Horse Collar Making

The Age of Horse Power

Plucknett Sulky and Horse with Driver and Dog
The Plunckett blacksmiths of Chermside made this sulky in the early part of the 20th Century. It clearly shows the full harness worn by the horse and shows how the collar rested on the horse's chest enabling it to pull the load of the sulky. The girth strap/saddle going around the horse's chest is to secure the shaves used to steer the sulky.

The manufacture of Horse Collars is no longer a common trade but was a vital one when horses were the main form of locomotion in the pre-automobile age.

This trade has to be carefully distinguished from the other two leather trades associated with horses, viz saddlers and harness makers. The Chermside firm of Box & Beck specialised as harness makers before going into the sandal making business.

Outside of Collar

The outward side which was shined up to preserve the leather and make it look good.

This is the part that is seen when the collar is in place around the horse's neck.

Different types and thicknesses of leather were used for the different parts of the collar; tough thick leather to withstand the weather on the visible parts

This collar measures, inside, 60cm from Throat to Yoke and the tubular construction can be clearly seen; it is for a large horse. The leather is made from cattle hides and can be shined.

Basically the collar was made of tubes of leather, double stitched using two needles, one from each side to hold the leather tubes securely. The tubes were then stuffed with dried 'Blady Grass' which grew locally and was useless for fodder. Other forms of packing medium were cotton waste, horse hair and rye grass.

The grass was tied in a small bunches and inserted in the tubes; as the space filled a steel ramrod was used to compact the grass in the tube and insert more grass. The outside of the tube was then hammered with wooden mallets, and more grass rammed in till the whole tube was firm.

The stitching holding the tubes together had to be very strong and the tradesmen made their own 'thread' by combining several lengths of Blady Grass side by side into one thread and rubbing it with bees wax.

Underside of Collar

The inside of the above collar which has to be made comfortable for the horse.

The same collar reversed shows the section covered with soft leather called 'basil' which is made from sheepskin; it does not take a shine.

The soft, pliable leather where the collar rested on the horse prevented the horse being chafed and made the collar more comfortable.

During the ramming of the Blady Grass a length of steel rod or strap was inserted in the throat (lower) part of the collar to strengthen that area. In order to bend the steel to fit the shape of the collar it was hit with a heavy brass mallet which was specially shaped to perform the bending.

Indenture Certificate

Part of the Indenture Certificate of Michael Thomas Cowen in 1903.

The source of our information is Ivan Cowen who became an electrician but his father and brother spent their working lives making horse collars in the Deagon area.

Ivan's father, Michael Thomas Cowen, was indentured in 1903 to "learn the art and mystery of collar making." He was apprenticed to L. Uhl & Sons collar makers of Spring Hill, the firm was founded in 1870.

This was in the days when parents sometimes had to pay the tradesman to teach their son the trade.

Ivan's brother, Jack Rowland Cowen, was indentured in 1934 to his father "to learn the trade." By this time there was no payment and the apprentice was paid a wage.

Like all the old trades the work was manual and great skill was needed so that the tradesman could work swiftly and accurately to keep costs down.

A good tradesman, still using manual methods and working an eight hour day, can make six collars in five days. There are still a few collar makers working in Australia, one of whom makes collars for buyers in Ireland. He receives the horse measurements by email, but the process is still the traditional one. Another source of collars is the Amish people in Pennsylvania USA who still use horse power extensively.

Cutting Thin Strips from Scraps of Leather

Cutting strips from scraps of leather cut from larger pieces.

All the leather was cut by hand using patterns for the different pieces, but the long strips of pliable leather used for binding were cut in a continuous strip using a circular cutting motion. The strip measures about 15mm in width. The coloured pins are to keep the strip in place; a good tradesman never wastes his materials.

Blady Grass

Section of a sheaf of Blady Grass

This sheave of blady grass is about a metre long, has been cut with a reaping hook, dried in the sun and finally bound with blady grass; all very traditional, because it was the best way to do the job.

Some Tools Used by the Collar Makers

Some of the tools used by the tradesmen include wooden mallets, a very heavy solid brass mallet, steel ram rods,