In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the transition from solid Indian clubs to hollow wooden clubs, followed by basket clubs and upholstered clubs. In this article, I’ll discuss skeleton clubs, cork clubs, and hollow plastic clubs.
A little known, but very important type of clubs are what I call skeleton clubs. This term refers to clubs that feature wooden handle, an internal dowel that was either just a continuation of the handle or, more often, a thinner dowel inserted into the end of the handle. This dowel is surrounded by one or more disks (usually wooden) that help define the shape of the body. The outside of the body is then surrounded by either bamboo ribs with a flexible covering or by a harder shell of either papier mache, or fiberglass.
Here are some examples of ribbed skeleton clubs, both with and without the coverings.
These are twine wrapped, five sided skeleton clubs that I recently obtained for the Historical Juggling Props Exhibit.
These are Russian skeleton clubs from the 1960s that were donated by Hovey Burgess to the IJA archives.
The earliest known examples of the ribbed version of skeleton clubs were used by the Bremlov Family jugglers from Czechoslovakia. Below is a video of the Bremlovs from 1954.
Here are some examples of non-ribbed skeleton clubs.
While American jugglers were primarily juggling hollow wooden clubs for the first sixty years of the twentieth century, Europeans were tending to use clubs with hardwood handles / dowels and cork bodies. The dowels would have the handle end lathed and then the other end would be inserted and glued into a block of cork. This cork would then be lathed into the proper shape, creating a solid, but light weight club. Sometimes balsa wood would be used instead of cork. The body would usually then be painted or decorated with tape. In more recent times, Russian jugglers have used similar clubs with bodies made from blocks of dense foam, which are then cut into the proper shape and decorated.
Below are some cork, balsa wood, and dense foam bodied clubs from my collection. All feature hardwood handles / dowels.
Hollow Plastic Clubs
So far in this series I’ve been discussing clubs as they developed chronologically, although upholstered club, skeleton clubs, and cork clubs all started around the same time. So you might be surprised seeing “Hollow Plastic Clubs” listed before “Fiberglass Clubs.” Perhaps you are under the same assumption that I was long under that hollow plastic clubs appeared in the middle of the 1970s, when Dube and JuggleBug first released their American clubs. However, I’ve recently obtained hollow plastic clubs going back to the 1950s and 1960s.
The first hollow plastic clubs were part of a children’s juggling set made my the Irwin Corporation of New York City in the late 1950s. This “You Can Learn To Juggle” set contained three hollow plastic balls, three plastic plates, and three red, 12.25 inch long hollow plastic clubs. I was told about the existence of this extremely rare set about 6 weeks ago by Alan Howard and I’ve been very fortunate to recently purchase two of them, both is excellent condition, on ebay. You can see them below.
About a year ago I heard rumors that the Bartl magic company of Hamburg, Germany sold hollow plastic juggling clubs in the 1960s. I was sent a picture of a set of these, but was unable to learn anything more. In November of 2013, I was given a set of these clubs that was purchased in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1961. The sticker on the clubs is marked “Havemann” and the clerk that sold them told the buyer that they were made in Italy. Below is a picture of these clubs, which are 17 inches long.
The next hollow plastic clubs appeared in the second half of the 1970s. In 1976, Brian Dube released his hollow plastic American clubs, one of which can be seen below.
The next year JuggleBug released their very similar American club. Also in 1977, Rob Leith of Gemini Juggling released hollow plastic European clubs. The next year he released an octagonal European club. Below are examples of both of these rare types of Gemini clubs.
A rare European club was the K-Style hollow plastic club designed by Kit Summers and Brian Dube and released by Dube around 1980. Below is an example of one. It was later replaced by Dube’s popular Airflite clubs.
Ever since this surge of hollow plastic clubs in the late 1970s, hollow plastic clubs have been one of the two standard choices for jugglers around the world.