Wednesday, June 8, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 10: Van Camp Hardware of Indianapolis

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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!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 10:

From Blacksmith Tools to Tackle:--

Van Camp Hardware of Indianapolis

Van Camp hardware is one of the legendary names in the wholesale hardware field. Founded in the nineteenth century in America's heartland, it served the middle west for over a century with the products that helped build a nation. That it sold a boatload of fishing tackle is an added bonus to what is a classic American success story.

The firm was founded by Cortland Van Camp in 1876 during the nation's centennial celebration. A native born Hoosier, he moved to Indianapolis in 1876 and formed a hardware firm specializing in blacksmithing supplies with J.A. Hanson and D.C. Bergundthal known as Hanson-Van Camp. By 1888, the company changed its name to Van Camp Hardware & Iron Company, and it incorporated in 1884. By this time it also broadly expanded its line to become a full service wholesale hardware firm.

Cortland Van Camp

The company was originally located near Union Station but eventually moved to a massive eight-story complex at 401 West Maryland in 1906. This state of the art facility was one of the largest of its kind when built in the nation.

The massive Van Camp building.

By the turn of the century The Handbook of Indianapolis declared the firm's trade extended to "Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Iowa, and Missouri…the bicycle and gun department is second to no other in the West."

Van Camp sticker showing the classic logo.

Cortland Van Camp is probably best remembered today for his association with the Van Camp Packing Company, purveyors of Van Camp's Pork & Beans. Although named for another Van Camp (Gilbert, who first canned beans back in 1861, was Cortland's father), it was the enormous capital brought to the table by Cortland Van Camp that vaulted the name into a national institution. For well over two decades, he was the head man at both Van Camp Hardware and Van Camp Packing.

Van Camp Pork & Beans ad from the 1909 Ladies' Home Journal.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Van Camp had become one of the leading lights of the wholesale hardware field, offering massive catalogs of nearly 2000 pages that contained tens of thousands of items. Their nifty Van Camp logo was an omnipresent in the midwest, seen on numerous branded items from axes to gasoline cans.

Van Camp letterhead. (Courtesy J.K. Garrett & L.P. Brooks)

Van Camp branded and sold a great deal of fishing tackle. Fishing line was one of the most popular items in the Van Camp line. Pictured below are two different marked Van Camp lines -- they are different braided nylon spools dating approximately 1950.

I've seen a few Van Camp marked rods. Here's a five foot metal baitcaster bearing the Van Camp "Quality Stamp" marking, and likely dating from the 1930s.

Nice five foot metal casting rod marked Van Camp. (Courtesy Garrett & Brooks).

There is also a lot of Van Camp terminal tackle. Here's a shot of Marc Haston's dealer box of snelled hook packets marked Van Camp:

From Marc's Van Camp history pages.

Speaking of Marc Haston, he has perhaps the most comprehensive web page history of Van Camp, and on his extensive pages he shows an additional piece of fishing tackle--a marked Van Camp minnow bucket:

Minnow bucket in the center, from Marc's Van Camp history pages.

There are also marked Van Camp tackle boxes.

One piece of tackle I have never seen which surprises me is a marked Van Camp fishing reel. I would be shocked if they didn't brand a fishing reel "Van Camp," but so far a decade of eBay searching has produced exactly zero leads. Very strange!

Van Camp Hardware and Iron weathered the storm which took out so many established wholesale hardware firms in the 1950s and 1960s, but when the last Van Camp left the firm in 1967, the end was near. It changed its name to Graystone Corporation in 1976, but the writing was on the wall. In December 1977, the company went under.

Yet the firm did reach its own centennial history, and has certainly left a remarkable legacy in the Indiana region. It also left behind some cool marked fishing tackle.

-- Dr. Todd

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