Spider Web

by rod on March 12, 2018

Spider Web Sport Products introduced tennis racquets into the range of archery and  hockey equipment in the early to mid 1930′s to take advantage of the games rapidly growing popularity.  Spider Web’s owner William Respini was a cabinet maker by trade and the factory was located at 133 Wells Place, South Melbourne, or as it was then known, City South.  His son John advises, that he recalls William had to buy some racquets being made at the time and steam them apart to learn how thay had been constructed so he could copy them.

Given the trading Cartel of Spalding, Slazenger, Dunlop and Alexander,  as a boutique maker creating a distribution channel would have been very difficult.  Under the cartel and their Australian Racquet Manufacturers Association ARMA all of the branded 5 Star models were priced the same in all retail stores to prevent price cutting wars. On the only known example of a Spider Web racquet, you will see a cheeky reference to the cartel and one-upmanship where the number 6 appears in a star on the handle.

To differentiate, Spider Web also imported a model from Spain, we believe, called the Speedbat which was used by H.W. Austin who made the tri shaft Hazell Streamline famous. Perhaps the designer Donisthorpe also had a hand in the design of the Speedbat but to be sure it was far in advance design wise and towards the current shapes than any other racquet seen from the 1930′s.

In South Yarra, the large retail store Maples in Victoria and Tasmania carried the Spider Web racquets for at least 4 years as evidenced by newspaper advertising, however with the onset of war all racquet makers couldn’t source the Ash timber and much of the production capacity was diverted to the war effort.

Myer Melbourne may also have been a retailer and in those days, and arguably nothing has changed today,  retailers had the power and basically told the manufacturers what they would pay for a product and even took settlement discounts when none were offered.

William was also selling direct to a number of tennis centre owners. who by comparison to manufacturing were looking very successful as more and more people played tennis, so he decided to diversify into tennis court management which involved building courts with lights. He also had a hairdressing/ tobacconist business.  The tennis enterprise, in these pre television times (1938-1955), was a huge success being open to midnight 6 days a week with no play on Sundays. On weekends people would wait all afternoon and get maybe 2 sets and pay sixpence a set. Frank Sedgman played an exhibition match at the Merri Creek centre and Nancye Wynn Bolton played a season.

Due to high demand he then took on a partner in about 1938 or 1939 to build an additional two courts which were also lit.
His partner was George Cochrane, one of the first professional coaches in Melbourne.

In the mid 60’s William bought out George Cochrane’s share and once again had sole ownership of the centre.

The accounting books for the tennis centre show that purchases were made from Spider Web Sports to the tennis centre from the late 30’s and into the early ‘40s.

We thank John for his recollections and hope to add more information as we find it.

The racquet photos come courtesy of Adrian Keats, Australian Racquet Collector. Click here for Adrian’s website

Spider Web racquet 2

Spider Web racquet 3

The Spider Web Sport “Talisman”. Looking very much like a Hedley racquet
the workmanship and decorative finishing look great. Note the 6 star decal
to combat the 5 star branding of the major manufacturers under the ARMA banner, representing the
best quality racquets.

Donisthorpe Speed Bat 1936 ad Mary


Spider Web MSD Court Master Model (19)aaaa Spider Web MSD Court Master Model (4)aaa

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