In the first three installments in this series, I examined the major types of juggling clubs that have been used from the initiation of club juggling in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the present time. These major categories were hollow wooden clubs, basket clubs, skeleton clubs, cork clubs, hollow plastic clubs, plastic toy bowling pin clubs, hollow fiberglass clubs, and composite clubs. I also discussed the minor category of upholstered clubs. In this fourth installment, I’ll examine four more minor categories.
Solid Wooden Clubs
I noted near the beginning of the first article that Dewitt Cook, the first club juggler, most likely used solid wooden Indian clubs. However, jugglers quickly moved away from these exercise apparatus to the lighter weight options I’ve discussed. However, there were still jugglers who chose to use solid wooden clubs. In the 1960s, legendary juggler Massimiliano Truzzi either bought or had made a set of solid wood clubs with a square shaped body. According to his grandson, these were never used in performance, but were his practice clubs. These clubs, which are now in the Historical Juggling Props Exhibit, are pictured below.
I should also note that Truzzi juggled three solid wooden sticks with flared ends (pictured below) in his act for his entire career, so using a shorter, more club-like version of these in practice made sense.
Ernest (Kuhn) Montego, another of history’s greatest performers, also used a solid wooden club. This thin club had a hexagonal body with a round handle wrapped in string and a knob. The body was decorated with foil and was capped off with a small plastic end cap. Montego used this club in performance from 1976 until his retirement in 1996. One of these clubs is pictured below.
Click here to see Ernest Montego performing with these clubs.
Well known ice skating juggler Albert Lucas also briefly used a thin, solid wood club with a plastic end cap. These were designed by Albert and made by Eliot Goldstein of The Juggling Arts. Lucas intended to use these clubs to try to flash 8, 9, and 10 clubs. I own one of these clubs and can’t imagine having 8 or 10 of them raining down on my head! One of these, signed by Albert Lucas, is pictured below.
Molded Foam Clubs
I previously discussed cork-style clubs made with dense foam instead of cork. The foam bodies were cut into shape. However, there have been some foam clubs that were made in a mold. The first known such clubs were made by Lee Letchworth of the USA. As a teenager, Lee took his knowledge of molds obtained from working with model planes to construct wooden molds to make juggling clubs. Lee began making clubs in 1975 at the age of seventeen and continued selling them, as well as torches, machetes, and devil sticks, until the age of twenty four. A wooden dowel would be stuck down into the mold and then the mold was filled with urethane expanding foam. After the foam was set, the body was covered with filament tape and decorative tape. The handles were given a cushioned wrapped and then covered with decorative wrap. The knobs were commercially available cabinet knobs, covered with a rubber, fitted piece of tubing and wrapped in tape. Well known performers such as Frank Olivier and the Raspyni Brothers used Letchworth clubs early in their careers. Due to the fact that their bodies are made of hardened foam, very few of Lee’s clubs still exist, although one of them can be found in the Historical Juggling Props Exhibit owned by David Cain. Below are pictures of the molds and two of the resulting clubs.
The Reflection Company of Blacksburg, Virginia (USA) released the SoftClub starting in 1990. It was composed of a soft foam body around a wooden dowel. The club’s inventor, Ron Wirgart, eventually changed to a fiberglass dowel. This club became popular among players of Combat / Galdiators. One of these is pictured below.
The best known molded foam clubs are the Jugglebug / Sportime children’s foam clubs pictured below.
Metal Frame Bodied Clubs
Beginning in the 1940s, a select few jugglers used clubs that featured a wooden handle and a body consisting of a series of metal bands creating a spherical or rectangular frame. The most famous of these clubs were used by Francis and Lottie Brunn. They are very short and flip very quickly. While Francis ceased performing with clubs fairly early in his career, Lottie continued to use these clubs for her entire career. They were originally made by Francis and Lottie’s father and were later made by Lottie’s husband, Ted Chirrick. Paul Bachman tells me that he located the correct type of metal bands for Ted to make them. Below is a close up of one of these clubs that I now own and several pictures of Francis and Lottie using or holding them.
Below is a video of Francis and Lottie Brunn juggling these clubs.
Very similar clubs were used by Gino Bogino in his juggling act. You can see him holding them in the picture below from 1961. He is pictured with his wife of the time, Mary Ann.
Massimiliano Truzzi also used metal frame bodied clubs, but his were much, much longer than those used by the Brunns and Gino Bogino. Below are a few pictures of Truzzi with his clubs, which featured a rectangular shaped body rather than the squashed ball shape of the Brunn clubs.
Ball End Clubs
While some jugglers such as Enrico Rastelli and Rudy Cardenas used wooden sticks that had a knob shape at the “body” end of the prop, it might be difficult to argue that these are what we would now call clubs. See the Cardenas stick below to see what I mean. These were patterned after Japanese drum sticks.
However, by attaching a ball to the “body” end, this tends to add weight to that end, shifting the center of gravity and making the prop behave more like a traditional club. It also adds a visual aspect that makes it easier to juggle and for the audience to follow. For this reason, I consider these props to be clubs, even when the ball is rather small. Below are examples of five ball end clubs used by jugglers in the past.
This is a picture from 1962 showing past IJA President and founder of the IJA Championships Roger Dollarhide juggling six ball end clubs that were made and sold by Homer Stack. These very simple clubs were simply a fourteen inch aluminum pipe inserted and glued into a hole drilled in a two inch diameter rubber ball. I should note that The Juggling Arts sold very similar “practice clubs” in the 1980s and that Stu Raynolds sold a wiffle ball version that he also marketed as a practice club.
The final article (or articles) in this series will feature a very large number of clubs that fit into one of the following four categories: lighted clubs, functional clubs, bottle clubs, and novelty clubs. I think that readers will learn a great deal about some very rare and mostly unknown clubs as we finish out this examination of the history and development of this most iconic of juggling props.