The first recording of curling in Scotland is from 1541. At this time the players used natural stones which had a handle attached. Over time this developed into a highly crafted stone with a top and bottom polished differently to suit a variety of conditions (a bolt ran from top to bottom and attached to the handle allowing the stone to be inverted). The stone would weigh between 35 – 50 lbs and measure approx. 5 ” x 10 – 14″. The purpose of the curling stone basket was to protect the polished surfaces during storage and transport to and from the the frozen loch or flooded field which served as the rink before indoor ice rinks became available.
The curling stone basket typically consists of 2 more or less identical baskets hinged together at one point forming a bottom and lid. A handle could be attached at the top of the lid well secured to a thick stick on the inside of the lid or there could be two handles attached to the sides of the baskets opposite the hinge. This latter version is the least common.
Most baskets are designed to hold only the stone without its handle but others have a taller lid accommodating the handle.
In order to cope with the weight of the stone these basket were often strengthened by leather straps criss crossing them and even going over the handle at times.
The handles themselves could also be covered in leather to ease the pressure on the carrying hand.
The curling stone baskets I have been privileged to see have all been made with stripped willow – difficult to tell whether white or buff due to their age and wear. They were used throughout the 19th century and until the 1930’s. It is, therefore, likely that they were made in a range of sizes on a semi industrial scale (ie. in basketry workshops by highly trained makers – most likely in Scotland as curling was not known further south than the Lake District at this time). ‘Leckie Graham & Co, Ironmongers of Union Street, Glasgow advertised around 1900: ‘A pair of baskets for 10shillings6pence’. – equivalent to a workman’s weekly pay.
These days a curling stone basket is a rare find whether in the auction room, the antique shop or the jumble sale possibly because of the heavy wear or woodworm attack. – A single basket recently fetched £100.
Whilst the wicker basket – sometimes lined with a blanket – was the most common carrying system, alternative containers were made of canvas, leather (sometimes exposing the stone) or wooden box. The latter would hold two stones, with the handle on or with a separate compartment for the handles. These ceased to be used once indoor rinks came into being – the first in Scotland in 1909 – as the indoor rinks would supply the stones.
I am grateful to Mr David Smith – a passionate curling historian – for sharing all the information above and for letting me photograph some of his baskets. Sadly the Curling Stone Museum in Mauchline, Ayrshire does not have any of these baskets in their collection, but I have a magazine cutting which mentions one being on display in the Angus Folk Museum in Glamis near Forfar alongside a number of stones.
by Lise Bech