Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Voices from the Past: Ted Williams' Error (1962)

This awesome piece by The New York Times outdoor writer Oscar Godbout is one of the funniest during his ten year tenure at the august newspaper. In it, Oscar takes a good-natured shot at Ted Williams, noted Red Sox outfielder and angler. It ran in the spring of 1962.

Engravers get the Blame in Mysteries of Keeper Ring and Dropper Fly

by Oscar Godbout

It appears as if some outstanding fishermen are having a bit of trouble with pictures these days. Ted Williams, the lean and even-tempered baseball player turned outdoorsman, is one example. The Orvis fishing tackle people in Vermont are another.

Williams is currently looking rather silly in at least one national outdoors magazine, Sports Afield. Williams now makes a living tellings Sears, Roebuck & co., how to blow a clear publicity bugle over its fishing and hunting hardware.

In the April issue of Sports Afield the former slugger has a full color page to himself with rich, flowing prose telling how the company developed a "better bait casting reel -- Thanks to Ted Williams." The text goes on recounting all the technical and important things he advised them to do to get a "remarkable" reel.

Half the page is a picture in glorious color of Williams intently handling the reel, which is on a casting rod. The line is carefully threaded through the keeper ring.

Now, even the rawest beginner knows the keeper ring is for keeping hooks in and lines put through there just won't cast.

Oh, it's a terrible sight, that line-filled keeper ring, and fishermen turn their faces away in embarrassment. But poor Ted had a spitball thrown at him, it seems, for the line was never really through the keeper ring at all, he says.

In another magazine, he explains that a photographic retoucher--a non-fishing retoucher--came on the photo, saw the line outside the keeper ring and carefully retouched is inside the ring. So that's Williams story and it's a good one. I, for one, will swallow it hook, line, sinker and keeper ring.

The only thing is, in Outdoor Life, the same picture shows Williams with the line outside the keeper ring. Was this a re-touching? At this point, it's all to complicated to keep up with, but the next time I see him on a stream I'm going to check his keeper ring.

As a child, I remember sneaking in the back door of the Orvis factory in Manchester, Vt., to ask if they had any free sampels of their fishing rods. It was a good try, but all I got was a free sample of a catalogue as I was shown the door.

The cover of the catalogue was a memorable color reproduction of a brook trout, hooked and leaping on a leader with a dropper fly attached. It was lovely, just like the brookies one would catch in the Battenkill. The scene was and is the Orvis trademark.

The latest Orvis catalogue explains that the picture was painted in 1874 by S.A. Kilbourne for "Game Fishes of the United States," published by Scribner's in 1879. sometime before 1890 Charles F. Orvis, the founder, commissioned a wood block engraving of the original painting for a trademark. It has been on almost all catalogues and the dropper fly always showed clearly.

The Orvis people have now come by the original Kilbourne color litho, reproduced on the current catalogue, and the dropper fly is missing. Now they are asking if any one has seen the original of the cover color litho or the original Orvis engraving to solve the mystery of "what happened to the dropper fly."

I have a theory about it. The retoucher who fiddled with Ted Williams line had a grandfather, also a retoucher, who didn't like dropper flies.

-- Dr. Todd

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