I’ve been perusing the pages of “The California Fencer”, later just “The Fencer”, a West Coast publication that circulated for a few years following WW2 and prior to the start of the national American Fencer magazine. I’ve written about it before, but in short, Harold Hayes was gifted a complete bound edition from Arthur Lane and he was gracious enough to allow me to copy it in its entirety.
It’s fun reading. There are very lighthearted descriptions of the goings-on in the local club scene, and it seems that the small community of fencers in Nor Cal and So Cal appreciated one another enough not to use the bully pulpit to throw shade on other members. I don’t know if ‘let’s all get along’ translated to the strip on tournament day. I suppose it’s possible. It was a time of greater politeness, I do believe.
Anyway, my most recent run through has got me to wondering about some various and sundry tournament trophies that are frequently mentioned. Wonder, as in, “I wonder what became of that trophy?” I’ve thought along these lines before in relation to a specific trove of trophies that used to get redistributed most every year – the Pacific Coast Championship trophies. I know the location of one – the Men’s Team Epee, which is displayed proudly and safely at the East Bay Fencers Gym in Oakland. But that’s just one. What of the others? Having run the PCC’s in 1982, I know there were trophies for almost every event. There was even a Helene Mayer foil made into a trophy that was given annually as the top prize in Women’s Foil. (Sadly, it wasn’t very visually appealing at that time; just an Italian foil mounted on a red velvet-covered board with some brass plaques. I believe Craig Cummings eventually built a sweet housing for it. I also believe it was lost in a fire recently. I’d love to be wrong.)
The first two trophies I read about are both Nor Cal based and are fun oddities: The Romaine Trophy and the Heron Trophy. The Romaine Trophy was awarded to the winner of a 5-women team foil tournament, fenced over several weeks at whatever location was convenient for the participants. Likewise, the Heron Trophy was a 5-man foil team fenced wherever would work. The December 1946 version had the Romaine going to the Halberstadt women’s team (Helene Mayer rather guarantees a victory) and the Heron going to the Olympic Club. Fortunately the October edition has a description of the event and the team lineups. Here is the description:
“The Heron Trophy is one of the oldest competitions in the Northern California Division. Donated in 1928 by Mr. Flodden W. Heron it has been fought for every year since, the War notwithstanding, and has become something of a tradition. The nameplates on the Trophy are a real history and include nearly every big name in Northern California Fencing. Even Helene Mayer’s is there for the Eastbay Fencers’ Club in 1934. That was the last year in which women fenced in the same competitions with men…. The total number of bouts won by a team, rather than total meets, determines the winner. In the eighteen years of the Trophy’s history the Olympic Club has won twelve times, Stanford University three times, and the University of California, the Funke Fencing Academy, and the Eastbay Fencers’ Club once each.”
Unfortunately there is no similar write up for what the Romaine trophy was about and who donated it. I’d love to know a similar history, but all I have to go on is an ad like the below that I find often in the pages of the magazine:
I assume it’s the studio of Karl and Emilie Romaine, as a quick internet search landed me here:
Ok, that was a rabbit hole. Emilie Romaine is mentioned often in the magazine as a Halberstadt fencer, and in 1946 was a teammate of Helene Mayer’s for winning her (presumably) own trophy. Anyway, my guess is the Romaine’s sponsored the trophy as a women’s version of the Heron, but what year it began isn’t mentioned anywhere I’ve looked so far. Also haven’t come across a photo of either trophy, so I’ve no clue what to look for when my internal switch flips to ‘scavenger hunt’ mode.
But wait, there’s more!
San Francisco had the Funke Trophy for a Women’s Foil Team tournament, and the Funke Trophy for a Men’s 3-Weapon Team. Add another item for future rabbit-holing (is that a term yet, or did I just make it up?). In further reading of results, I find that Emilie Romaine was on the Halberstadt team with Helene Mayer that claimed the Funke Trophy in October ‘46. For both of these, I’ll have to dig further to find out when Erich Funke d’Egnuff began sponsoring these events. I have a fair bit of info on Maestro Funke, so perhaps there’s something to be learned by perusing old news clippings. If you’d like info more on Funke’s history, see:
Not to be outdone, Los Angeles had its own collection of named events. The Bowen Handicap Foil, the Cathcart Memorial Epee and the Duff Foils. The Cathcart was named after one Charles Cathcart, who was, according to one source, “a most beloved epee fencer” from So Cal. I find a 1939 mention of him in The Riposte magazine, which predates both The Fencer and AmFen magazines, but did not survive the War years and stopped publication in 1942. The Duff Foil is named for fencing coach, soldier and early auto racing enthusiast Captain John Duff, who I’ve written of previously. (http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/06/15/a-man-without-fear/)
The Bowen Handicap is actually one I can account for. A quick google search led me to discover that the trophy was donated by Bill Gelnaw to Andy Shaw’s Museum of American Fencing. That’s a win for history! Thanks, Bill!
Next I found this little intriguing notice:
Now there’s something you don’t see much in fencing these days: a Sportsmanship award! However, this trophy was voted by members of one club for their favorite competitor from a different club! John McKee was an intriguing fellow, and I wonder if this might have been a subtle (not so subtle?) recruiting tool. “Gosh,” thinks the recipient of the Cavalier Sportsmanship Award. “Those Cavalier folks think the world of me! Perhaps I should change clubs!” Am I too jaded? Maybe they were just really nice. Heck. Let’s go with that. The good thing is this actually describes the perpetual trophy: a silver cup! Somewhere out there (sings Fievel in your head), there lives (perhaps) a silver cup perpetual sportsmanship trophy presented by the Cavaliers Fencing Club.
Ok, who needs a bracer? Watch this:
Huh? Right? How about that! Did you spot Ralph Faulkner in the long shots? By the way, if you’ve got slightly over a thousand bucks burning a hole in your wallet, there’s 3 pictures up on Ebay that I won’t be bidding on:
That’s an extremely young Errol Flynn learning how to swordfight from Fred Cavens in preparation for Flynn’s first starring role, Captain Blood! Come on, somebody! Go get ‘em!
Ok, I’m a bit punchy tonight I guess.
The other two trophies that I know of for certain were the Nadi foils and the Helene Mayer Memorial. The Nadi foils, awarded in Los Angeles, were given out to the winner of a tournament that Maestro Nadi himself would officiate. So take your chances. The Helene Mayer was a beautiful silver cup and is the only one of the various trophies (not currently accounted for) that I’ve mentioned and have a picture of. My guess would be that Hans himself had this trophy made after Helene’s untimely death at the age of 42, but whether it was a perpetual trophy or that beautiful cup went home permanently with the first winner (Maxine Mitchell, I believe) I don’t know. The last Helene Mayer Memorial tournament I recall taking place was in the early 1980s, but I don’t know if that was the end, or if it continued on for a while longer. I do know that that tournament used to attract some big names. I remember in 1982 it was won by two-time World Champion Cornelia Hanisch. I was fortunate to be able to direct some of her bouts. She “warmed up” by sitting in the stands people watching until she was called to the strip – then went about demolishing her competition. Here’s the man himself with the giant silver trophy for the premiere Helene Mayer Memorial competition:
I guess the last thing is an appeal to those who may have, or may know who has, any of the above trophies – or others not mentioned. There is, of course, a home for them if they are unwanted (feel free to contact me!), but mostly I’d just like to create a list of what’s where and in whose hands. And maybe get a few photographs to document what it looks like and who’s on it. It’s our history! Let’s track it down!
Who’s got something? Anyone? Bueller?