There are many theories on how the dart has evolved. Many believe that the first wooden darts were broken arrows, sharpened and then thrown at the ends of wine casks. Another school of thought argues that crossbow bolts were the precursors of the modern darts, there being some evidence to show that firing crossbow bolts into the end of ale tuns (barrels) was an indoor English tavern pastime 200 years ago. Some believe that ‘puff and dart’, a tavern game dating back at least to the sixteenth century which small darts are blown through a tube at a numbered target, is the great-grandparent of the modern dart.
All of these theories involve a small dart-like object projected at a target the first darts used by the masses in any great numbers were imported from France in the mid-to-late Victorian period. The importers demand was initially drawn from fairgrounds who had introduced darts stalls into their list of new attractions.
Not surprisingly, those darts were known in Britain as ‘French darts’. The body of the dart was made entirely of wood, with a metal point inserted at one end and three or four turkey feathers stuck on at the other end to serve as flights. For many years these darts were the most popular as they were sold singly and were very cheap. However, this type of dart was very light and, at times, difficult to control. So varying weights were introduced, the extra weight (or ‘loading’) being achieved by the addition of lead, either by being wrapped around the dart embedded in a ferrule or by drilling out the centre of the dart from the point end, inserting a small amount of liquid lead, and then replacing the point.
As darts became increasingly popular in England in the 1920s and 1930s, the darts became more sophisticated and attracted more interest from UK-based suppliers.
Light engineering companies turned their attention to darts and manufactured the first brass darts barrels. With brass, darts players were no longer restricted to the French dart.
Brass darts barrels were produced in all manner of shapes, sizes and weights and quickly became the most popular form of dart in general play.
Despite this, the French darts remained popular with some older darts players for many years and, indeed, are still available today from specialised suppliers.
With the introduction of brass darts it seemed as though that the days of the feather flights were numbered. The brass darts were fitted with cane, slit crossways at the far end, into which a folded paper or card flight was inserted. Not everyone liked the lack of feathers, so the brass barrels were machined with threads that would take an adaptor into which feather flights were inserted. Brass darts were to remain the most popular type of darts until the early 1970s when tungsten darts began to appear.
Borne on the increasing popularity of darts in the 1970s, tungsten darts were introduced to great effect. Tungsten darts were denser than brass and thus what was a bulky brass dart of, say, 25 grms became a super-slim tungsten dart. This breakthrough enabled players to leave more space when shooting at a target, for example treble 20.
The size of brass darts presented a problem for the modern player. If one dart hits the treble twenty, it would not leave much room for the following two darts. If the first brass dart thrown fell short, then its bulk might obscure the intended target.
Tungsten darts, being so thin, left more room for the incoming darts and obscured a lot less of the target if the first had come close but not close enough.
Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, the number of players using brass darts declined rapidly until it was a rare sight to see anyone throwing brass darts in major competitions. Tungsten darts remain the choice of champions and new dart players alike.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007