Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.
For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!
This week's edition of 52 for 52 details a largely forgotten Detroit-based sporting goods store known as Lippman's Tool Shop Sporting Goods Company. It's a bit of a shame that more people don't know the story of Lippman's, for it was a small company that took on a giant of the tackle industry--and won.
While the name may have been a mouthful, Lippman's--as it was more commonly referred to--was a popular destination for many Detroit sports who frequented the many pleasures that Northern Michigan had to offer the sportsman.
According to an early 1947 edition of the trade magazine Hardware Age, "Lee Lippman has recently opened a story called Lippman's Tool Shop Sporting Goods Company, Michigan Avenue, corner Washington Blvd., Detroit, Mich." The firm got a serious bump from Forbes magazine when it profiled Lippman in 1949, declaring the firm's expansion into sporting goods was "an excellent example of aggressive promotion of a different type….begun in a small tool shop serving the growing automobile trade."
Perhaps Lippman's enduring claim to fame is a lawsuit filed against it by the Shakespeare Company, which reached the Michigan State Supreme Court on June 27, 1952. The crux of the case was the Fair Trade law in place in Michigan and other places that saw MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) agreements signed between Shakespeare and 80% of its dealers. MAP was a way for manufacturers to control the price their items were sold at, and fair trade was upheld by Michigan law by exclusive agreements signed between Shakespeare and its retailers.
But what of those companies, like Lippman's, that did not sign a fair trade agreement? Shakespeare sought to force them into line with an aggressive lawsuit, singling Lippman's out for underselling so many other dealers. Lippman's fought back in court, arguing it was not bound by any Fair Trade agreement because it did not sign one.
The lawsuit declared: "Defendant is a sporting goods retailer in Detroit. It has not entered into a fair-trade agreement with plaintiff. It willfully and knowingly advertises, offers for sale and sells plaintiff's branded and trade-marked articles at prices below the minimum fair-trade prices known by it to have been fixed thereon by plaintiff. This course of conduct plaintiff seeks to enjoin." After a number of appeals, the high court affirmed the decision that Shakespeare's trade-mark rights were not breached by Lippman's cut-rate sales. As The Benton Harbor News-Palladium had declared of the original ruling on July 12, 1951: "Circuit Judge George H. Murphy today dismissed a 'fair trades' suit by the Shakespeare Co. of Kalamazoo against Lippman's Tool Shop Sporting Goods Co. In doing so, he upheld the right of retailers to sell 'brand name' goods outside the provisions of the Michigan Fair Trade act if they have no contract with the manufacturers."
This suit, often cited in cases that followed, spelled the end of "Fair Trade" laws in Michigan, and in turn the United States.
The firm didn't just sell Shakespeare tackle (at cut rates), it also sold some branded fishing tackle, too. Here is a very rare and colorful Lippman's "Blue Water Brand" line spool dating to around 1950.
It is the only piece of Lippman's marked tackle I've seen, but of course, I'm hoping there is more out there. I'd bet that there is likely some other Lippman's tackle, such as snelled hook packets, carded flies, or fishing rods.
Lippman's prospered and became a prominent Detroit store, and is probably best remembered today for the great hockey jerseys the company sold. For example, a Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings jersey with a Lippman's Sporting Goods tag on the left seam sold for $22,700.00 recently.
I have not been able to track down when the firm went out of business, but I am betting it was some time in the 1960s. Regardless of its later history, Lippman's will always hold an important spot in the history of fishing tackle.
After all, it took on a giant, and won.
-- Dr. Todd