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Bridle Rosettes Honoring Champions

Author: Dr. Ralph F. Merkle

( Article orginally published February 1963 )

The bridle rosette is not an ornament. It is an integral part of a driving or riding bridle-with the exception of the English type riding bridle-and essential in holding the brow-band to the crown piece.

Rosettes were made of many materials-of wood, tin, brass, leather, of "hard rubber" patented by Charles Goodyear in 1851, of glass, of German silver, even of sterling.Recorded here are some of the crystal glass rosettes which honored the trotting champions of the late nineteenth century. All show pictures of famous winners mounted on reflecting material with a fancy scalloped gilt or silver border, the crystal being held by a brass case with dated loop. Most of this series were made by Bryce A. Wilson, of Providence, Rhode Island, and bear the patent date November 5, 1878. The subjects as they appear in these rosettes are in the style of the Currier horse artists, and appear to be photographic copies of the famous lithographs.

For a decade and a half, six horses dominated the champion field:
1879-St. Julian 2.11 1/4
1880-Maud S. 2.10 3/4
1881-Maud S. 2.10 1/4
1884-Jay-Eye-See 2.10
1884-Maud S. 2.09 3/4
1885-Maud S. 2.O8 3/4
1892-Nancy Hanks 2.04
1894-Alix 2.03 3/4
1894-Robert J. 2.01 1/2 (pacer)

St. Julian, a big slashing bay horse, was ten years old in 1879 when he lowered by 2 seconds the record of Rarus, who had closed the 1878 season with a record of 2.18 1/4.

During the next six years there were match races between many contenders for the champ;onship of speed, and Currier & Ives nortrayed most of these events. St. Julian is pictured in nine such prints. Maud S., Queen of the Turf for a dozen years, is shown in eighteen; Jay-Eye-See in sixteen, Nancy Hanks in six, Alix in four, Robert J. in three.

Maud S., of colorful career, was foaled in Kentucky in 1874, sold as a yearling for $250, later as a three-year old, for $350 to Capt. George N. Stone of Cincinnati who named her in honor of his little daughter. Her trainer, W. W. Bair, in 1879, drove her a sensational public trial in 2.17 1/2. Immediately she was purchased by railway magnate William H. Vanderbilt for $21,000. The next season, 1880, she lowered St. Julian's record by a half second, and in 1881, reduced her own record another half second. Then for two years, Mr. Vanderbilt drove her as a pleasure road horse in New York.

In the fall of 1883, a new wonder appeared - the five-year old black gelding Jay-Eye-See. His name derived from the initials of his owner and breeder, Jerome I. Case of the threshing machine company in Racine, Wisconsin. Through 1883, he won eight brilliant races, and closed with a mark of 2.10 3/4. Lest the gentle chestnut Maud S. be dethroned as champion, she was again conditioned.

On August 1, 1884, in Providence, Rhode Island, Jay-Eye-See was the first trotter to go in 2.10. But the following day, in Cleveland, on a track slowed by rain during the night, Maud S. cut a quarter of a second off his record. In 1885, on July 30, in Cleveland, at age eleven, Maud S. stopped the watches at 2.08 3/4, becoming Champion Trotter of the World.

(Little tack associated with these champions remains. The iron-tired high-wheeled sulky of Maud S. is housed in the Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, New York. Also there on loan is Scott Leighton's paint ing of St. Julian, completed in 1880.)

The year 1891 brought the lower pneumatic-tired bicycle wheel, and in 1892, Nancy Hanks, driven by Budd Doble to this new type sulky, built by the Charles Caffery Co., of Camden, New Jersey, recorded 2.04. (Her rosette was the first to appear in pairsrights and lefts;)

Alix, a six-year old mare, became the next Queen of the Turf when she showed a mile in 2.03 3/4 at Galesburg, Illinois, on September 19, 1894. Four Currier & Ives prints were bulletins of her achievements, two drawn by Louis Mauer, two by John Cameron. No new champion threatened until 1900 when The Abbott managed to shave the record to 2.03 1/4.

(The Alix rosette shown is from the collection of Mrs. William S. Nisbet, Jr., a saddle horse exhibitor. As late as 1915, after other horses had become world champions, the E. A. Pflueger Co. was making a metal rosette with an embossed standing horse, "Alix.")

For years on turf and road, the pacing horse was ignored as unsuitable and unfashionable in gait. However in the early 1890s, a group of "side wheelers" became popular by their faster performances, and the speed climax of the decade was reached in 1897 when the first mile under two minutes was paced by Star Pointer.

Of the rosettes shown here, only one, from the collection of Marion L. Burton, represents a pacer - the gentle, easily-handled bay geld;ng, Robert J., who made 2.0111/z against time on September 14, 1894, when he was six years old. That same year, J. Cameron recorded on stone for Currier & Ives, one large and two small folios, showing him in the lateral gait, the low-wheeled rubber-tired sulky to the right, with "Pop" Geers holding the reins.




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