.

Antique riding whip with serpents
Detail of whip showing exposed balleen and paper
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents