A Bandalore by Any Other Name

It is a truth universally acknowledged that historical research is probably the most fun you can have with your corset on.

I was doing research on Eton in the early nineteenth century a week or so ago, and was on the website Open Library reading a book called “A History of Eton College 1440-1910” by Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte, and happened to skim over this passage:

Among the minor games popular at Eton at this period and for some time afterwards was that of bandalores. A bandalore was a disc of box-wood, with a deep groove in its outer edge, round which a string was coiled, and the art was to send it flying through the air, unwinding the string as it went, and by giving a jerk at a particular moment to bring the disc back again to the hand, recoiling the string on its return journey. Michael Hicks Beach writing to his mother in his sixteenth year says:— “I have three excellent bandylores and did throw one of them out (which has a string about four feet and a half long), one hundred and fifty-nine times without missing.”

I thought about that for a moment, trying to picture just what this bandalore “game” was…and then it hit me.

It was a yo-yo. They were playing with yo-yos in the late 18th century!

So I did a little more digging…and found this image, from a French fashion plate from 1791, along with the following information: The most common French word for Yo-yo at the time was “Emigrette”, but it is called the “Joujou de Normandie” in a caption to a version of this image which was included in Albert Charles Auguste Racinet’s Le Costume Historique (1888), a monumental six-volume work on costume (alas, the cheapest set I could find on-line was in the $3000 range!) “Joujou”, by the way, means “toy”, and has nothing to do with the etymology of the word “yo-yo”, which is from a Philippine language…but it’s an interesting coincidence, isn’t it?

So there you go. Who knew that one of the hot toys for both boys and girls in 1790s Europe was the yo-yo?



About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at www.marissadoyle.com


A Bandalore by Any Other Name — 10 Comments

  1. I have got to read that book! Can you download from Open Library or do you have to read on line?

    I’ve been doing too much contemporary stuff and need to get back into history where I belong.

  2. Now look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it… Excuse me. I’ll show myself out now.

    Historical research IS fun! It’s much more fun at the moment than actual writing, possibly because it involves much less actual effort. Reading about the little details of everyday life especially is something that delights me. What people ate, and how they cooked and served and ate it. What people wore, and what their clothing meant to others who saw it. What games children played and what games adults played. This kind of information was always sparse in school history classes, if there was any at all. It was only in recent years that I learned that there are whole textbooks devoted to everyday life in different times and places, full of extracts from primary sources. Apparently some university students, somewhere, are getting the kind of history classes I always wanted.

    And I’m slowly learning the right ways to use the Internet and academic libraries to glean the information I need. I’m researching for fantasy, not for historical fiction, but as far as the research itself is concerned I’m not sure there’s much difference. Maybe I don’t have to be quite as thorough, but I’m enjoying the process, even without a corset. (I do get a little concerned sometimes about what a hypothetical person looking over my shoulder might think, though. I’m supposedly a student of linguistics. How do I explain why I’m reading about, say, prostitution in Ancient Greece?)

    Open Library is new to me, and I will investigate it. Can anyone recommend any other resources in the field of everyday-life-through-history? I’d be especially grateful for resources that pair texts with illustrations or photographs.

  3. I’ve got several Eton memoirs from that period, and a bit earlier. A fascinating subculture.

  4. Also, Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey plays baseball. I goggled when I first read that.