Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Curling Stone Man

Something happened to me on Saturday, which makes me think I might be cured! You see, I'm a bit of a collector of curling memorabilia. What is it deep inside the brains of so many of us that stimulates a desire to collect things? At all costs? I think it's irrational.

Let me go back a few years. Ever since I began curling, I've been fascinated by curling stones. Big ones, flat pancake ones, tall ones, small ones, made of different types of 'granite', with different upper and lower surfaces, with wide and narrow striking bands, running bands of different diameters, a variety of colourful handles. Yes, when the skating rink at Crossmyloof was in use for curling in the early 1960s, variety was very much part of the game! Of course, matched stones were soon to become the norm in indoor rinks.

On outside ice, things had never been standardised because, if you wanted to play curling in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, you had to have your own stones. The RCCC Annuals of the time carried adverts for the variety of stones that were available to buy. David Smith has talked about this, on the Curling History blog here.

For the past eight years I've hung out at auctions up and down the country, visited antique shops and fairs, always on the lookout for stones - to see if I could identify them, and generally to decide if they were worth buying. Sadly, too many once beautiful valuable stones have not been cared for, being left outside in the rain, or placed on a concrete step with no thought to the damage being done to the running surface! Many who took to the outside ice last winter in Scotland discovered to their cost just how important having good-running stones is to the enjoyment of the sport on natural ice.

I've bought stones and handles at auction over the years to add to my collection. Many I've done up and sold on, and hopefully those who have bought stones from me have been happy with their purchases. Over the next few months, I'll have a few more stones for sale, partially because I want to be able to finance my other hobby - blogging! (A new laptop is the main item on the shopping list for the new season)

What do I mean, I'm cured? On Friday, I looked in to an auction viewing to see a pair of stones which would be on sale on the Saturday. You can never tell from a description, or even a small photo, just what an auction lot will actually be like. You have to go and see. These stones were VERY interesting and unusual, and if past performance was anything to go by, I would have been back at the auction house for the sale on the Saturday, bidding way above what I could afford just to have these in my possession. If you are a collector yourself, of anything, you will probably know what I mean.

As it turned out, Saturday morning came and went, and I resisted the desire to add yet more stones to my collection. I'm cured... I hope.

I've had great fun at auctions over the years. I came across a collection of really old stones at Loves in Perth four years ago. They had obviously been rescued from underwater, given the build up of rust on the handles. I assumed that because of the condition they might go cheaply. Not so! I was outbid on every one, by a telephone bidder, the best of the bunch going for several hundred pounds! At the interval I asked if I might photograph the stones, just for the record, and my request was relayed by one of the staff into the main office. "The curling stone man wonders if he might take a photo of the old stones!" That's them above.

I wondered who had bought them. That information is confidential of course to the auction house, but I did learn that it was a she, an attractive lady apparently, with a North American accent, who likes 'old Scottish things'! Unfortunately I've never found out who she is.

One more auction story. Two stones of a pair were being sold separately at an auction in Montrose. Single soled stones they were, very unusual and rather attractive. I was fortunate to be the winning bidder on one of the stones early in the morning, for a not unreasonable price. I waited around all day until the partner came up, and had to drop out when the bidding went up past £200 for just the one stone. Shame really, I'm sure 'my' stone is lonely and has been pining for its mate these past years.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is really to introduce a new For Sale page to the blog, where periodically I'll put some things up for sale/auction over the coming months. It's on the menu bar above, or click here. By putting items for sale on the blog here first, I hope I can guarantee that they will go to a good home. If no blogallies want to buy, it's not a problem, the various items will likely go to eBay down the line.

The first item on the new page could be for you if your initials just happen to be J. McP. Do you know anyone called John McPhail, Jackie McPherson, Jake McParland or ...?

I should say that stones make up the least of the things I collect, although they are the largest, and I look forward to talking about my other collecting interests in the future. Do YOU collect curling memorabilia? Tell me what you collect.

A variety of stones were on the ice at Castle Semple Loch, Lochwinnoch, last January, see here.

Pics © Skip Cottage