is taking a display of 153 different horseshoes from his
collection to the World Horseshoe Pitching Tournament 2000 in Bismarck, N.D. in early August.
Take it from Robert Dunn
of Brooklyn Park, Minn. - horseshoes are still among the least expensive collecting specialties around.Dunn, a member of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association since 1981 and current national director for promotion, will take a display of his horseshoes to the World Horseshoe Pitching Tournament 2000, being held in Bismarck, N.D. during the first weeks in August.He
began collecting in 1995 and estimates his
collection of 650 to 750 shoes to be one of the three top collections in the United States.Dunn
has written four books on the history of the sport in Minnesota (available through NHPA), and is working on a fifth on shoes and their history.
Many manufacturers provided a set of four horseshoes with a pair of stakes, the lot referred to as an outfit, in a wooden carry case.These older boxes are highly collectible, but are commonly found without the original shoes and stakes.Usually a brochure including game rules and hints accompanied these sets.Brochures are also collectible and helpful in dating shoes.
The game of horseshoe pitching may be ancient but rules and standards for it weren't set until 1919, according to Dunn
Most early shoes were made in the Midwest, most coming from Chicago and many from Ohio and Indiana, Dunn
said.The shoes evolved over the years from the plain ones of the 1920s, which closely resembled shoes made for horses, to the hooked, tournament-style shoes of the 1930s and the more advanced styles with larger hooks of the 1940s to the present.
Shoe design by the decade, from left: a slightly smaller shoe from before 1919 with the maker's name "Frank Crumm; the Diamond Official from the 1920s, one of the "hookless" or plain models of that decade; a hooked shoe from the 1930s by Craftsman; the hooked Giant Grip Champion made in Oshkosh, Wis.; finally, the popular sleek Eagle Ringer by Diamond Tool and Horseshoe Co.
, made from 1932 to 1970, a typical modern size hook.
The collecting hobby is larger in scope than you might think, as evidenced by Dunn's display, which contains 153 different shoes. (Duplicates, which make up the balance of the collection, are in the basement.)
"There are nearly countless brands, and some manufacturers had several different models," Dunn
said."Some manufacturers dated their shoes, and that expands the possibility for collecting, because you collect the different years," he
"I haven't got all the brands yet, and I may never reach the end of hunting.So many of the old brands have been discarded over the years, either in landfills or in the smelter.It's possible that some of the early-day shoes are extinct and specimens will never be collected.There are enough new finds of previously unknown brands and rare shoes to keep the searching interesting and worthwhile," he
said. (Dunn limits his
collection to shoes that have brands.)The hunting takes Dunn to flea markets and antiques shops throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota - along with his wife, Sandy, who looks for additions to her collection of Depression glass. (Bob Dunn also collects Depression glass, in the Horseshoe pattern.) They take advantage of vacation time and long weekends for their shopping trips, since Bob still works full time in health care financial management.Dunn
also keeps a roster of about 48 other collectors who buy, sell and trade shoes through the mail.
Horseshoes were almost always made of steel, numbered (to identify players) and painted different colors.There are about 50 different kinds being made today, including some from the Far East and elsewhere around the globe, Dunn
said.U.S.-manufactured shoes are much more desirable than foreign-made, Dunn
said.The most desirable are the early, hook-less models.Another thing to look for are "shoe boxes," sets of horseshoes (4 shoes), with a pair of stakes -- referred to as an "outfit" - in a wooden carry case.The older boxes are highly collectable, but they are commonly found without the original shoes and stakes.An advertising brochure including game rules and hints on pitching often accompanied the sets.The brochures are also highly collectible and are helpful in dating shoes.
started playing horseshoes as a teenager, and it just "came naturally."He
has a horseshoe court in his
backyard in Brooklyn Park, although he
does most of his
pitching in the city courts in Brooklyn Park and elsewhere.
A horseshoe court requires a space 50 feet long by 10 feet wide.The stakes are centered in pitching boxes at either end of the court.Each player pitches two shoes per turn, or inning, men from a distance of 40 feet and women and juniors from 30 feet.A game usually consists of 50 points.A ringer is a shoe that encircles the stake in such a way that a stake can touch both tips of the shoe without touching the stake.A ringer scores three points.
In horseshoes, patience and practice make a good player, according to Dunn
.There is no recommended method of pitching.
"If you see 100 pitchers, you'll see 100 different stances," he
said."I've never seen a clinic on horseshoe pitching."
There's also no expensive equipment involved."You don't have to be a retiree to play," said Dunn
, contradicting a common misperception.There are 50 leagues in the state and eight in the Twin Cities with 40 to 50 players each.Women and juniors generally are included in leagues with men.There are about 13,000 leagues in the National Association
, according to Dunn
.Horseshoe pitching is holding steady as a sport, Dunn
"Recruiting just replaces those who have dropped out or died," he
said."In the '20s (the sport) was much larger, but it's much bigger today than it was in the '30s, '40s and '50s."
Anyone wishing to learn more about the sport of horseshoe pitching or about horseshoe collecting can call Dunn
at (763) 535-3884.
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