When many people juggle American clubs for the first time after having only juggled the much more common European clubs, they often comment on how large the Americans are. Modern American clubs are slightly smaller than their older predecessors, which are smaller than a category that can simply be called “giant clubs.” Most jugglers have never seen one of these giant clubs in person and may have only seen a few pictures of them. This led me to search out pictures, video, and information on this extremely rare prop.
When juggling clubs were first manufactured in the late 1890s, they were 20 inches long, 4 inches in diameter, and weighed 1 pound. These were manufactured by Edward Van Wyck in his Cincinnati, Ohio (USA) workshop. Van Wyck eventually passed the club making mantle on to Harry Lind. Lind’s standard clubs were 12 ounces, 19.5 inches long, and 3.75 inches in diameter, although be made slightly larger Bobby May model clubs, with were 1 pound, 20.25 inches long, and 4 inches in diameter. In the following picture, you can see, from left to right, a standard Van Wyck, a standard Lind, and a Bobby May model Lind, and a standard, modern European club, which weighs only 10 ounces.
Both Van Wyck and Lind made giant clubs in addition to their standard models. These were most likely patterned off of giant swinging clubs that were used for exercise and in strength demonstrations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Here is a poster and a picture of such Indian clubs used by club swinging star Gus Hill.
Here is Joe Boyle with some giant swinging clubs.
Here is a modern giant swinging club.
Van Wyck initially made an oversized club that was approximately 30% larger than normal. Here is a picture of one from Paul Bachman’s collection. Like standard Van Wyck clubs, it is a three piece hollow wood club.
Later, Van Wyck started making a truly giant club. Here is a picture of juggling, vaudeville, radio, and movie star Joe Cook juggling three of them.
Here is one of Joe Cook’s clubs from my collection alongside a standard modern club.
It is made like a basket with a hardwood turned handle and a two piece basket weave type body with a metal screw assembly going from the wooden plug end cap to the handle. It is 29.5 Inches long, has a diameter of 9.5 inches, and weighs 2 pounds.
Harry Lind also made almost identical clubs. Here are two pictures of Van Wyck and Lind with two of these giant clubs.
Here is a picture of a display of Lind clubs, including the giant ones. Note the difference in size compared to Lind’s standard clubs.
Bobby May juggled three of Lind’s giant clubs from time to time. Here are some pictures of him juggling them.
Here is another example of a basket clubs from 1939. The maker is unknown. The juggler is Herman Ripa.
Not all of the giant clubs from the first half of the twentieth century were these lightweight basket clubs. Some appear to be wooden. Whether these were actually juggled or were just set pieces is unknown. You can see some examples of such clubs in the pictures of The Normans (club in the middle of the two young boys) and of Fitzgerald below.
It the 1940s, IJA Founder Art Jennings made his own giant clubs. These weren’t basket clubs, but were scaled up versions of Lind clubs. He juggled these in on a rola bola for the finale of his act. In the late 1950s, he passed them on to his son, Art Jennings Jr., who performed the same finale trick with them. Art Jennings Jr. still has the three clubs in storage. They are unique in that they have a much thicker handle than other giant clubs due to the fact that they were a scaled up representation of a standard Lind club. Art Jr. says that the use of such heavy and thick handled clubs was one reason he had to quit juggling due to hand issues. Here is a picture of Art Jennings holding three of these giant clubs along with a standard Lind club.
In the 1970s, prop maker Stu Raynolds made an oversized, although not giant, fiberglass club; the Albert Lucas model. Both Chris LaReau and Scott Sorensen had sets of these at the 2013 IJA Festival. Those who had a chance to try to juggle five of these behemoths got to experience a unique feeling of keeping such large props in the air. Here is a video of Chris Lareau, Tony Gonzalez, and Will Oltman juggling with them .
Even modern jugglers still make giant clubs from time to time. Bob Mendelson made very oversized clubs using large plastic baseball bats. He modified the handles and knobs, with the help of prop maker Rick Bright (of Ricker clubs fame), to turn them in to juggling clubs. Below is a picture of three of them next to American clubs and a video of Doug Sayers doing 360s and back crosses with five.
Perhaps the biggest club of all belongs to Dutch juggler Orin Habich. He created at giant club that also acts as a carrying case for his other clubs. Below is a picture and video of Orin using the club.
I’d like to create a sturdy but light weight club the same size as Van Wyck and Lind’s basket clubs for anyone to try at an upcoming IJA Festival. If anyone would like to do the same or help out, please let me know. Very few truly giant clubs still exist, but with a little work and creativity, modern jugglers can feel the joy of juggling these novelty props again.