Aside World Magazine
Spring 2021 Issue
The Owen Side Saddle
Article by Amy Jo Magee
Photo Credits: Amy Magee
Over the next few issues I will be writing a series of articles to help newer enthusiasts learn how to tell the differences between the “big name” sidesaddles. I will start with the “biggest” name (in my opinion) and the most incorrectly identified due to several saddlers who built copies or clones. Some of these were great saddles, but not a true Owen sidesaddle.
Owen sidesaddles are most known for their flat seat which riders seem to either love or hate. In the early 1920’s, Owen and Company advertised themselves as the “makers of the flat-seated side-saddle”. For those that have ridden in various makes that include the Owen, they can attest to the flat ride that it offers.
Owen traded under the name Owen and Company for the majority of their time in business. This is the stamping that is most often found on these saddles (Owen & Co). The other stamping often seen on the saddles that have not been rebuilt is the address where the saddle was made. This is also a reliable way to date if the saddle was built before or after the early to mid 20’s. Sadly, Owen rarely dates their tree labels. If made prior to 1923, the saddle will have an address reading 125 Mount Street. After 1923, Owen moved to 62 Duke street. There was a two year period from what I understand where saddles were being produced from both addresses. I like to say 1923-1925 rather than an exact year. This 2 year transition information is just something I learned over the years and is not documented anywhere that I am aware of.
Above photos of Owen street address stamps. Photo to left is of 125 Mount Street, Photo to right Duke Street
Owens are most easily distinguished by their “tear drop” safety assembly cover, along with their patented safety assembly which is shown close up in the pictures below. But, as those of you that know me know I like to say-a safety assembly DOES NOT make a sidesaddle a specific brand. I have owned several saddles that had safety assemblies patented by other makes because that is what the lady who ordered the saddle chose to have. I even owned an Owen that had a Champion and Wilton safety assembly. But it is not a C&W, it is an Owen.
Photo above of the near side of an Owen saddle showing the teardrop safety assembly cover.
Pictures to the Right are of a rebuilt Owen that has all new leather and panel except for the heads but still shows the original stamping on the safety assembly plate.
It is the safety assembly that will help you determine if the saddle is an actual Owen worthy of their often high price tags. The following is true only of the standard Owen safety assembly. The few that are out there with alternative assemblies would have to be verified with stamping or tree label pictures. The reason this comes into play is because Aulton and Butler began producing sidesaddle trees that were made with the same general shape and flanged gullet plate as the original Owen tree.
Many (but not all of them) had the Owen safety assembly as well. These were often used by the saddler Barry Swain, Smoky Everhart, as well as Eldonian to make a “modern Owen saddle”. While many of these saddles are very nice and offer a great ride, they are not true Owens and should not be advertised or sold as such.
The biggest difference is the stamping on the safety assembly plate. An original Owen should have two different stamps on the safety plate as seen in the pictures below. To the left is the Owen and Co stamp, and there is also a 4 digit number that matches the stirrup top that was hand fitted to its matched number safety plate. This number was found both on the left and the right of the plate as shown in the pictures below. Rumor has it the entire casting process through fitting took over 18 hours. If you have a matched pair you should do everything to try to keep them together. Replacements can be paired to a plate, but it often requires some hand filing to make the replacements seat correctly.
Photos above are of the placement of matching 4 digit number on safety plate as well as stirrup fitting. The number was found on both the left and the right of the safety plate.
So to recap, on an original Owen, there should be an Owen stamp to the right of the safety assembly plate along with the saddle serial number. There should also be an address stamp inside the overgirth stitching pattern if the saddle has an overgirth. If by chance the saddle has been rebuilt (like the one pictured above) all of that stamping will be gone. But, the 2 stamps that I discussed above should still be present on the safety assembly plate itself. There is a very small chance that the safety plate had to be replaced as well, or possibly converted from a roller bar from an older saddle, but if that is the case, the seller should be able to provide tree label pictures. If the saddle has had that much work done to it, there will be some form of documentation somewhere either via pictures or receipt of the work verifying the authenticity of the saddle.
Aulton and Butler safety plates are often blank or on occasion I have seen a small A&B or tiny Aulton and Butler written to the right of the assembly. Very different and not easily confused with the original Owen plates.
Finally and most accurately are the tree labels themselves. Owen usually used 2 labels. The Owen and Co label that had the serial number, seat length and width and then a fit line. This line either read Gen, General, G.F. or To Draft. The first 3 were for their General Fit tree, or the tree most people are looking for and the one Aulton and Butler copied. This is a rather generous open tree that fits many of our modern horses well. If that line read To Draft- it was a custom tree to a specific horse. I have also seen owners and horses names written on the edges of the label or after the word Draft. The other label was the tree label. The majority of Owen trees were from Slatford and sons but I have seen a few Larkkom trees (the tree most often used by Mayhew) inside the Owen sidesaddles. If in doubt the best way to identify these saddles is to visualize the Owen tree label. If there isn’t evidence of one, I wouldn’t pay an Owen price for the saddle.
Photos above left and right are of Owen tree labels including the general fit and to draft label
Photo to the left is of the Slatford and Son tree label.
Stay tuned for more informational articles revolving around some of the other makes in the coming months.
As always, I am happy to answer any questions or help you source any items you may need. If you haven't already checked out my sidesaddle Facebook page, please go to Black Diamond Designs and take a peek at my current and previous projects. Lots of fun sidesaddle pictures in there!
Amy Jo Magee
Black Diamond Designs