Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Review: Jean Lane Cresswell's Made For Fishermen By A Fisherman: The Phillips Fly and Tackle Company

Thursday Review:
Jean Lane Cresswell's Made For Fishermen By Fishermen: The Phillips Fly and Tackle Company

Today I am going to review a book published a couple of years ago but  flew under the radar. Jean Lane Cresswell's Made For Fishermen By A Fisherman: The Phillips Fly and Tackle Company, Alexandria, Pennsylvania (Huntingdon County Historical Society, 2007) tells the story of one of the unsung tackle firms of the mid-20th century. Phillips was a surprisingly large tackle firm that left an indelible impact on the Huntingdon region, even if it is not well known today.

The author's father was a frequent fishing companion of George Phillips Jr., the founder of the firm, so she writes from a position of personal authority. The company was founded in 1937 in Alexandria by local fishing aficionado Phillips. A former Firestone Tire salesman, he learned fly tying from George Harvey and went into business as a commercial tier, soon after hiring 18 women to do the tying for him. By the start of WWII Phillips Fly & Tackle was a success.

Creswell is best in describing how Phillips was one of the first firms to adjust to the post-war boom in spin fishing. Having moved into plastic lures, they soon became noted for their small (quarter ounce) spin sized lures. By the early 1950s Phillips was selling a full line of fly rod and spinning lures, including the Forty-Niner, Flash-o-Minno, and Crippled Killer. This was in addition to 3600 kinds of flies in all sizes. At it's height Phillips produced 200,000 lures per year.

1950 ad for Crippled Killer.

Sadly, George Phillips Jr. died of cancer in 1955 at the age of 43. The company came under new management and continued producing lures, moving to Hartslog Valley in 1960. Phillips introduced one of it's most popular lures in the early 1960s with the Rainbow Runner. The firm continued on until 1981, when it was purchased by Tom Gaines. Gaines still markets several Phillips lures including the Crippled Killer today.

Phillips Crippled Killer.

Phillips Rainbow Runner.

Phillips Forty-Niners.

Despite some rather glaring errors that reflect Miss Cresswell's lack of experience with the tackle field (including references to "Haddon" and "Creek Club" tackle), the book is a marvellous glimpse at a mid-size American tackle company and it's impact on a small American town. Profusely illustrated, this little gem deserves a wider audience among tackle collectors and fishing history buffs alike.

The book is 58 pages and has color and black-and-white images. It is available in a limited print run from the Huntingdon County Historical Society at a cost of $14.95. It is well worth the price.

-- Dr. Todd

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