There is a great deal to be told of Ralph B. Faulkner, Olympian, Fencing Master, and Fight Choreographer to the Stars. I’ve been collecting stories and photographs of him for some time and will undoubtedly have a great deal more to say about him as time goes on. For the moment though, I’d like to invoke his memory while showing off the latest addition to the physical items of the West Coast Fencing Archive.
Now, one of the overriding principles of the WCFA is to attempt to maintain a small physical footprint. We just don’t have that much space. Our goal instead is to acquire and maintain an enormous digital footprint, so that images related to this grand endeavor we call fencing can promulgate throughout the interweb, reverberating through memories, to induce conversation and revelation. Just one of our lofty goals. As they say in my home town of Santa Cruz, CA (in reference to surfing, but I like to find other occasions to use it, as I stand before you as one of the worst surfers in recorded history), “Go big or go home”.
Anyway, this was an item I couldn’t pass up. Well, several items, actually. Let’s start at the beginning.
Like many people, I peruse Ebay. It is both a way to pass the time and, in the case of Archive possibilities, a necessity. Imagine my surprise when I saw an item for sale that referenced Ralph Faulkner. Doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen. Faulkner worked so long in Hollywood that there are sometimes publicity stills and such – often the same ones, over and over again. This, however, was different. A fencing medal, two actually, but one engraved on the back with the name “Ralph B. Faulkner”. I get jittery when I have to bid on Ebay. I know, I know. That’s kinda the point. Still, I much prefer the ‘buy it now’ feature so that I can make a decision immediately and move on with my life. Oh well. Had to bid. And hey! I won! I contacted the seller, thanking this anonymous benefactor, and letting them know I’d be interested in anything else they might have lying about with Faulkner’s name on it. I gave a brief rundown of his history, and The Archive’s history, and forwarded a link to this website to prove my bona fides.
Well, as it happened, there were a few more medals available, and would I be interested? I would, indeed! Here’s the cache of engraved medals:
They range in date from 1926 to 1934 and every year has a different design. (How come we don’t see that anymore?) One, from 1926, is a “junior” medal. Now, a junior fencer back then did not mean the same thing as it does today. “Junior” meant the same as “Inexperienced”. In 1926, Ralph Faulkner would have been 31 years old, so nowhere near ‘junior’ as we understand it today, when junior fencers are under 20 years of age.
A Junior Epee medal from 1926
However, it didn’t take too long to move up. Here’s a gold medal for Senior Foil, 1927.
In 1928, Faulkner was selected for the first of his two Olympic experiences. Clearly, he went from Junior to Senior pretty swiftly. One thing of note, Faulkner did not compete in 1928. Although he was selected for the team and can be seen in many of the team photographs, he is not listed in the team roster. Does that mean he was ‘selected’ to be an alternate? Need to do some digging on that front, I expect. Still, he was back at work in 1929:
Three from 1929.
Open Foils Gold from 1930
Two from 1931
In 1932, Faulkner was again named to the Olympic team. This time, he did compete. I have the Olympic Record for the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 and it lists every bout for every pool, so I can tell you exactly what Faulkner was able to accomplish, but there is something odd, as well. Faulkner competed in the Sabre Team event. In the first pool, the US and Italy both advanced, as France and Cuba were scratched. The four finalists then, were Italy, Poland, Hungary and the US. The first US match was versus the eventual winner, Hungary. Hungary wins 13 to 3. Two of those three US victories were won by Ralph Faulkner. Against Hungary. After that? Poof! Faulkner doesn’t fence again. The US gets massacred by Italy, and loses to Poland – and thus the bronze medal – by a single touch. But the guy who beats two of the Hungarians, unquestionably the dominant force in sabre fencing at this point in history (and for the next 25 years), doesn’t get into any of the next two matches? What happened? Injury? Politics? Food poisoning? Missed a bus? Doesn’t really make sense to me, but I wasn’t there, so I don’t know.
Anyway, where was I?
A 1934 Open Sabre medal. Nice engraving, with the fancy swish!
As it turns out, the Ebay seller who sold me the medals, happened to have one more item with Faulkner’s name on it. They were a little hesitant to sell it, as they were trophy collectors, albeit with a focus on sailing trophies. I think it was looking at the website that convinced them to put the trophy into the hands of the fencing community via the WCFA.
It is my honor to present it here.
The Southern California Division of the AFLA’s 1932 Three Weapon Championship Trophy, won by Ralph B. Faulkner
It stands 24 inches high, and is heavy. They really knew how to throw a trophy together back then. Here is a closer look at the plaque:
I’m still trying to decide how to, or whether to do any restoration. Antiques Roadshow viewings would lead me to believe that I shouldn’t touch a thing. However, the plaque has clearly had something done to it. Either a polish or a paint has marred the surface, so I’m wondering if it could be cleaned and/or re-plated. I’ll see what I can find out. The figure, although worn and tarnished, I think I’ll leave that alone. It’s pretty awesome as is, battle scars and all. Well earned, no doubt. And after 87 years, I don’t want to mess with it too much.