Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Mystery of Abbey & Imbrie's Jubilee Rod

The Mystery of Abbey & Imbrie's Jubilee Rod

Noted fly rod historian Tom Kerr posted some interesting and important information about a great Abbey & Imbrie presentation rod over on Clark's Classic Fly Rod Forum that is well worth reading, as is all of Tom's research.

The problem is, I don't believe the 1876 A&I Philadelphia Exposition rod referenced was the same one displayed at the 1893 Columbian World's Fair in Chicago. What evidence do I have to support this theory? Well, first hand actually. Emerson Hough, the famed Chicago novelist and dedicated outdoor writer for Forest & Stream wrote many detailed briefs from the heart of expo, and knew intimately all of the men involved. He filed this fascinating brief in Forest & Stream on 25 May 1893, right before the exposition opening:

Mr. G.C. Hemenway, representing the well-known house of Abbey & Imbrie, was the other afternoon looking with interest at the work of installing the Abbey & Imbrie display of fine rods, the queen bee of which is a magnificent production known as the ‘Jubilee Rod.’ The rod is one of five made by Abbey & Imbrie for display in the Queen’s jubilee exposition in London. The other four were sold in London at $2,000 each, and brought the American house $75,000 trade besides. This rod now in Chicago is the equal of the others in all respects. It is a perfectly-made split-bamboo, faultless and ornamental to an unsurpassable degree. Even the ferrule plugs are exquisitely engraved. The precious metals only are used in the trimmings and fittings, the grip being of pure gold, richly and deeply chased. The butt of the rod contains a cut topaz the size of a pigeon egg and worth alone $1,200.

The "Queen's Jubilee" was Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee held 20 and 21 June 1887 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her coronation. Yet Tom Kerr's awesome poster, printed (I believe) in the 1920s to celebrate A&I own centenary, references what certainly sounds like the Queen's Jubilee rod and NOT the 1876 Centennial version. After all, when this brief was published, the Queen's Jubilee was only six year prior, and although memories are short, that is a very short time to forget when a rod you are in charge of was made.

A catalog cut from the 1928 A&I catalog of the rod and reel.

My belief is that the 1893 Chicago World's Fair A&I rod is the same pictured in the poster and erroneously called the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition rod. It is one of five made and if you want one, you have an 80% better chance of finding it in Britain than you do here in America. By the way, a $2000 rod in 1887 is equivalent to a $45,000 rod today. And it may seem like a lot of work to have made up such rods, but the blurb mentions it resulted in $75,000 in trade, or about $1.7 million in today's terms. Not a bad move by A&I!

As for what ever happened to the original 1876 Philadelphia Exposition rod...that is anyone's guess.

-- Dr. Todd

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