The year now gone we knew as 2015 saw the passing of long-time fencer, fencing master, fencing club founder and all around gentleman, Arthur Lane. Harold Hayes, another excellent gentleman who used to share teaching space with Arthur at his Pacific Fencers Club, came into possession of some of Arthur’s papers and was kind enough to pass them along to me to see what I might discover. I did not know Arthur well, but I wish I had had the opportunity for some quality time discussing fencing history with him. His personal story encompassed a great deal of the ground I’ve been covering so far in the past year of this website, as he took lessons from many of the individuals that I have focused my stories on to date. I missed an opportunity to learn from this man, and I regret that loss.
Arthur Lane at the Selberg salle in the woods of Southern Oregon.
One of the first folders I opened up turned out to be a series of notes and letters related to a project Arthur was pursuing in the mid-1950’s for a history of fencing in the Bay Area. There are copies of letters he wrote to a number of correspondents, letters back from several of them, and packets of notes written at different times with names and dates for various teachers and clubs. Of particular interest in a packet of hand-written notes is Arthur’s own history, telling the tale of the parade of fencing masters he learned from. It’s an intriguing list.
Arthur started fencing in 1936 with Erich Funke-d’Egnuff in San Francisco, and was with him until sometime in 1942. In 1942 and ‘43, he was with Ralph Faulkner in Los Angeles. I know that Arthur was in the service during WW2 and he has left a blank in his fencing history for the year 1944, so I must surmise that he was otherwise occupied during that year and possibly parts of others. He returned to San Francisco, fencing for Halberstadt in 1945, ‘46 and ‘47.
Arthur Lane and Helene Mayer at Halberstadt Fencers Club. Harold Hayes told me that Arthur expressed his dislike of this photo, as he was embarrassed to have been photographed with the great Helene Mayer while he, Arthur, was wearing service pants from the Army rather than fencing togs. Probably taken around 1946.
He then seems to have returned to Los Angeles, at least part time. His training in LA overlaps in part with his time at Halberstadt’s. He fenced with Faulkner in 1946 and ‘47. He also fenced with Henri J. Uyttenhove in 1947. Another overlap, as he fenced with Jean Heremans in 1947 and 1948, and finally Aldo Nadi, also in 1948.
He then goes on to describe his start as a fencing teacher. He was an assistant during his early days with Funke from 1938 to 1940. He then served as teacher at UC Berkeley while a student there. At UCB, he taught in the fall of 1946, then again from fall of ‘48 through spring ‘50, and finally during spring of ‘52. After graduation, he returned to teach at UCB as a professional instructor starting in the fall of 1953 until spring of 1956 – which is probably right around the time the note was written.
As an indication of this thoroughgoing nature, he compiled all that information onto a single side of a 4×6 note card. Over the course of about 3 months in the summer and fall of 1955, he sent out a number of letters and received several written replies of varying degrees of helpfulness. It seems to have been sparked through conversation with Gerard Biagini, as the earliest dated correspondence is a two page hand written letter from Biagini to Lane, delineating the history of Biagini’s first coach, Edward Visconti.
Hans Halberstadt, Gerard (Jerry) Biagini, Edward Visconti
Visconti began his teaching career in 1920 as the instructor at the Unione Sportiva Italiana in San Francisco. Through various incarnations of that facility, he continued teaching until shortly after the beginning of WW2, when he retired as coach, gave his equipment to Hans Halberstadt and opened a custom glove-making shop:
An advertisement for Visconti’s glove shop from The Fencer magazine, circa 1947. Anyone who was anyone on the west coast bought custom made fencing gloves from Visconti. Hans Halberstadt certainly did and didn’t have to go far to get them, as his club was at 3135 Fillmore St. in San Francisco, just a two block jaunt down and across the street.
From June through September, Arthur continued to send out and receive letters. His correspondents were varied, and I know some of the names and a few I do not know. He wrote letters to Elwyn Bugge and Harry Maloney, both long time Stanford coaches, Ferard Leicester, Nor Cal division secretary for the AFLA, Salvatore Giambra, a successful and long-time Visconti/Halberstadt fencer, and Erich Funke d’Egnuff, his first coach. Those names are familiar to me. The ones I don’t know are John Locke from Visalia, CA, who warranted a three-page letter from Arthur, describing some of the history of UC Berkeley’s fencing. Locke seems to have been either a fencer there or perhaps a student/instructor. The last was a letter he wrote to a Miss Bernhard, and I was able to trace her identity through another of his notes as a Miss Frederica Bernhard. She was apparently the women’s fencing instructor at UC Berkeley for some period of time. This is the first reference I’ve seen to either her or to Locke. Mysteries abound!
The end point, at least for the present, seems to have been Arthur’s compilation of this data into two pages of notes, one a reference of coaches at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, and the other a breakdown of coaches at other Bay Area clubs of note. Here is the first:
As if there weren’t enough mysteries, I can’t figure out who one of the sources for the information is, specifically the mysterious… “HGF”. The others I can ferret out: FL = Ferard Leicester, EF = Erich Funke, EB = Elwyn Bugge. HGF? Who the heck is that?
Here is the other data sheet:
Again with the mysterious HGF. Also here we see AWL, which is Arthur himself, and GB, which must be Gerard Biagini. I feel like the HGF thing is staring me in the face, like holding something in your hand while looking all over the house for it, or trying to find a hat that’s already sitting on your head.
There is plenty more to mine from this packet, including an alphabetized stack of those 4×6 cards with the note “Fencing Instructors, Nor Calif 1880 to 1955”. Picture me cracking my knuckles and opening up a blank Excel spreadsheet. There are 61 names in the stack.
Time for a coffee re-fill!