Until 7.12 p.m. (UK time) on 10 February, a little piece of rowing history is up for auction on eBay. It is one of the 550 enamel badges issued to members of the Stewards' Enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta in 1927. A word of warning - at the time of writing there are three days to go and six bidders have got the price up to £720/$1,130. There is a small band of collectors for these things and they all seem to have deep pockets. The seller is Chris Lenton of Marlow Rowing Club who tells me that he is thinking of setting up a website about Stewards' Badges. He is well qualified to do this as he now has a complete set, something I suspect may be unique outside of the group owned by the Royal Regatta itself. On 14th February Chris will be listing one of the 1924 badges. They were the first enamel ones issued and only 350 were produced.
I wrote about Stewards' on HTBS two years ago. Sir Harcourt Gilby Gold is usually credited with the establishment of the Enclosure in 1919. This controversial act gave the Regatta a regular and predictable income and was, I suggest, a very far sighted move. In 1919 there were many people who had not yet realised that, following the 1914-1918 War, the world had changed forever and that the days of easy money for the social elite were over. Without the income from Stewards' Enclosure, Henley would have slowly withered and perhaps be finally killed off by the 1939-1945 War. In the 1970s the future of Henley was again put in doubt when, for many years, the membership fees were not increased in line with the rampant monetary inflation of the time. The work of Peter Coni (Chairman, 1977-1993) and Richard Goddard (Secretary, 1975-2007) changed all of this and put the Regatta on the firm financial footing it is on today.
On his eBay listing, Chris gives a brief history of Stewards' Badges:
The Stewards' Enclosure is open to members (elected by the Committee of Management of the Regatta) and their guests. It came into being in 1919 with a membership of 300. This grew to 704 in 1939 and 1,500 in 1956. In 1980 the Stewards set a ceiling of 5,000. The waiting list for membership of the Stewards Enclosure is now several years long, although preference is given to people who have previously competed at the regatta. The waiting list has grown rapidly since the 1970s, when membership could be applied for and granted on the same day. From 1919 to 1923 cardboard badges were issued and from 1924 enamel badges were issued each year with the exception of the war years 1915 to 1918 and 1940 to 1945 when the regatta did not take place. Badges from 1924 to 1939 are very rare and from 1946 to 1950 quite rare.
I have visited W. O. Lewis the Badge manufacturers earlier this month and have seen the 2013 badges in production. This year's badge is the same style as last year and coloured white and Cambridge blue. Each badge is hand made from creating the die stamp, being cut to shape, the enamelling (I watched two ladies do this), sanding and polishing, numbering to the fitting of the ring and cord. It is very labour intensive but they are works of art. The company has been going since 1832 and I met Philip Lewis (5th generation) who owns and runs the business.
It is typical of Henley that they should use a firm like Lewis. Both have been around since the 1830s, both understand tradition and attention to detail and both produce a very fine product.