Fly-Head Terrets (Swingers)

I. D. Jones.

One of the best known heavy horse decorations -aside from those known as facepieces, or hanging brasses- are fly-terrets. These are also known by several names, such as Flyers, Swingers, or just Terrets of course but their proper name according to most of the late 19c. manufacturers catalogues is, Fly Head Terrets. In contemporary photographic evidence we can see that these are not only worn on the head, but on other parts of the harness such as the cart saddle or even on rump straps for instance. To date, we know of no specialist publications on Terrets, except that the NHBS has covered the subject in Horse Bells, (bell terrets) and Royalty Brasses (commemorative types). In most of the Collecting Horse Brasses series of publications, there are however, numerous examples of such decorations but Perhaps the first to cover these decorations in any detail was, H.S. Richards' in his publication, Horse Brass Collections No 2, which illustrates some 250 terrets, with many minute variations on design or pattern.

Below, a good example of a decorated harness from Manchester c. 1912. Note the bell terrets mounted on the head and the rump of this horse. it was also commom practice for the saddle to have such decorations added, which were sometimes large multi-belled affairs.

Manchester Horse

As the fashion for decorating the working horse harness progressed, these terrets, especially those that contained bells, became fairly complex creations with multiple centres attached (bells or otherwise) but where this fashion first occurred or at what time, remains something of a mystery. Terrets are thought by some collectors to be a later type of decoration, but this it seems, is not the case. In detail from the drawing below, we can plainly see that this Lincolnshire team displays bell terrets and plumes though the publication is in fact a relitavely early one from 1870.

Below, detail from an engraving in, The Illustrated London News (August 6th 1870) entitled, Meeting of the Lincolnshire Agricultural society at Sleaford; First Prize Winning Team of Horses. (p.153) which depicts the victorious team belonging to William Pilkington of Brauncewell Lodge, at the Sleaford showground in the first year that the show was held ouside Lincoln itself. Note the use of bell terrets and plumes on the first pair, and face-pieces on the second yet no martingales are apparent on any part of the harness.

Pilkingtons team

Curtis of WorcesterPerhaps the most encountered examples of swingers, are of the single centred variety which are fairly numerous. A collector might easily build up a nice collection of these quite quickly and it is a subject area that attracts specialist collectors, who sometimes like to focus on swingers more than any other area of horse brass collecting. Even then, there are further specialist subject areas such as Bell types, Royalty, Figure Subject, and Pattern types for instance, although those that advertise trades such as the Saddler type on the left or Brewery, or Railway types for instance, are quite rare and as usual, command fairly high prices not only because of rarity but the crossing over of interests from brewery or railway collectors for instance.

By the late 19th Century most manufacturers catalogues had a page or two dedicated to terrets such as those illustrated from Messers Hampson & Scott (see bell brasses page) or by the other specialist manufaturers in Birmingham or Walsall. The page illustrated below however, is one of those rare exceptions and is taken from the pattern book of Shattock & Hunter, which were a Bristol firm.

Shattock & Hunter Left; This splendid colour illustration from page 41 of their catalogue shows a good selection of the many designs available to the working horseman at this time (c. 1890's). Depicted here are a good cross-section of single centre terrets, several bell types, pattern types, and even one or two rarities such as the two at extreme right and left at the bottom of the page.

Note also the two smaller types at the bottom of the page that were made for pony or "vanner" harness. These diminutive types are also hard to come by these days and are highly sought after by collectors.

Also apparent here are several examples of the terrets known as "Tumblers" with their double-centred designs, which did exactly that and tumbled over and over in their frames, rather than merely swing back and forth, which is of course how those decorations came to be so-called. Being more expensive than the cheaper swinger, tumblers are also fairly hard to come by and, as such, are avidly sought after.

Many collectors often comment that there are rarely any royalty or commemorative types in these catalogues but this is because these were often subject to specialist production and were not advertised in the catalogues. These were often seen in coloured pull-outs in publications like Saddler & Harness magazine which contained such illustrations as those on the Birmingham and Walsall pattern books page, which depicts three rare royalty types.

Below, four royalty swingers. Note how the George V type allowed a space within the crown to facilitate a piece of coloured worsted or ribbon to add colour. Examples like these command a steady price and are avidly sought by collectors.

4 royalty swingers

Below, these red and blue panels were part of fine collection built up over 25 years by past NHBS committee member and chairman, Malcolm Andrews. This collection originally comprised some 235 different pieces and give us an excellent idea what can be built up with dilligent search. Good hunting!!

Andrews Collection
Andrews collection