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Posted on: September 1st, 2014 by hauleymusic No Comments

Quick, simple and an easy game to set up, quoits combines and tests both your throwing and accuracy skills and is something that all of the family can enjoy. It may be played in the yard, or taken to the park or beach.

Quoits (koits, kwoits) is a traditional game which involves the throwing of wooden, metal or rope rings from a set distance, usually to land over or near a spike (sometimes called a hob, mott or pin). The sport of Quoits encompasses several distinct variations.

Playing either as an individual or in teams, the winner is the individual or team that score the most points after the agreed number of throws.

The History of Quoits:
Quoits has existed in one form or another for so many centuries that a compilation of the complete history of the sport is not possible. Any references to ancient versions of quoits or other games played with quoit-like objects are derived from scattered documentation that only mentions these games, such as in historical writings. The earliest mention of a quoit-like object was documented many centuries before the birth of Christ and was used as a weapon of war, by the early Romans and other ancient cultures. These objects had sharpened outside edges and were made to spin on an up-raised finger to throw at an enemy, specifically to inflict bodily harm.

The first references of a quoit being used in a sporting event occur at the Grecian Olympian Games, about two centuries B.C. The sport of throwing a quoit, or discus, as long a distance as possible, became extremely popular and one of the primary events in the early Olympics. The discus originally was a heavy, round, flat ring made of stone or metal. A leather strap was tied through the central hole to be used as the handle for throwing. The metal discs were made by pouring molten bronze, lead, or iron into a rough circular mould, and were somewhat costly to produce. Later versions of the discus eliminated the hole and the strap, resulting in a solid disk similar to that used today. The discus was so special to the ancient Grecians that it was considered itself a valuable item; the winner of the discus event was many times awarded the disc as the prize for the competition.

The discus throwers were the most popular athlete of their time, and many people made their own versions of the discus to entertain themselves and imitate their revered heroes. Wealthier noblemen and others of Grecian and Roman upper society were the only ones who could afford to have these quoits poured and fashioned from bronze or iron. In the Roman army, soldiers and camp followers originated the idea of using the worn, discarded shoes from the war horses as an inexpensive alternative to casting a quoit. The horseshoes of that time were fairly heavy, perhaps as much as four pounds apiece, and were a readily available commodity. The soldiers would bend the discarded shoes into crude rings to imitate the shape of the discus.

It is important to note that up through this time in history, quoits were still being thrown competitively solely for distance, just as the discus was. Both the fancy, poured metal quoits and the crudely-formed army horseshoes were not pitched into a defined target area but were thrown for maximum distance as a show of strength and athleticism. The idea of using a wooden stake or metal pin driven into the ground, to use specifically as a target to throw at, totally redefined the pastime from a game of distance to a game of accuracy. At first only a single stake was used. Quoits made from the bent horseshoes became quite popular with the roaming armies as an entertaining pastime during the long treks between battles. But since it was rather difficult to form the shoes into rings without the proper tools, they eventually gave up bending the shoes into rings and began throwing them as they were. Thus, from simple, handmade quoits made from worn-out horseshoes arose the origins of the present-day game of horseshoe pitching. As the Romans travelled throughout Europe on their conquests, the games spread to other cultures, and invading armies eventually brought the games to Britain around the beginning of the second millennium. It is here that quoits developed into the form having two pins set into clay pits, which can still be found to this day in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Quoits and horseshoes developed in parallel from this point, but in somewhat different forms.

In England, quoits became the preferred game and grew to become so popular that in 1361, King Edward III became worried that his subjects were using too much of their time to throw quoits rather than to practice shooting or using a bow to keep their skills of war honed. He issued a decree that outlawed quoits and other “useless and time-wasting” games, but quoits continued to be played discreetly and never died out. By the following century, quoits had again become legal and quite popular, enough so that it became a well-organized sport in the Taverns and Pubs in Britain. Official rules for the sport were finally developed by an organization of Pubs in Northern England in 1881.

The English brought both the games of quoits and horseshoes with them when they settled in America in the 1600’s.

The following is an excerpt from a 1947 edition of a book entitled “The New Encyclopaedia of Sports” published by A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, which sums up the development of both quoits and horseshoes exceptionally well:
”The Romans, when invading England, centuries ago, made that nation aware of the sport. The sport found favour not only with the camp followers, and then the soldiers, but was taken up by the nobles and the aristocracy of the different nations. It provided more than a means of sport; it was supposed to have value, due to the bending and lifting requirements in the case of obesity. Eventually, the throwing of the light shoes was left to women, and youngsters, while the men threw a small discus, or the quoit of today, at stakes.

