So far in this series, I’ve discussed six completely different types of juggling clubs, including those that were first used in the 1890s to those that were developed in the 1950s. In Part 1, I discussed hollow wooden clubs, basket clubs, and upholstered clubs. In Part 2, skeleton clubs, cork clubs, and hollow plastic clubs were examined. Now we’ll learn about three types of clubs that have their origins in the 1960s.
Plastic Toy Bowling Pin Clubs
The next development was the plastic toy bowling pin club, which came into existence in the early 1960s. I previously wrote an entire article about these clubs, but I’ll include some of that information here. The earliest known maker of plastic toy bowling pin juggling clubs (PTBPJCs) is Dave Madden from New York City. He had seen another juggler use such clubs, but never found out who this mystery juggler was. He recalled that they had a plastic bowling pin body, a very thick dowel rod for a handle, and a large knob made from a foam ball. Below is a re-creation of what this club looked like, made by Jay Green:
In 1963, Dave decided that he could improve this design and make some clubs for himself. He made 6 sets of clubs for the Juggling Jesters (Dave Madden, Jay Green, Dick Luby, Mickey O’Malley, Harry Deido, and Art Bassett) to use. These PTBPJCs were quite simple, consisting of the bowling pin body, a thinner hardwood handle, and a rubber crutch tip for a knob. Tape was used to smooth the transition from plastic pin to hardwood handle. When Juggling Jesters member Jay Green saw how durable the Madden clubs were, he thought that he could again improve upon the design. He ended up making the first multi-piece clubs, which will be discussed later in this article.
Larry Merlo created an extremely nice version of the PTBPJC in 1972 featuring a lathe turned pine handle, hardwood furniture knob, and an end cap made of marine plywood and polyurethane. He wrapped the handle with bicycle tape and added decorations to make an extremely nice do it yourself club.
PTBPCs were made popular when Charles Lewis, better known as Carlo, published his book, “The Juggling Book By Carlo” in 1974. He gave instructions on how to make a nice set of PTBPJCs featuring lathed handles, which, like Larry Merlo’s club, was an improvement over Dave Madden’s design. Many jugglers made home-made sets of clubs from his instructions.
Even juggling legends sometimes started with PTBPJCs. Anthony Gatto’s first set of clubs were PTBPJCs made by his father. One of these still exists and is in David Cain’s Historical Juggling Props Collection.
With the increased popularity and availability of hollow plastic clubs and multi-piece clubs starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the necessity to make do it yourself clubs evaporated, leaving the PTBPJC as a fond memory for many jugglers of that era.
Hollow Fiberglass Clubs
In Part 2 of this series, I included a skeleton club created by Claude Crumley that was covered in fiberglass. However, prior to those clubs were what we normally think of when fiberglass juggling clubs are mentioned. These were hollow clubs made in a mold.
The best known and best made hollow fiberglass clubs were the work of Stu Raynolds of Wilmington, Delaware (USA). Raynolds was a well known juggler who attended the first IJA convention as a seventeen year old. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and worked as a researcher for Du Pont, creating a number of inventions for them. Raynolds began to experiment with alternatives to hollow wooden clubs in the 1950s, but failed to create something that was durable enough. In the 1960s, he decided that clubs created with an epoxy fiberglass would be the perfect solution. The result was an extremely high quality club that was considered the Rolls Royce of juggling clubs at the time. Raynolds went into production of a variety of clubs in 1969. In addition to creating fiberglass versions of many of the wooden clubs made by his mentor, Harry Lind, Stu created European style clubs, giant clubs, and tiny clubs. Many of these can be seen in the following picture of Raynolds clubs now owned by Cindy Marvell.
Raynolds clubs were used by well known jugglers Dick Franco, Albert Lucas, David Lucas, and many others. Stu Raynolds’ most famous clubs were his Tommy Curtin bottle clubs. These clubs are considered extremely valuable and desired by many jugglers. Below is a picture of two of them, given to me by Tommy Curtin himself.
Raynolds also created a fiberglass version of Massimiliano Truzzi’s unique clubs, pictured below.
Stu Raynolds was not the only, and possibly not even the first, to create hollow fiberglass clubs. In the mid-1960s, well known juggler Ken Benge partnered with Huey Lyons and Joe Singleton to create his own version of the hollow fiberglass club. Singleton was skilled in working with fiberglass in the taxidermy field and was able to partner with Benge and Lyons to create some quite good clubs, although they weren’t quite as nice as what Raynolds eventually came out with. These clubs are very rare. Below is an example of one given to me by Jason Kollum.
Multi-piece / Composite Clubs
The most popular clubs by far today are multi-piece, or composite, clubs. These clubs typically feature a wooden dowel, a molded plastic body, a wrapped or flexible molded cushioned handle, a foam knob, and foam end cap. As I stated earlier, Jay Green (Gerald Greenberg) had seen the Dave Madden clubs discussed earlier and thought he could improve on their design. In 1964, Jay took the plastic bowling pin body and hardwood handle and added a funnel that went from the thickest part of the body to the handle. He also added the first flex cushioning on the handle and foam knob and end cap, creating what we now recognize as the modern multi-piece club. Jay called these “Poly Clubs.” Below are pictures of original Jay Green composite clubs.
In 1975, Brian Dube of New York City (USA) began making clubs almost identical to the Green European clubs. They included the same small plastic toy bowling pin body as the Green clubs. Here are three of these very early Dube clubs formerly owned by Steve Mills.
Dube soon started making custom molded bodies for their composite clubs. Here is a first generation Dube club from 1976 with the custom molded body.
These early composite clubs were short handled by today’s standards. The first long handled composite clubs were created when Steve Mills took a set of Dube clubs apart and put in a longer dowel. He filled in gaps in the cushioned handle and put the clubs back together. He showed these long handled clubs to Brian Dube who then went into production with the first retail long handled clubs. The original Mills modified long handled Dube’s are pictured below.
Other than some novel variations in shape, such as Radical Fish clubs and Renegade Fathead clubs, the composite club has more or less stayed the same. Knob shapes have varied a bit and are sometimes rubber rather than foam, as is true with end caps. One interesting innovation was the use of a plastic dowel rather than a wooden one. This was first used in the Freaks Unlimited Acrobat club from the UK in 1993. This innovation was later adopted and popularized in the PX3 clubs from the Italian juggling manufacturer Play. Below is a picture of a Freaks Unlimited Acrobat club.
So far in this series, I’ve discussed nine basic types of clubs that have been made over the past 120 years. There are at least eight more categories, which I’ll continue to examine in the last two installments of the series.