SI Vault
Gilbert Cant
August 03, 1970
The bracelets turn your wrist green and some medical people purple, but a host of well-known athletic figures, including Trainer Johnny Longden (above), feel that they can't hurt and may help
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August 03, 1970

Curious Case Of The Copper Band

The bracelets turn your wrist green and some medical people purple, but a host of well-known athletic figures, including Trainer Johnny Longden (above), feel that they can't hurt and may help

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Golfer Bert Yancey wears one. So does ex-jockey Johnny Longden. So does Vince Lombardi. So do Golfers Carol Mann, Pain Barnett, Kathy Farrer and Linda Craft. So does the English racehorse Karabas. So do Rodeo Star Casey Tibbs and Pitcher Don Drysdale. So do Trainer Jim Maloney and his filly Morgaise.

Wear what? Why, a copper bracelet, of course.

And what do these assorted sports people and sports animals have in common? The answer is something that your great-grandfather usually called rheumatics and your grandfather called rheumatism. Today it goes by the classier sounding name of arthritis. These strenuous sport types are wearing the bangles in the hope of finding more and better relief from those aches in the joints than they have otherwise been able to get.

The copper caper, as medical and legal critics cutely call it, has caught on also among the self-styled beautiful people—in fact, it got its impetus from them. Candidates for the title of Old Green-stain include the king who got busted and "the woman I love," the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Also the Duke's nephew by marriage, the upwardly mobile photographer Lord Snowdon. Not to mention Coco Chanel, Stavros Niarchos and the Marquess of Bath (who obligingly offers them at a modest price to visitors at his commercialized estate). From the flick world there are Lauren Bacall, Producer Dick Brown and his wife Eva Gabor. And Actor John Forsythe. The list is endless.

That the wearing of the bracelets is a fad, no one can deny. It appears to have started in southern Africa, perhaps Rhodesia, where whites troubled by rheumatism and gout noticed that the natives wore copper jewelry and had few or no such complaints. Cause and effect? The fad spread from there to Britain and now to the U.S. Business in the bracelets has mushroomed in a decade from almost nothing to a multimillion-dollar take. But are the bracelets only a fad—a latter-day snake oil to mulct the gullible? Are the sales promoters anything but contemptible quacks and conscienceless nostrum peddlers?

The wearers, of course, think otherwise. Yancey declares: "I don't question this thing. I know it works for me, and I'm never going to take it off. My tennis elbow hasn't bothered me since I got it." Yancey goes so far as to suggest that the bracelet saved his career and enabled him to win the $25,000 Bing Crosby Open. Before he got it he had tried prescribed medicines but complained that they upset his stomach.

Longden, now a trainer, has been bothered by an arthritic condition for so long that he can't count the years. "It was so bad that I couldn't double my hand to hold the reins," he says. His bracelet was recommended to him by a Montana Crow Indian. "After I got it I could hold a horse, so I guess it helped. Anyway, I've worn one so long that I'm convinced. Took it off once to see what happened. My knuckles enlarged so I couldn't hold a whip. Put it back on, and I was fine. Now it never comes off anymore."

Lombardi has been wearing his bracelet (he forgets who gave it to him) since July of last year and credits it with curing arthritis in his hip. Then he adds: "You have to be a believer, too!" Surprisingly, many wearers are as candid as Lombardi in that regard: they admit that it may be "all in the mind" but contend with considerable logic that if they feel better, by whatever mechanism, the thing is doing some good.

Australian Tennis Players John Newcombe and Tony Roche appeared to think that the bracelets were doing them some good, so much so that their use of them was mentioned by a TV commentator at Forest Hills last September. (This touched off a flurry of repressive action by legal authorities.) Now the green bloom has worn off. Newcombe refuses to discuss the matter. Roche concedes that he is no longer paid to wear one, though he keeps his on anyway. "It doesn't hurt to wear it, does it?" A more significant question is how much good it has done him. Roche still has trouble with his shoulder and elbow.

The most difficult wearers to evaluate are dumb animals. On this issue, a talking horse would be a great help. Lacking one, it's up to the trainer to judge whether a horse has an arthritic condition. Bernard Van Cutsem made this decision about Karabas and got a copper pastern strap from Lieut. Colonel Arthur Forbes of Sevenhampton, Gloucestershire. It seems that Forbes picked up the bracelet idea in Africa and went into the business in the early 1960s. Since he had been a game warden he has given special attention to animals (though it was Forbes' bracelets that Newcombe and Roche were touting). While Karabas still isn't talking, the fact is that he won the Washington International in Laurel, Md. last November. Forbes claims that a pastern strap also helped Black Prince II, which finished third in the Epsom Derby in 1966.

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