In England, the twin sports grew up together. Horseshoe pitching was a boy’s game; quoits for men. But the soldiers, on the march, continued to use horseshoes, since they were always available. The stay-at-homes, in England, preferred quoits, and the sport was in high favour in England, and certain other parts of Europe, through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

English soldiers, arriving in the colonial New York area, introduced horseshoe pitching there. Some settlers, especially the Scots, coming into the British American colonies brought along quoits. Many settlers, who followed, also brought along quoits. Thus, both games had devotees in the 17th and 18th centuries in America. Quoits or as it sometimes was called in colonial British America — “pitchers,” was a traditional lawn game which at that time involved throwing a metal (usually brass or iron) ring to land over one of two pins set about about 11-18 yards apart. The stake or pin, called a “hob, spud, spike, meg, or mott,” was embedded in the center of a patch of earth, often clay. The game was similar to horseshoe pitching and ring toss.

The quoit was a circular disc with a 4 inch hole in the middle which could weigh up to 10 pounds, although a weight of approximately 5 pounds was more common. This was thrown over the “hob,” a stake or pin pounded into soil or clay, often set within a box-like framework. The game was played by 1 to 4 contestants per side. Each “pitcher” stands at one stake or pin and throws his quoit at the opposite stake or pin. The player or “pitcher” is usually given two attempts at hitting the central hob. A quoit which lands on the hob is called a “ringer” and scores two points. The first player to reach 21 wins the game. Players also try to land their quoits in ways which block further attempts by other competitors and gain one point for being the closest.

Colonists played quoits on the Boston Commons. Playing quoits on the common was open to all. The game was played in the streets, on the public greens, and at outdoor taverns throughout the 18th century.

Although the game with organized teams remained strong in New York State from the 18th to mid 19th centuries, quoits was viewed differently in the New England and the South during the 18th century.

In the 1771 Connecticut Courant, a churchgoer denounced, “The open Tolerance of our Youth to play Quoits in the street.”

By 1787, the Massachusettes Legislature passed an act for, “The Due Legislation of Licenced Houses”, declaring that, “no taverner, innholder, or victualler shall have or keep in or about their houses, yards, gardens, or dependencies any dice, cards, bowls, billiards, quoits, or any other implements used in gambling.”

A 1788 article on drunkeness in the Pennsylvania Mercury and Universal Advertiser equated the “immorality of drunkeness with cock-fighting, tobacco-chewing, and playing quoits.”

An essay in the August 22, 1787 Pennsylvania Gazette noted, “A number of labourers play at quoits for the whole day at the taverns, running in debt for liquors, while their wives and children want bread.”

Some above the Mason-Dixon Line disagreed with the banning of quoits as a public pastime. In the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Independent Gazetteer in 1790, one editorial writer calling himself A Freeman, expressed his concerns. “If one man, in a leisure hour, is fond of the Theatre, another of shooting at a target, fowling, or hunting, another of pitching quoits, another of playing billiards, shuffle board, cards, back-gammon, or chess, another of dancing &c, why should they be deprived of one more than the other?” The writer felt that only the barbarous customs such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting should be prohibited by law.

The Newburyport Herald on March 20, 1801, carried the following warning against the idle game of quoits, “Is there any harm in boy’s pitching coppers?…I have seen their sports terminate in oaths, blows, and bloody noses…From coppers to quoits, from quoits to cards, and by degrees to all manner of crimes.”

A few years later the Farmer’s Cabinet New Hampshire, carried another admonition, “I know that there is in every village, a great manny idlers, lounging about the streets and tippling houses, drinking, swearing, and pitching quoits, and playing chequers, or ten pins…I don’t know how long it will be before many of them will be in jail.”

In South Carolina, the Southern Patriot carried a glowing endorsement of quoits as a gentleman’s sport. “To do the business with grace and applause, you must throw your coat off, and never use gloves or thumb-cover. the quoits should be made of brass and well polished; iron is too rough and has to the eye a dead, heavy appearance; brass glitters in the air, and when one or more quoits are around the meg the bright metal is quite and assistance to the player. Four on a side is the best number for an interesting game. We observe that this amusement is growing popular hereabout, and we take occasion to say it is a good omen; when such games are popular with the best classes, it is a sure sign that gambling, drinking, and other vices are sinking into merited disgrace and neglect…It is pleasing to contrast such sports with the sickly misery of the card table, and the beastly scenes of a drunkery.”

