A simply wonderful pair of 19th C Indian Clubs with a rare sculptural handle variation, made by Sim. D. Kehoe.
Indian Clubs were introduced to the US by Kehoe, an American businessman and fitness enthusiast, who saw them in England and began to produce and sell them in America in 1862. Club swinging quickly became the first of many fitness 'crazes' to sweep the US. Original signed (!) Kehoe clubs are rare and desirable indeed, an American classic.
Kehoe's Indian Clubs caught on, and by the end of the 19th C there were other manufacturers as well as individual makers, but Kehoe was the first. Club swinging became widely recommended, not only by physical fitness enthusiasts, but by spiritual leaders as well. Physical vigor and spiritual health were linked in a way that we are only beginning to rediscover today.
Today, some fitness enthusiasts prefer to exercise with these antique clubs, feel they are valuable for far more than their mere weight, that their long history imparts an energy by which they bestow spiritual benefits that new clubs do not.
Kehoe also wrote books about the virtues of physical fitness and club swinging. In one of these, he prints a letter he received from Ulysses S. Grant dated 1866, that thanks him for "a full set of rosewood Dumb-Bells and Indian Clubs, of your manufacture."
Condition is great. These clubs display the expected dings and marks from use, and collectors cherish this honest patina. There is one tight 'check' which is not a structural problem, and visible on the bottom only; very stable, tightly grained wood. At first I thought these clubs were Rock Maple or Hickory, but looking at them carefully, I now believe they are Walnut. Both clubs stamped with the oval Kehoe logo, which reads "MODEL INDIAN CLUB S. D. KEHOE MAKER NEW YORK", and their weight, which was originally 3 lbs. each, although they now weigh in at 2 lbs. 4.5 oz. and 2 lbs. 5.5 oz. This weight discrepancy is due to the natural loss of moisture from the wood over many years, a testament to their age. They stand 20 3/4" tall.
Indian Clubs are increasingly sought after by collectors, and considered by many to be Folk Art objects, their sculptural form and simplicity, along with a richly patinated surface is certainly beautiful. And original Kehoe clubs are some of the most desirable. Additionally, this particular pair has a rare form, displaying integral turned sculptural handles with knurled or incised rings to ensure a firm grip.
All in all, a most beautiful and still functional piece of history.
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