R.J. Bradshaw


There are few collectors that can deny the obvious attraction of a Martingale and other decorative strapping. After all, this, many collectors argue, is how horse brasses were intended to be seen, and if they have survived more or less intact, and the leather has not suffered too badly with the passing years, then what better mode of display can there be?

A Martingale on a heavy horse, attaches by the means of a loop (which the girth passes through), and affixes to the bottom of the collar to prohibit too much movement. In the horse brass era, this strap became something of a focal point as part of the decorated, or show harness, and became a prime place to attach brasses. The word, Martingale literally translated simply means, "strap" and was a term used for this piece of harness-ware by horsemen for many years. Some collectors prefer the term, breast-strap, which is also used for the same piece of harness-ware, but like many other harness-parts, its usage probably depends on geographical location, so either term can be used, and neither term, contrary to popular belief, is erroneous.

Left, a trio of Martingales with a nice mix of cast and stamped types. It is becoming more and more difficult nowadays to find such straps in undisturbed condition as many have often had brasses swapped about. Condition is another factor and it is often a sensible tactic for the collector of brasses on leather to ensure their utmost care. A method (offered here as a guideline only) is to use a modern, clear silicone polish, which offers a good, even protection and keeps old leather looking its best for long periods of time.

Martingale collection

Right; A fine collection here, which gives us a good idea of how a collection can appear when mounted together on a wall.

Note the rare blue-ring configuration ceramic centre brasses at the bottom right, brasses like these don't come along every day.

The barrel stud strap next to it is from the Litchfield Brewery, which sits aside other desirable types such as the straps with bell-brasses mounted upon them, which are always nice to find, especially if they come with the rare star-in-ring types like those on the strap third-from-the-left. Next to it is a martingale typical of the north-eastern style, which sits alongside the magnificent double-martingale with matched pairs of brasses on red leather.

Below; An old photograph of a series of Martingales, which for many collectors may have something of a familiar aspect? This is because this plate is a 1940's type, depicting martingales in one of the famous early collections such as that formed By A.H. Tod, or his contemporary, Mr A. Malaher, who were both pioneer collectors, and masters at Charterhouse. This plate however, was not used in any of Richard's' publications probably due to wartime restrictions or limited space, (Horse Brass Collections Vol's 1, 2, & 3, were all printed in 1944) and so this one was omitted. This fabulous image is one of a series of pre-publication plates, which came up at auction at Reading some years ago and is now, thankfully, in the collection of an NHBS member and is used here by special permission as it the plate below it. (N.H.B.S. Archive)

H.S. Richards Martingales

H.S. Richard's' Martingales 2

Left; A photograph of four martingales that were actually used, but in an earlier publication of H.S. Richards's, entitled, All About Horse Brasses, (1943) which he commented, "are superb specimens" p.51.

(N.H.B.S. Archive)

If these don't give you a taste for Martingales, (or breast-straps) then I rest my case, but there is no doubt that here we have prime examples of how brasses were originally displayed on the working horse, which gives us a valuable insight into folk traditions of the recent past, when the pace of life was dictated by the steady pace of the heavy horse.