If you’re a subscriber to Woodworker’s Journal, then you might recall my article, Making a Croquet Set, that appeared on p. 32 of the July/August 2014 issue. I also shot a video that demonstrates how I turned the balls for that set. You can watch it here.
Making that project inspired a gift that I recently received. On Christmas Morning my wife Susan (Santa) presented me a carefully wrapped package that rattled in a most intriguing way. The 17” by 8” by 4” box contained a children’s toy from the 1890s that she found in an antique shop. Turned from boxwood, it was a miniature croquet set that could be played on a table. The workmanship of the set is very good and so consistent that the turned parts had to be turned on a semi-automatic lathe; probably what was called a back knife lathe. The balls and mallet heads are boxwood but the handles and stakes look to be white ash.
The set contains 8 mallets and 6 balls, 2 stakes and 10 hoops (they gave you a spare I surmise). I must turn 2 additional balls to replace the missing ones. The mallets are a joy with the handle having a tapered end fitting into a like tapered hole in the head and locking like the Morse tapers in our lathes. There is also a loop of heavy ribbon with four clips to secure it to the edge of the table, thereby setting the course boundary. Well, actually there are three clips because one got lost somewhere in mid 20th Century. It is the job of the 21st Century greens keeper to hold one corner during play and to find an alternate when it is his turn—or to go to the shop and fetch a diminutive C-clamp.
We first played it on the floor but this child found it hard on the back and knees. Therefore, we quickly moved to the kitchen table and played on one of Susan’s hand-woven tablecloths. Since it was a miniature set, high stakes croquet was played for pennies. Now where is Stevenson’s Garden of Verses, we need to read The Land of Counterpane. Maybe the Lilliputians know?
The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis Stevenson
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.