A History on the Dart

Now how can a guy document the history of an object that is prehistoric? Cave drawings and the hieroglyphics depict the spear, but what was it’s discipline? Battle, hunting and/or gaming? This is where we should separate archeology from anthropology. I figure the dart came and went like many of modern man's creations and cultures. Like the old American mountain man, there had to be many sub-cultures too. Individuals 35 thousand years ago who learned that a sharp dart is quite handy when in a sticky spot. Different clans and different individuals, time after time learned and lost the darts value. So how it was discovered and when the lesson was past down we will never know.

Clearly the Ancient Greeks worked the spear well. The shafted spear classified as being longer than 20" or approx. 50cm, was used in battle, men would stand in a line all throwing at once. Row after row would throw then drop for the next row to throw. This keeping a constant offensive attack. This too kept those brave Greek worriers fearing nothing, well, except for the other side doing the same. From this discipline came the Javelin. What better way to practice a skill than to make competition of it. And the Greek did not mess around with competitions. The Olympiads had clear rules and was studied to the point of an art form. So where did that short spear (under 20 inches) come from? In Japan they call the short spear a UCHI-NE and the NAGEYARI and these are of the times of the Samurai. In Flanders they call it the Javelot, but let’s call it a dart for now. I imagine a dropped soldier, desperate for any implement of destruction, reached out and grabbed the best end of a broken spear and threw it 10 feet into the back of the bad guy running away. Then came the applause of the generals on to top the hill looking down. I can see straw figures of men and deer springing up all over the countryside to practice this new found method of survival. Keep in mind that dart known as the Javelot weighs 250-350 grams. Where as the Vogelpik is 7 grams and the British dart being anywhere from 14 to 32 grams.

Historically, it is known that from time to time and from place to place, a King or any leading figure of the community, would make playing darts illegal. This to stress practice of new weapons of destruction, such as archery or the crossbow. Also, just the opposite, mentioned in Joseph Strutt’s book “ The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England” (written in 1801) an act of Charles V in 1337, it was forbidden to have weapons for use in gaming or simple pastime of the people. Throwing of javelots or javelins being a proper military exercise and not a skill to be entrusted by some rowdy rebel rouser. Since the people of the Champagne area of France have never took King Charles V seriously, they continued to use the javelot as a game. With this, they maintained great skill with this weapon.

In the period of the 14 century, the game of javelot found it’s way north to Flanders. This area is known today to be in Northern France, Belgium and the southern regions of Holland. This is where the development of the Vogelpik also took root.

Also at this time in Spain, the past time was known to be the crossbow and throwing knives at targets. This took them well into the 17th century as the Spanish occupied Flanders and the vast area around. Still the Javelot hung on. Still played today in almost the same form, but with far better beer served as a gaming cocktail. This is said to be the era for when Vogelpik achieved it’s debut.

That brings us to the British Dart board. The Javelot and the Norfork board is almost the same. The Norfork is the earliest know Dart playing field in England. That places the development line from the Javelin to the Javelot to the Norfork and ending with the British playing field of today. I would have to believe with hundreds of home fashioned variations in between.

As old folklore would have us believe, the foul line was made standard by a group of Belgian immigrants working at the Hockey & Sons Brewing Co. of London, England. Playing during a lunch break, the throw line was figured by placing eight cases of beer side by side. This became known as the “Hockey Line” or what is more properly known as the “Oche”. (pronounced; hockey with the first "H" being silent)

Credit here is to be given to my friend Marc Van den Avond. He has sent me documents and photos from his studies in school. Marc lives in Belgium and is a well known collector and all round dart enthusiast.

Back to my: Dart Directory

November 1999