The real prize for victorious teams and individuals in local competition is the proud legacy of achievement. That, and getting your name engraved on what are often impressive league trophies or shields, joining a list of previous winners that may stretch back over many decades of play, perhaps even a century or more! In days gone by you might also expect to see your name in the local newspaper. The chat and banter of a social night out at pub or club, and the outside-chance of a bit of glory and local bragging-rights are everything in pub games.
Until relatively recently, prizes would have been both symbolic, and often of genuine monetary value. The huge number of mostly silver medals and trophies awarded in local competition from the late 19th century and throughout much of the 20th century, is testament to how much more important these games would have been to participants back then. It's hard to gauge just how valuable these medals would have been in their day, after all, they may have been made from silver (occasionally gold!), but there's very little weight to them, and practically all were 'struck' or 'cast' rather than individually 'crafted' by the jewellers and medallists who made them. But they're certainly medals in the true sense of the word, recognition in precious metal of success in what may have been a very tough competition over the course of a season or cup run.
So, reasonably valuable tokens that would have been awarded in large quantities almost everywhere games were played competitively. Precious enough to the individuals who won them that they wouldn't have been simply discarded, but perhaps not valuable enough for the melting pot. As such they're quite common now, and come up for sale in the antiques and collectibles trade all the time, albeit they're not quite as common as those for 'sporting' prowess such as Football, Cricket, or Athletics. Over the years I've acquired a few of these medals, the images on the front and little scraps of social history engraved on the rear make them attractive items to collect and research. Each one has a story to tell, though deciphering that story can often prove difficult given the chronic lack of information on pub games leagues in archives and online sources. Here are a few examples from my collection.
This medal (above & left) is an interesting one. Probably made by Vaughton Ltd, a jeweller and medallist that's still trading in Birmingham today. Whilst I've failed to discover anything about the I S Skittles Club (Islington?), what's striking about this medal is the image on the front which appears to show a gentleman about to hurl a weighty discus-shaped 'Cheese' at a set of very large skittle pins. The size/shape of the pins and the layout of the alley all point toward this representing the almost extinct game of Old English Skittles, famously still played at the last remaining pub alley for the game at the Freemasons Arms in Hammersmith, London. This style of skittles was very common around the war years which is when this medal would have been awarded, and yet this is one of only two examples that I've come across, both by Vaughton Ltd with an identical skittling image. It's important to note that the image on the front of a medal is no guarantee that it represents the version of skittles actually played in the league it was awarded for. It may simply be that this was the standard medal for all skittles games supplied by Vaughtons, and for this reason it's not wise to draw firm conclusions about the specific games they might represent.
The 1930's were the time when Darts really took off in Britain, and by the 40's it seems every pub had a board, if not a team actually playing in a local league. The 'sport' was widely promoted with booklets detailing how to play, numerous sponsored competitions with cash prizes, as well as hugely popular exhibition matches. There was even a highly irritating song extolling the virtues of the game. So this medal by W H Haseler Ltd of Birmingham (1938) was one of the earlier examples of its kind, which perhaps explains the rather poor rendering of the game itself. The Dart is somewhat oversized, the Board rather too small and perhaps closer in detail to a target than a true Dartboard. Darts represents the most common of all pub game medals, most of which feature a simple rendering of a Dartboard on the front, though earlier examples like this one tend to concentrate on the player as much as the board. There is still a Hornsea & District Ladies Darts League.