Monday, May 17, 2021




It has been anecdotally noted that one Charles Portlock, an English immigrant living in Boston, Massachusetts, was the first person on U.S soil to have experimented with glass target balls, in the late 1860’s. He was an early sportsman involved with the past-time of pigeon shooting and was likely looking for a more available target.  I will leave the details of that to others.

 As was the custom of the day, a pigeon was thrown or catapulted skyward in a spring loaded trap, when the ‘sportsman’ would then fire his favorite shotgun. The general goal was to kill more pigeons than your competitor. While bird shooting carried with it a long history steeped in the basics of food gathering, the pigeons also became an expensive target that many saw as inhumane and unnecessary. Experimentation with several substitutes was tried. Glass balls eventually emerged as the most popular substitute since it was cheaper and had a more explosive flair, and the excitement of the game was as much about entertaining the attending crowd as it was the competition.

 In the U.S. glass balls are first noted as items available for sporting shooters about 1870. (Bedford County Press and Everett Press, Everett, Pennsylvania, June 10, 1870)  Several years later Ira Paine began using glass balls in his New York shooting gallery.



One of the earliest notices of the use of glass target balls for sporting competition is this article. The description in the text implies an increasing popularity. (Evening Star, Washington, DC, February 29, 1876)

The early 1870’s were dominated by Ira Paine and A. H. Bogardus as the top pigeon shooters in the U.S., and possibly in Europe as well. Both seized upon the emerging popularity of the new sport, each producing their own glass balls and spring traps. Paine, and perhaps others, even went so far as to initially fill his balls with feathers to add an allusion of reality to the sport.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, a new player in this game had recently settled in San Francisco. His name was Dr. William F. Carver. He had often described himself as a Civil War veteran, scout, and plainsman. The 1860 U.S. census for Winslow, Stephenson County, Illinois, schedules him living with his family and being nine years old. It is unlikely he was old enough to enter the Civil War. His occupations as a scout and plainsman may have been true, for he left his family and moved further west by the mid-1860’s. His first marriage was in North Platte, Nebraska, to Lizzie Morris, on October 19, 1874.   

Except for an exhibition shoot in December 1876, the famous marksman, A.H. Bogardus, previously had no known competitive shoots in California. After several pigeon shoots, in Oakland and San Francisco, most of which he won, Bogardus left his California competitive shoots in early February 1877.  Prior to his departure, Bogardus agreed to a competitive shoot with Dr. Carver using his newly developed glass ball trap. Carver was a relatively new resident of California arriving in 1875, and practicing dentistry in San Francisco from 1876 to 1878.  He was born in Winslow, Illinois, about 1851.  Although his father, William Daniel Carver, was a physician, there is no record of his son having any training as a dentist. It is still likely he learned his trade from his father.


It was Bogardus who introduced glass ball shooting to the American West with this exhibition at the Palace Opera House in San Francisco on January 29, 1877. (Daily Alta California, January 28, 1877)



A week later Dr. Carver had a chance to show his marksman skills in a match with Bogardus in Oakland, California. This was a ‘breakout’ moment for Carver that changed the direction of his life, from a dentist to a famous sharpshooter. He lost his match with Bogardus by one glass ball, but it was enough to put him into the professional ranks at which he excelled. (Daily Alta California, February 7, 1877) 

 The Bogardus exhibition in San Francisco and his competitive shoot with Dr.Carver in Oakland, created a huge interest in this relatively new sport, which spread like wildfire throughout California. Glass ball shooting clubs quickly organized throughout the State.

 A year later in San Francisco, Dr. Carver had challenged Bogardus to another competitive glass ball shoot and he accepted. In that ensuing year, Bogardus had popularized the use of competitive glass ball shooting like no other, except, possibly, Ira Paine. His patent trap for glass balls standardized the sport to the point that it was quickly becoming a ‘new’ alternative sport. And, the reduction of the often disdained inhumane use of live birds was looked upon as a positive gain. The match was agreed to be held in New York in May 1878.

 Dr. Carver and Bogardus became the superstars of the new sport of glass ball shooting, and often met as competitors, vying for the chance of becoming the world champion. Bogardus had a bit of a head start as he was already a key figure in pigeon and trap shooting as early as the 1860’s. Carver was a relative newcomer, achieving prominence after he had set up his dental practice in San Francisco, but was quickly entranced by his shooting skill, which brought him fame and fortune as a skilled marksman, with a healthy dose of showmanship thrown in as well.


This article underscores the rapidity with which glass ball shooting seized California. One other interesting note is the statement that the balls may be “procured” in San Francisco. Rather than an imported product the article implies that they may have been produced there by that date. (Sacramento Union, May 14, 1877



The C. NEWMAN embossed ball is most assuredly a product of Carlton Newman’s  San Francisco and Pacific Glass Works. Of the two balls currently known to have been associated with the West, it is the best documented.


