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Horseshoe Collection of Guy Christy

 

Guy Christy in 1908 in his blacksmith shop in Santa Cruz, California.
Guy Christy was head of the blacksmith and welding department at Heald School at Sutter and Larkin Streets in San Francisco in 1921.
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The horseshoes in 2003 as they were being inventoried at the Veterinary School at the Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. (Click for larger image [56k] or for a catalog of the complete collection)
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The horseshoe collection was displayed for three years at the Kentucky Horsepark in the offices of the American Farrier Association.

Guy Herbert Christy was was born on 11 Oct. 1871 in Upper Alton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis. He learned the trade of blacksmithing and horseshoeing as a young man. A horseshoer, or farrier, was a well-respected and much-needed trade in the late 1800s. As a farrier, Guy followed the emerging trends of his profession, creating shoes that demonstrating the latest methods for shoeing, counterbalancing, and gaiting horses.

In 1897, at age 26, he married Bessie Roberts Diuguid who was from Guy's mother's birthplace, Paducah, Kentucky. Given that Alton and Paducah are about 190 miles apart, it is easy to suppose that Guy met Bessie on one of the family visits to Paducah. Shortly before 1900, they moved, bringing his parents with them, to Paducah. There their two children, Herbert Estelle and Anne Elizabeth Christy, my grandmother, were born.

Lee Liles, a farrier for more than 40 years and owner of the National Museum of Horseshoeing and Hall of Honor, says that trade publications in the late 1800s often featured speciality horseshoes. Blacksmiths, as much artists as tradesmen, might copy the current shoe in order to practice the current fashion, even if it was never used on a horse. Lee says that the curious shape of many of the old shoes has led people today to think of them as corrective horseshoes, when they are not.

Guy's son-in-law, Bart Phelps, assumed that the shoes were for corrective purposes when he wrote that during Guy's lifetime as a blacksmith and farrier he "made horseshoes to fit and correct different hoof conditions and deformities. These were used for horses used in drawing carriages, hacks, buggies, and buckboards of the era. Interested in his work, as he made unusual shoes, he formed the hobby of making an additional one for himself, until he had 84 shoes. In 1900, he had his collection nickel plated, placed in a frame lined with black velvet, and it then hung on the walls of his blacksmith shop."

According to the American Farrier Association, farriers, like many traditional artists and craftsmen working within their own communities, often utilized unique and creative methods for displaying their work. For farriers, who blend the arts of horseshoeing and blacksmithing, the medium for display has traditionally been the “shoe board.”  Originally a marketing tool which hung in the blacksmith shop, the shoe board provided the farrier with a medium for showcasing his talents.

Lee agrees that the shoes were in fact for “horses used in drawing carriages, hacks, buggies, and buckboards of the era.” He says they shoes were for gaiting horses. “In 1892, Leland Stanford settled an argument about whether trotting horses were ever fully airborne: he paid photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove it photographically. The resulting photo, the first documented example of high-speed photography, clearly showed the horse airborne.”

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Guy Christy repairing a wagon in Elko, Nevada in 1908. (Click for larger image [45k].)
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Four of the more unusual corrective horseshoes from the collection of Guy Christy. The complete set is available for browsing.

The shoes remained in Paducah for seven years, where Guy continued to operate a blacksmith business, until 1907. The family doctor advised Guy that for the sake of his wife's health they should move west. They left Paducah, Kentucky on January 15, 1907 and arrived in Durango, Colorado via train five days later.

During this time, my grandmother Anne Elizabeth recounted to me how during one lengthy stage coach ride she had become extremely chilled. To warm her up, her dad gave her a sip of whisky.

In September the family moved briefly to Silverton, Colorado, and in October they boarded the train once more, this time bound for Santa Cruz, California.

Guy tried his hand at blacksmithing in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Elko, Nevada. With the increasing use of cars, in 1917 he decided he had to find a new line of work. He moved the family to San Francisco where he paid to attend Heald School. He learned welding and within four years was in charge of the welding and blacksmithing department.

Whenever they moved, the shoe board of 84 nickel-plated horseshoes went with them. "About 1916 [when he moved from Santa Cruz to San Francisco], during World War I, he removed the shoes, wrapped them individually, and placed them in a box," wrote Bart Phelps, his son-in-law.

Guy Christy later established a welding shop in Sacramento, California. He and his wife Bessie Diuguid Christy returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, near their daughter Anne and son-in-law Bart. They managed an apartment building near Lake Merritt in Oakland and lived at 1574 78th Ave. in Oakland, where they both passed away in 1947. "Before he passed away in 1947, at the age of 76, he asked me to take care of his prized shoes," Bart Phelps recorded in a letter.

Bart and Guy's daughter Betty Phelps donated the shoes in 1980 to the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University at Pullman, Washington. In 2002, we contacted the University to find out where the collection was being displayed, only to learn the University had no idea where the collection was.

Thankfully, a dedicated staff member, Lynne Haley, took it upon herself to track the collection down, and after several months of searching, she finally located the collection buried under a pile of other boxes in a barn. The University agreed to sell the collection back to our family for $1.