In my continuing effort to indulge (satisfy) my fascination (some say fetish) with 19th century equestrian “lorinery” (ala’ buckles, bits, stirrups, spurs, curry combs, etc) I recently came across some interesting early British (and other ) curry combs and relative information that I thought I might share with the A/C horseman. Let me begin by pointing out (for the equestrian challenged) that the curry comb was not originally meant to be used directly on the horse. Its rightful purpose is to clean the horse brush while grooming the horse. However, it may occasionally be used by an experienced horseman to remove caked mud and dried manure from the horse’s hide. Anyway, these combs are very old, rare, are incredibly well made yet have interesting origins.
#1: An early “Carpenter & Co.” comb # 1286 (patent #?) Made by the English firm of (James) Carpenter & Co. of Willenhall England sometime prior to 1844. A hefty, well made comb it has the firm name and #1286 on the heart shaped plate as well as another maker’s name plate on the handle. This comb was a forerunner to many American made combs of the 19th century. At the time, combs such as this were not cheaply made by the Brits for the masses but rather for the wealthy class hence the attractive, fancy handles.
James Carpenter was an iconic figure in 19th century Willenhall England patenting several door locks and other items including curry combs in the burgeoning industrial city. He established a large manufactory there. Willenhall and nearby Wallsall were the world’s manufacturing center for leather and lorinery (hardware- bits, spurs, stirrups, etc.) horse equipment from the late 1700's until just after WWI. Today, there is still a lot of horse equipment made there but also a lot of high end leather goods. James died in 1844. The firm continued with his son John and son in law James Tildensly and later James’ son (also James) until 1907.
#2. Another very well made early Carpenter & Co. comb this is the “no 333" comb. It also has its maker’s name and the “333" on the center and handle plates. The “333" was a common and well known comb in the mid 19th century. It has the distinction of being widely copied by American makers prior to and after the Civil War including being used as a model for some Federal government made combs during the war.
#3: Hotchkiss Curry comb patented July 8, 1856. A simple, light weight comb made for commercial consumption this comb was made by the A.A. & A Hotchkiss Co. of Sharon Valley, Conn. American makers of the period tended to make inexpensive combs for consumption by the growing masses and not necessarily the wealthy. Hotchkiss patented two curry combs in the 1840's and 50's and his firm supplied a large number to the Union forces during the war. Andrew Hotchkiss is one of the more interesting manufacturing success stories of the early 19th century. He is better known among Civil War folks for his invention of the rifled cannon projectile “Hotchkiss shell”.
#4: Another very common war time curry comb. This is comb is known as the “Mary Veal” comb and marked as “Mary Veal Patent New York”. I am not yet sure what firm made this but the story goes that the comb was named for the daughter of the inventor. Notice its similarities in construction to the Carpenter Co. comb. Quite a number of American manufacturers of the period copied this basic pattern including A A Hotchkiss. Some can be found with brass discs with names such “Uncle Sam”.
#5: The Sara Jane Wheeler Curry Comb. This was invented and patented (Jan 22, 1861) by the first woman to earn a patent in Connecticut- Ms. Sara Jane Wheeler of New Britain, Conn. the comb was a common issue comb to Federal forces in the eastern US. Many are dug there. It was simply constructed, utilitarian and was cheap- perfect for mass production, This was retrieved along with other similar combs from the wreck of the barge the “General Mead” at James River site of the 1864 Confederate sabotage explosion at City Point Va.
By the way, New Britain was home to the well known horse equipment maker, North & Judd. Established in 1876 this firm made a lot of equestrian equipment including curry combs. North & Judd were a result of a merger with the firm of O.B. North, a large Connecticut war time maker of Federal horse equipment such as bridle bits, picket pins, saddlery hardware and carbine sling swivels. North & Judd used the “anchor” as their maker’s mark- a well known symbol to today’s collectors. Interestingly, in 1926 North & Judd bought out the New Jersey firm of August Buermann Mfg. Co. Established in 1842, Buermann was itself a maker of horse equipment for the Federal. government during the war. Rather interesting how it all is intertwined.
#6: Another common civilian comb “adopted” by the Federal government during the war. This basic “Pad Comb” pattern was patented in America in 1844 but very similar ones have also been found in England during the same period.
#7: The more common or, at least well known Federal issue curry comb is the “Y” comb. It was made by several firms during the war (and I believe at the Allegheny Arsenal) in either six or eight rows of teeth bars. This basic pattern (with many variations) continued to be made well into the 20th century however, period patterns (while not often following exactly the ordnance specifications) were simple and tended to have narrow, tapered wood handles as opposed to today’s poorly constructed, commonly seen thick, “red” handled ones. Another common curry comb seen today is the spring-like comb with multiple round circles of teeth. This pattern is over a century old but not patented until 1889 and thus not Civil War period.
Sorry to ramble on here......I am working on an article on this subject. My wife says, “only you and 3 other people on the whole planet are interested in this kind of archaic, weird minutia”, but I find it fascinating so thought I would share it.
PS: Are any of you other three out there?
Ken R Knopp