Tops




General Information.

In Sports and Games the American Indians Gave Us, by Alex Whiteny Author Mentions games with both tops and ship tops.

In The Rod and Circle by Alika Podolinksy Webber 1984

"I recall particularly the old chief Joe Rich (Shushepish)of the Davis Inlet band of (Reference,) Naskapi Indians whom I coaxed to play with the spinning top he had made for me in 1961. He refused several times. Finally he consented and, after some emotional preparation, he took the top in his hands. The other indians with us fell silent, and I felt the atmosphere become tense. When the top began to spin, everyone present plainly felt a sense of relief. The chief told me later that he was plaeased with the result of his spinning the top because it showed that he still had many years to live, which proved to be true. When I asked him what would have happened had he not been able to make the top spin, he replied seriously that he would then have known that his death was near."

In games of the North American Indians Cullin writes that Whip tops are the most common type of tops and they are generally made of bone, wood, or ivory. They were some times painted. Spinning tops was a winter game.

Whip Tops


Whip Tops, Dakota Indians.
Free Museum of Science and Art
University of Pennsylvania

In "Notes on Cheyenne Indian Games communicated to the Bureau of American Ethnology" a Mr Louis L Meeker writes (Reference, Cheyenne, Oklahoma):
"They have also whip tops. They are played with in winter. When the ice breaks up in the spring, they are thrown into the water as it rises with the implements for the other winter games, and carried away. Playing winter games in summer is popularly supposed to make hairs grow on the body where tweezers will be required to remove them - a nursery tale."

In "Kitchi-Gami, Wanderings round Lake Superior", page 84, London, 1860, a Mr J G Kohl says (Reference, Chippewa, Wisconsin):
"The Indian boys manage to make tops out of acorns and nuts as cleverly as our boys do. They also collect the oval stones which are found on the banks of the rivers and lakes and use them on the ice in winter. Barefooted and active, they run over the ice, and drive the stones against each other with whips and sticks. The stone that upsets the other is the victor."



Finger and Launchable Tops


Launchable tops Hesquiaht Indians
Vancouver Island
and Makah Indians Washington.
Finger top also Makah.
Berlin Museum, and
University of Pennsylvania

In "Fifth report on the Indians of British Columbia. Report of the Sixty-fifth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science", page 583, London, 1895, a Dr Franz Boas describes a top as follows (Reference, Niska, British Columbia):
"Halha'l: spinning top, made of the top of a hemlock tree. A cylinder, 3 1/2 inches in diameter and three inches high, is cut; a slit is made on one side and it is hollowed out. A pin 2 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch thick, is inserted in the center of the top. A small board with a wide hole, through which a string of skin or of bear-guts passes, is used for winding up the top. It is spun on the ice of the river. The board is held in the left hand, and stemmed against the foot. Then the string is pulled through the hole with the right. Several men begin spinning at a signal. The one whose top spins the longest wins."

A rather comical Eskimo reference:
"Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History". volume 15, page 110, New York, 1901, a Dr Franz Boas describes the following game (Reference, Eskimo, Central, West Coast of Hudson Bay):
"A large cake of ice is formed in the shape of a top with a flat surface and a dull point which fits into a shallow hole. One man sitgs down on the piece of ice, while two others spin it around by means of sticks. This game is often indulged in at the floe edge, when waiting for the pack-ice to come in with the tide. Generally a man who is the butt of all the others is induced to sit on this top, and is spun around until he is made sick."


Klamath, Oregon; and Yokuts California
Field Columbian Museum

In "The Eskimo about Bering Straight, Eighteenth Annjual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology", part 1, page 333, 1899, a Mr Edward William Nelson writes of the Eskimo (Reference, Eskimo, Lower Yukon, Alaska):
"In winter, along the lower Yukon and adjacent region to the south, the children of both sexes gather in the kashim, and each child in succession spins a top. The moment the top is spun the owner runs out through the entrance passage and attempts to make a complete circuit of the house and enter again before the top stops spinning. A score is made every time this is done successfully."

Another reference by Mr Nelson is as follows (Reference, Eskimo, Lower Yukon, Alaska):
"These toys are spun between the two hands, the upper part of the spindle being held upright between the palms."

To see our line up of tops and launchers, click Here.

To see our less expensive tops and launchers for classroom use, click Here.

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