Ice Hockey Sticks | World’s Oldest Hockey Sticks

World’s Oldest Hockey Sticks

How old are the world’s oldest hockey sticks? A recent article in The Nova Scotian has an interesting write up on a few of the world’s oldest hockey sticks. The oldest sticks are thought to have been made in the mid-1800s. The main story outlines the details of a specific stick that collector Mark Presley has been documenting.

Here is the sidebar of the story lists a few of the most hyped historical hockey sticks…


In the past decade, since record-breaking home run baseballs drew hundred thousand dollar bids in the United States, the hockey memorabilia market has been humming with discoveries of old sticks in Ontario and Quebec:
FIRST: The so-called World’s Oldest Hockey Stick, offered by Gordon Sharpe, 42, of Gore’s Landing, Ont., was allegedly carved by a distant relative in the 1850s. The Rutherford Stick, proclaimed on a website as “the single most important piece of hockey memorabilia in existence,” was privately appraised at $4.5 million US, reportedly sold on EBay for $2.2 million, but rests unclaimed today at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

SECOND: A stick billed as the World’s Oldest Manufactured Hockey Stick was described by its owner, Mark O’Connell, 50, of Beaverton, Ont., as “hockey’s holy grail.” Acquired in a real estate deal and often used by his son to play road hockey, the stick is stamped “Ditson” an American sporting goods dealer. O’Connell placed a reserve bid of $1-million US on the 42-inch long, planed cudgel, but it remains unsold today.

THIRD: At Quebec City in May, Bobby Rouillard, 35, displayed a stick he bought for $3,000 from a Victoriaville, Que., collector, who hinted it might have originated with aboriginals in Nova Scotia. The son of a Quebec City antique dealer, Rouillard had the stick radiocarbon dated at a U.S. laboratory. The verdict: The wood was cherry or yellow birch, dated to the 1600s, centuries before stick-ball games were formalized. No sale has been reported.

You can find the complete story at The Nova Scotian web site (NOTE: Original link is no longer active).

Update: The original article is no longer being served up from the Nova Scotian web site. Here is a copy of Google’s cached version of the main article text…

WHY WOULD a Nova Scotia resident pack a rifle case, drive 1,300 kilometres to central Canada and never let it out of his sight? A hunting trip? No-o-o. A stick-up? Well, sort of, but in a new sense of the word. Inside the silver-trimmed case was a rare piece of wood with oval handle and thick, curved blade that hung for years on the wall of a North Sydney barbershop.

Mark Presley, a passionate hockey enthusiast and collector from Berwick, admired it for years.

After buying it, he became aware of reports of so-called million-dollar sticks discovered in Ontario and later in Quebec.

Then the former Annapolis Valley antique store owner set out on an odyssey that took him through personal interviews and archival files that produced an impeccable provenance that would delight any Antiques Road Show consultant.

Rather than put a monetary value on the artifact, the 41-year-old youth worker tagged it as “a national treasure” and headed west to try and fit it into hockey’s historical chronology.

He contacted colleagues in the Society for International Hockey Research, formed in 1991 at Kingston, Ont., one of hockey’s cradles, who arranged a mini “stick summit.”

On the mahogany boardroom table of the International Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum, Presley laid out the one-piece stick — 1.05 metres tip to toe, .86 metres tip to heel and 33 cm along the blade, and weight: .77 kilos.

It was compared with several other old sticks: one 1888 Queen’s University stick, a field hockey variety that originated in Nova Scotia; and with pictures of an 1881 McGill University stick.

Also in the study were two long-handled, short-bladed, battle-scarred shinnies owned by fellow collector David Kelterborn of Newmarket, Ont. All sticks were inspected, traced, measured, photographed and admired.

Presley gathered information that clearly showed the stick was older than the first organized Canadian game, played indoors at Montreal in 1875. One of the stick’s previous owners, Charles Moffatt, 92, he said, recalled his father, Warren C. Moffatt and his grandfather, Thomas A. Moffatt, had used the stick to play hockey on nearby Pottle’s Lake in the mid-1800s.

He then had the stick examined by an expert for clues on age and origin. Antique tool historian and collector Kevin Wood of Kentville noted “general wear, honest with consistent patina” and defined it as hand hewn and shaped from the root of a maple. All elements, he suggested, were consistent with the period 1800-1850 in Cape Breton.

Carved initials WM, visible in the blade, Presley said, were executed before two layers of oxblood and brown milk paint were added. The initials prompted further research in the lineage of the Moffatts, a Loyalist family with pioneer shipbuilding roots. It led to the shipbuilder’s son, W.M. (Dilly) Moffatt, born in 1829 and suggested a stick crafted between about 1837 and 1841. The Cape Breton stick helps confirm written evidence of early 19th century stick-ball activities — rickets and hurley — in Nova Scotia and fits the thesis of an east-west spread of Canadian ice games.

Ed Grenda, the society’s honorary president, who has served as TV consultant for historic hockey re-enactments with replica sticks, said the summit was a scholar’s delight.

“By examining the shapes and composition of the ancient sticks, historians and collectors were able to develop a number of constructive perspectives on the early stages of hockey’s evolution. All too often, an examination of old sticks regresses to the potential market value if they are sold. This summit studiously avoided this tack.”

Are such sticks just conversation pieces or are they worth more than a mansion? A million-dollar bid for an old hockey stick seems ludicrous, even in an age when NHL players are paid millions to wield them.

What any old stick is worth is anyone’s guess. Toronto’s John Sewell, once an antiques columnist, said it is difficult to assess the value of hockey sticks that are not autographed by someone famous.

“It’s a free-for-all today,” said Presley.

It’s almost impossible to set a figure for market or even museum insurance purposes, particularly when most of the recent discoveries come with little or no conclusive documentation.

That’s where Mark Presley’s stick is head and shoulders above other well-hyped entries lacking authentic lineage.

Presley has done his homework. By revealing the artifact’s detailed provenance and making it available for study, he has set a new standard that defines broad criteria for adjudicating such objects.

Bill Fitsell is historian for the International Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum, founding president of SIHR and author of How Hockey Happened.

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