Wednesday, August 3, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 18: Bigelow & Dowse of Boston

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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 18:

Bigelow & Dowse of Boston

With companies such as Shapleigh, Simmons, and Hibbard staunchly midwestern, we don't often associate the great eastern cities with wholesale hardware. However, there were a number of large hardware concerns on the East Coast that trafficked in a whole lot of fishing tackle. One of these was the famed Bigelow & Dowse company of Boston, Massachusetts.

It was founded in Boston in 1839 by two men named Horton and Cordis, which changed its name in 1843 to Horton, Cordis & Co. and Horton, Hall & Co. in 1851. It was succeeded by Homer, Bishop & Co. in 1964, and it was this company that Samuel A. Bigelow and Charles F. Dowse joined in 1868.

Sam Bigelow ca. 1890.

These two men, along with a partner named Macomber, renamed the company Macomber, Bigelow & Dowse, and according to a contemporary account "made rapid, substantial progress, outgrowing its old premises, so that in 1881 was completed specifically for their purposes the magnificent building in Franklin Street now occupied y them." In 1884, Bigelow and Dowse bought out their partner (due to illness), and became the largest wholesale hardware company in New England.

Early Macomber, Bigelow & Dowse ad.

In 1894 the firm incorporated, and in 1903 an infamous fire destroyed the original building on 229 Franklin Street. It was rebuilt, bigger and better, later that year.

The company was a full service wholesaler, which included, of course, sporting goods. Fishing tackle became a part of the line after the incorporation and by the early 20th century, Bigelow & Dowse moved a lot of tackle. Their massive 1000+ page catalogs contained 50+ pages of tackle by the 1920s, but most of it appears to be brand name tackle and not marked trade tackle.

Nice post-WWII Bigelow & Dowse letterhead.

The few pieces of Bigelow & Dowse marked fishing tackle I've seen are mainly terminal tackle--I own a couple of different snelled hook packets, and the nifty 1960s monofilament line spool pictured below.

Another photo (which I picked up somewhere but can't remember where--if it's yours drop me a note) pictures some nifty B&D flies in a box.

The firm was still in business in the 1960s, but appears to have disappeared by the 1970s. But for the sharp eyed collector, you can find a rare piece of East Coast hardware trade tackle. Let me know if you find a piece!

-- Dr. Todd

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