Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Find A Samuel Phillippe Rod (Kind Of)

How to Find A Samuel Phillippe Rod (Kind Of)

It's weird how some things work out. I have already alerted readers to the epic Samuel Phillippe thread over on the Classic Fly Rod Forum. over on the Classic Fly Rod Forum. So much great information from Tom Kerr, John Elder, Charlie Fleischmann, et al.

Anyway, it was mentioned that the New York Angler's Club had a Phillippe rod that was destroyed in a fire in the early 1970s. I casually posted that I thought a photo of this rod probably existed, but no one seemed to have ever seen one.

Keep in mind this forum gets pretty much every major thinker/researcher on bamboo fly rods in the world. It's the largest fly fishing web site in the world, and I figured if no one who was reading the thread had seen it, then maybe it didn't exist.

About a week ago, I was talking to a lure collector friend in New York. He knows very little about vintage rods, in fact he passes them up all the time while hunting down old New York metal lures. Anyway, he asked what I'd been up to, and I mentioned how busy I have been. Somehow the subject turned to Phillippe, and the New York Angler's Club rod that was burned in the fire. As a fairly prominent (if somewhat reclusive) New York angler, he knows/knew a lot of the NYAC guys. I laughed and jokingly said, "you wouldn't happen to have a picture of that rod, would you?"

"No," he replied, "But I remember seeing one about thirty years ago in a book."

Dead silence. Was he talking about the rod by Solon Phillippe--Samuel's son--that had been pictured many times over the years? That must be it. I told him he was talking about the rod on the back of Marty Keane's book.

"No," he responded somewhat curtly, "It was a picture of the Samuel Phillippe rod that burned in the fire."

Deep breath. My friend is what we might gently call "elderly" but I have never known to have a forgotten anything. Ever.

But this was weird. I pride myself on owning everything known that's been written on bamboo fly rod history--at least everything that's been referenced in works. I would clearly have remembered a picture of an original Phillippe rod.

"Do you happen to recall where you saw it?"

A moment of silence. "Of course." Another pause.

"Uhm, would you mind sharing with me where it was?"

"I'm thinking," he said. A few seconds passed.

"It was in a National Geographic book."


"Yes, it was in a book of fishes. Must have been the 1960s or early 1970s. It was pictured in one of those glossy fish books they were so famous for."

Wow. Now, I would never accuse my friend of "misremembering," but a National Geographic book of fishes? Really?

Well, after our conversation ended I did some research, typing in "National Geographic" and "Fishes." It did not take long to pinpoint a very popular, and oft-reprinted, book of fishes published by National Geographic. It was called "Wondrous World of Fishes," and amazingly enough, it contained a chapter called "Angling in the United States" by none other than Luis Marden.

Yes, THAT Luis Marden, of The Angler's Bamboo fame. He was the first man in 50 years to go to China to photograph and write about the origins of Tonkin cane...and I think was a member of the NYAC.

I was pretty sure I was on to something, but I tried to lower expectations...

I ordered a copy of the book on-line. It cost me $.99 plus shipping...and arrived less than a week after ordering. In fact, it arrived yesterday. And when I opened it, I opened it to the very page containing the following picture:

Unbelievable. A picture of the New York Angler's Club Phillippe rod...a rod that no longer exists. A rod destroyed over 35 years ago. The photo was run on a page showing the dining room of the New York Angler's Club with a caption that said: "Below, the club president (left) and author Marden examine a fly rod made a century ago by Samuel Phillippe, father of the split cane rod in America."

So there you have it. In a book first published in the early 1960s comes a photo of the rod that died. And I have my friend's incredible memory to thank for it, because I can promise you I would never, ever have found it. A National Geographic book? Really? Really!

And just like that, the Samuel Phillippe story takes another fascinating twist.

-- Dr. Todd

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