Liddle & Kaeding was a wholesale and retail sporting goods company that sold their own glass balls which were produced by a currently unknown glass manufacturer. While it is assumed to have been produced in San Francisco no proof has yet to be found. Liddle & Kaeding operated from 1867 until 1889. (Photo from the 2016 FOHBC Sacramento National Antique Bottle Convention & Show Souvenir Program) Another mold variant, produced in amber glass, is also known, and carries the extra wording of SAN FRANCISCO.


Another San Francisco glass company, the California Glass Works, is known to have produced glass target balls. It is not known if they were blown with any identifying marks since none have been documented. The Nathanial Curry & Bro. business was a large and successful San Francisco company, and it is not impossible that just like Liddle & Kaeding, it had its own identifiable balls manufactured by the glass works. None have been found, so time will tell.  (Pacific Rural Press, April 21, 1883)



One of the more interesting of the shooting groups was called the Blue Glass Ball Club. It is not known if they took this name literally by specializing in blue glass balls, but it is an interesting thought. It was centered in Sacramento, California. (Sacramento Daily Union, June 8, 1877) One description of blue balls came from a shooting match in New Orleans. . . “The balls are of deep blue colored glass, and about two and one half inches in diameter.”(The New Orleans Daily Democrat, May 21, 1877) Blue glass target balls are not particularly rare as a group but not the commonest color either.  


The ‘back and forth’ competition between Bogardus and Carver was on a national scale not unlike the fervor generated by sporting events of today. The spectator attendance could be significant depending on the stakes, the location and the weather.  (Sacramento Daily Union, January 15, 1878)  In California, many towns formed their own “glass club”, often challenging other town clubs, similar to amateur baseball clubs of the time. 


While both Bogardus and Carver were undoubtedly great shots, their respective reputations may have been helped with a little deception. Bogardus was directly accused of bending the truth in his favor at a competition held at Gilmore’s Garden (later renamed Madison Square Garden) in 1879.   The whole affair was said to be designed as a ruse in order to attract paying customers, since an unknown, and probably fictitious person bet $3,000 that Bogardus could not achieve his boast of breaking 6,000 out of 6,200 glass balls, all to be sprung from a Bogardus patent trap. But, Bogardus was accused of using a little deception in the pursuit of his goal. “The glass balls were manufactured in Brooklyn, and six thousand of them were broken at the factory before being sent to the garden.  The workmen were instructed to crack off the necks of the balls with pincers before packing them into the barrels and six thousand were thus broken. The barrels filled with these prepared balls received a peculiar mark, so that they could be distinguished from the genuine article, and a supply of each brand was duly delivered at the garden.  The neat pyramids of glittering glass which ornamented the vestibule and entrances were not of the broken-necked variety, and a few barrels of sound spheres were scattered around for the inspection of the curious.  But the barrels which were rolled into the charmed circle, and from which the attendants charged the traps, all bore the peculiar X mark of villainy. When a ball was missed, it was picked up and handed to the referee, who examined it, and said: “See, the neck is broken here; tally one for Bogardus”.

 The Brooklyn workmen who had handled the pincers freely discussed such unusual employment among themselves and with outsiders, whence it happened that several gentleman went to the show with full knowledge of the intended fraud, and amused themselves by watching the child-like and bland air with which the chief actor blazed away at the already broken glassware.“

 If Miles Johnson, the referee, was not a party to this fraud, he is the phenomenal folly of the age, and should have had his head trepanned and some brains injected through a syringe.” (Sacramento Daily Union, February 22, 1879)


Dr. Carver probably used a few tricks of his own, and one was, perhaps, no secret. His gun of choice was not a shotgun but a rifle. Shooting a glass ball with a rifle was no easy task; however, his cartridges were loaded with bird shot, making it considerably easier to hit his target, at least at close range.

 Vast numbers of glass target balls were consumed, even for a single event. One notation mentions, “Dr. Carver Saturday finished his task of breaking 60,000 glass balls inside of six days at New Haven, Conn. (Sacramento Daily Union, January 19, 1885)  One can only imagine the wasted landscape that was laid bare with a layer of glass shards after that exhibition.


Even by the early 1880’s the nasty impacts of glass ball shooting were becoming evident. This is the very reason that the ‘clay pigeon’ eventually took the place of glass balls. (Morning Union, Grass Valley, California,  January 23, 1881)


By the mid-1880’s clay was becoming a popular substitute for glass balls, signaling a downward trend in their popularity. By 1890 glass ball shooting was a remnant of its former glory.  ( Chico Weekly Enterprise, May 15, 1885) 


This short death notice proudly notes Carver served as a scout for General Sibley in 1863. He would have been about twelve years old at the time of that skirmish. That would have been quite a feat. (Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, September 1, 1927)