However, some of the warnings of New Englanders did seem valid, when the newspaper in Alexandria, Virginia, carried the following report, “Shocking Murder.–A man by the name of Gollyhorn was murdered in Dumfries, Virginia on Tuesday night last, by a person named Burgess. The parties were engaged in pitching quoits, when a quarrel ensured, during which Gollyhorn kicked Burgess in the face–after which Burgess procured a butcher’s knife and returned to the place he had left Gollyhorn, and found him asleep on the step of a house, and upon his waking plunged the knife into his body. the deceased walked about twenty steps and dropped dead. Pursuit was immediately made after Burgess, who was apprehended and conducted to Bren’t Ville, to await his trial in November.” (Republican Compiler ( Gettysburg , Pa ) June 23 1824).

During the late 18th century in the new republic, one of the most famous very private quoit clubs consisted of a group of men that met on Saturdays during the spring & summer seasons at Buchanan’s Spring in Richmond, Virginia. The club was also called the Richmond Sociable Club, or the Barbecue Club, and included members such as US Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835), Defense Attorney for Aaron Burr – John Wickham (1763-1839), US Attorney General William Wirt (1772-1834), US Senator Benjamin Watkins Leigh (1781-1849), the Reverend Mr. John Buchanan, and Parson John Blair.

But, as was the case elsewhere, the American soldiers, in the Revolutionary War, settled upon the horseshoe game. Quoits had to be carried along with the usual military equipment while shoes were available wherever there was a blacksmith shoeing a horse.

The quoit game was a great favorite along the Atlantic Seaboard, with horseshoes being preferred in the Middle West. As time progressed, the quoit sport lost more and more participants, while horseshoe pitching gained in a spectacular fashion. While it now is difficult to find a quoit pitcher of the olden days, there are millions of Americans who have pitched horseshoes, at one time or another, during the last 50 years.”

What was the reason for the fading popularity of quoits in the United States and the overwhelming success of horseshoes among Americans? 

People were so amazed at the ringer capabilities in pitching horseshoes that they started picking up the game in droves, at the same time bypassing the game of quoits in the process. Everyone wanted to throw ringers. The quoit, being round and with such a small hole, was very hard to ring a pin, and its shape prevented any kind of throwing “technique” to make ringers easier. As the years passed, quoits seemed boring to the masses, and horseshoe pitching was the game to play. Quoits were soon set aside in the barn, garage, etc. to collect dust and be forgotten. Only the old-timers and the die-hard quoit pitchers were left to carry the sport. Thus ended the reign of the quoit in America well before the 20th century. Quoit pitching was mainly centred in the New York area, and spread north into New England and south as far as Washington D.C. Horseshoes were the favoured sport in the Midwest. Quoits achieved their highest popularity in the U.S. in the 1800’s, but then interest dropped off considerably. Quoit pitching has become even scarcer today, but continues to be played in the U.S. by small numbers of people in widely scattered concentrations and various local flavours. Horseshoe pitching has dominated the American culture since the Second World War, and is now a very popular sport for the backyard and for organized play. Before World War II quoit leagues and public competitions were still found in many communities, but today only a few small, informal clubs remain, and only in small pockets of the overall population.

Basic Rules:
As with many games, quoits has many different sets of rules depending on the location of country and region of where the game is to be played.

First decide by flipping a coin which team or individual takes the first throw.

Then decide where your starting point and scoring (landing) points are going to be. This can be any distance between the two ends provided that either players or team captains agree. Remember if children are playing to make sure that the distance between the two ends is suitable for their throwing ability.

Then agree on how the winner will be decided. This can be either by the total number of points scored after an equal number of throws. The highest score being the winner. Or the winner can be decided by the first player to reach a certain score.
Each player has from 2-4 quoits to throw at the scoring area. After throwing all of the quoits, add up any score that has been made for ringers and closest to the pin. This is then added to the individual or team total.

References and further reading:
Ashton, John; The History of Gambling in England. London: Duckworth & Co., 1898.
Boga,S.; Horseshoes and Quoits: Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. 1996.

Dominion Quoiting Association (Creator), Constitution and By-Laws of the Dominion Quoiting Association, Organized May 15th, 1883: Nabu Press, 2011

Evans, Linda; The Ancient Game of Quoits: Welsh Quoiting Board – 2001.

McLean, Teresa; The English at Play in the Middle Ages. Berkshire: The Kensal Press, 1983.

Mortimer, Ian; The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. London: Bodley Head, 2008.

Orme, Nicholas; Medieval Children. Yale University Press, 2003 (paperback edition).

Parlett, David The Oxford Guide to Games. Oxford University Press, 1990.

Reeves, Compton; Pleasures and Pastimes in Medieval England. Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1995.

“The New Encyclopaedia of Sports” published by A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, 1947.