by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
I have previously written about the debate over the 1876 Leonard presentation rod made for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial (see page 167). It is my personal opinion that the 1876 and the 1893 rods are different rods all together, and that the only surviving rod is the so-called 1893 Columbian Exposition model (made as one of five matching rods for the 1887 Queen Victoria Jubilee in London) and erroneously called the Philadelphia Centennial rod.
I recently uncovered an interesting article that very well may add fuel to the fire over what exact rod we are talking about. In an article dated 16 March 1890, The New York Times declared:
The old two-thousand dollar rod which was made for exhibition at the London Exposition is now being made over at Abbey & Imbriess [sic]. New wood is being fitted to the old mountings. These are of solid gold, as well as the rings, which are tied on with gold thread. The gold reel that accompanies the rod cost $600. There is a big topaz set in the butt and even the plugs are adorned with precious stones. All the gold work is engraved and chased. It is not likely that another rod like it will ever be made, for while beautiful to look at its usefulness on the stream is questionable.
The rod is clearly denoted as having been made for the London Exposition of 1887, and not the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. But also note that this 1887 rod is being remade with “new wood” implying it would now be a totally different rod than the other four sisters made with it in 1887. Who did this work is a matter of speculation, but keep in mind it was being rebuilt a full three years before the Chicago Exposition!
This information is also in accordance with Hubert Howe Bancroft’s The Book of The Fair (1893), referenced by rod historian Charlie Fleischmann in the aforementioned Clark’s board thread.
Bancroft wrote: “Among the collection of rods is one valued at $2,000, manufactured by the New York firm of Abbey & Imbrie for the Queen’s Jubilee Exposition, as a specimen of the most finished workmanship. It is mounted in gold, engraved with designs of artistic merit, in it butt a topaz which cost $1,200, and its reel of solid gold, with handle of agate.” Note again the reference to the London exposition.
As reported by Cliff Netherton in his History of the Sport of Casting, the rod was written up by an American correspondent in Britain’s The Fishing Gazette as: “a beautifully gold-mounted rod and reel, a large topaz bejeweling the end of the rod. Two sister rods, it is said, have been sold to England.” This further supports the multiple rods referenced in the earlier Hemenway article.
The smoking gun, however, comes in the form of the U.S. United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries Report of The Commissioner for the Year Ending June 30, 1894, which declared in its catalog:
Messrs. Abbey & Imbrie, New York City, lent for exhibition many of the finest types of rods used by anglers, including the celebrated Queen’s Jubilee gold-mounted and jeweled fly rod, which was valued at $2000, and was accompanied by an engraved gold reel.
So we now have five independent sources all leading us to the conclusion that this was not the Philadelphia Centennial rod, but a new rod known as the Queen’s Jubilee rod manufactured in 1887, and rebuilt in 1890. This is likely the rod passed off later as the Philadelphia Centennial rod.
This is the rod, then, that was shown in 1900 at the Paris Exhibition and written up in the 26 March 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
A special feature is a split bamboo fly rod, mounted with solid gold ferrules, guide rings and a reel seat. The butt of the rod is set with a large topaz, as are also the plugs which fit in the ferrules when the rod is disjointed. The mountings of this rod are beautifully engraved with fishing scenes, and with the rod there is a solid gold reel likewise artistically engraved. The value of this rod is $2000.
It is beginning of a long trail left by what would eventually become known as the $2000 fly rod.
The Columbia Exposition (Queen’s Jubilee) rod would next have been displayed by Abbey & Imbrie at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York in 1901 (best known for being the place where President William McKinley was assassinated). A photograph of this exhibition was reprinted in both the U.S. House of Representative’s Congressional Record (1901) and in the U.S. Commission of Fish And Fisheries Commissioner’s Report for the Year Ending June 30, 1901 (both available for free on-line). It is described as a “best eight section round split bamboo fly rod, gold mounted with engraved ferules and reel seat. Butt and ferule plugs set with topaz. Solid gold engraved reel, single-action with click.”
Of interest is that the 1901 Buffalo Exposition rod is an eight-section rod, a style that Hiram Leonard certainly did not prefer to work in, and something seemingly at odds with what we know about his 1876 Centennial rod. All of this is more evidence that this rod is NOT the same as the 1876 rod, and maybe not even the same rod as the original 1887 Queen’s Jubilee rods, having been rebuilt in 1890.
What does this all mean? I believe there are now actually THREE rods (or families of rods) referred to as the 1876 Leonard Exposition Rod. The first is the actual Leonard-made rod exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, and whose whereabouts are unknown. The second is a matching set of five presentation rods made for the Queen Victoria Jubilee and Exhibition of 1887, four of which were sold in England and one that was to remain as property of the Abbey & Imbrie firm. This was the rod completely remade in 1890 for the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, and the one that served as the focal point of the Abbey & Imbrie traveling exhibit for the next three decades. It is also the rod misidentified as the Philadelphia Centennial rod.
Where did this rod end up? I have some tantalizing clues tracking it up to the 1950s, but you’ll have to wait for a later article for this part of the story.
-- Dr. Todd