by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
Ever since I first wrote about Ithaca's famed fishing dentist Alonzo H. Fowler (in a two part article you can read Here and Here), I've been interested in knowing the history of the Gem patent reel he invented.
Fowler's reel was originally made in vulcanized rubber, and went through at least two permutations before disappearing by around 1881,
Enter Charles M. Clinton, who received Patent #413,774 on October 29, 1889. Also from Ithaca, the only substantive difference between the two appears to be the fact that Clinton's reel was made from German Silver. Jim Schottenham gives us an awesome overview of the Clinton reel Here.
But there has always been a nagging question for me. What happened to Clinton and why was the reel still being offered as late as 1910? The question had been only touched on by Jim Brown in his book A Treasury of Reels.
Fortunately, I was able to stumble across a neat little article in the July 1909 Field & Stream magazine that helps explain the what and why of the Clinton reel. Here's the article in its entirety:
Fly-fisherman who a few years ago delighted to use the old Fowler reel, and later its successor, the Clinton, will be pleased to know that after several years of dormant existence, it is again on the market with some very desirable improvements. Charles M. Clinton, the original patentee, retired from business several years ago, but the continued demand for the reel was such that Treman, King & Co., Ithaca, N.Y., manufacturing the White Hat baits and specialties, were induced to purchase the patents and rights and take up its manufacture. The cut herewith given shows the reel laying close to the rod, and entirely inclosing the line in an aluminum, ventilated line holder, which prevents the line catching on handle or buttons, and gives it an opportunity to dry. It is so adjusted that it is impossible for it to overrun and tangle the line, and its entire weight is but two ounces. It will certainly have a large sale to many of the expert fly-fishermen, and needs only to be seen to be appreciated. Treman, King & Co. have a very attractive catalogue, showing this and their other specialties, which they mail postpaid to any address on request.
Deducing the language we can guess that Clinton made his German Silver reel from 1889 until around 1900 or 1901, and then stopped its manufacture. Treman, King & Co. purchased the rights and likely even the equipment, and began to manufacture the aluminum version of the Clinton reel in 1909. How long they made the reel is unknown.
The firm was founded by Leander King and Leonard, Lafayette, and Elias Treman, who formed the partnership of Treman, King & Co. in 1857. Leander was the last of the surviving founders, passing away in 1900. The firm was a wholesale hardware house and in 1919 was presided over by Robert H. Treman. They were in business until at least the 1920s, and from at least 1900 onward sold fishing tackle under the "White Hat" trade name. They also used the "Our Best Quality" trade name. I own a fluted spinner and a snelled hook packet with the White Hat name on it.
On May 3-4, 1921, Treman, King & Co. was completely destroyed by fire at a cost of $350,000. A new building was erected in its place, but by the mid-1940s the company went out of business and the building was occupied by a Montgomery Wards.
So now the connection between Treman, King & Co. and Charles Clinton's reel has been established, all we now need to do is to put an end date to the manufacture of the Treman, King & Co. version for us to put a neat bookend to the story of Alonzo H. Fowler's Gem reel.
-- Dr. Todd