All bets are on this terrific vintage find! I was walking the aisles of the recent New England Antique Show’s January event in Wilmington, MA and had a “clothes call” with this remarkable sporting uniform, with an even more interesting story behind it. Take a look at what I found!
What we have here are some the personal artifacts of jockey great Thomas (Tommy) Jefferson Luther, (1908 through 2001) late of Saratoga Springs, NY. This remarkable man, who started his equine career in 1925, did more than just race horses – but more of that in a bit. This collection spans the time frame of 1927 through 1968 and includes clothing, sporting goods, literature, awards, and racing memorabilia, among other items. What first caught my eye was his beautiful – and tiny – racing uniform, called “silks”. Check out the beautiful purple shirt with yellow stars. According to racing tradition, the colors of the silks are chosen by the owner of the horse when he registers his ownership of the horse, so perhaps Tommy’s horse at the time was simply heavenly!
Here’s what Tommy’s collection includes:
- His uniform, consisting of his silk shirt, hat, and cotton pants
- Several leather goods, including his signed brown leather saddle and his black leather riding boots trimmed in brown
- Sporting goods, including his riding crop, two pairs of goggles, and a lined fiberglass helmet
- A 103-page illustrated softcover book, “Jockeying for Change”, written and signed by author Ron Farra, about Tommy Luther’s history
- A group of 26 images, some framed, of early horse racing finishes; many are ambrotypes, an early form of photography in which a glass negative appears positive when displayed on a black background
- A 1928 jockey license ad 17 clubhouse passes
- Racing association memorabilia including rare pins and written correspondences
And just who was Tommy Luther? At only 97 pounds, his size defied the lasting role he had on the racing industry. Tommy rode thoroughbred race horses for a living for 26 years. In 1928 he won the “richest race in the world” at the time at Tijuana. Tommy soon came to realize that horse racing was a dangerous sport and that jockeys had no rights or benefits. As a result, he tried to organize a voluntary fund for jockeys that were either maimed, disabled, or killed at the racetrack. Owners accused him of starting a union and he was suspended from racing for a time. Tommy spent the latter part of his career as a trainer. Today’s jockeys owe him thanks and acknowledgment for the strides that were made in the racing industry during Tommy’s time and for the benefits they now all enjoy.
You can read Tommy’s obituary here.
The provenance of this collection, valued at $4,400, is the estate of Tommy Luther.
Many thanks to Stephen Snow of Snow Auctions for allowing me to share this great story with you.
Learn more about New England Antique Shows and their upcoming events by clicking here!