Turning Archive 2006
Whip tops are an ancient variety that you start spinning by hand, then you can keep them spinning indefinitely by repeatedly whipping them with a strap of some sort. The usual whip is a piece or two of leather strap, like leather boot laces, attached to a stick. They are ususally conical or sometimes a little taller in profile, and shaped sort of like a "T". The top at far left is a small whip top modeled after a child's toy pictured on Greek pottery. They were sometimes made much larger, say up to 10 - 12" diameter, and were made of clay, as well as carved, andpossibly turned wood.
Whip tops were used by all ages in ancient Greece, and teams of adults were believed to have competed to keep them spinning the longest, and to complete a marked course as a race. Native Americans also used a form of whip tops on frozen lakes as a sport among young men -- again with much larger versions. I don't know what their tops were made of.
The other ones at the left are peg tops -- basically whip tops of a different shape, that were popular in Colonial America, and were definately turned from wood. These were shaped like another top of Ancient Greece that had a shape like a very short pencil -- a pointed end on a short barrel -- and were made of fired clay with a wooden handle insert. The handle is rubbed between both hands to get them going. I have a few, but haven't found them yet.
Throw tops are the ones that you wind a string around and toss to the ground, unwinding the string and spinning the top. They are often thrown upside-down, and invert as they come off the string. There's only one small one, not well shown in the photo, laying on its side, with a brass tip. I have a box of them somewhere, and will turn a few more this week.
You're absolutely correct -- low and wide spins better than the taller, more top-heavy forms, but some of the tallish whip tops do surprisingly well with additional energy from the lashing. I don't think the names are really set in stone; I usually call the little fellas "finger tops" or "thumb tops" that we spin between finger and thumb.
Love to make 'em -- hope you do too.
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- Boy And His Tops *PIC*