Wednesday, November 2, 2011

52 Trade Houses Part 31: Seattle's Piper & Taft

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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 31:

Seattle's Piper & Taft

In my on-going effort to document overlooked trade houses, I am going to try and hit some more west coast trade houses before 52 for 52 has run its course. Today, I want to cover one of Seattle's iconic sporting goods houses--the firm of Piper & Taft.

Piper & Taft was a very early and a very large trade house founded in 1897. The two principals were popular local sportsman, William B. Taft and Walter F. Piper, both exceptionally good trap and skeet shooters.

They were listed in the 1901 Polk's Seattle Directory as sporting goods merchants at 1024-1026 2nd Avenue, with the additional help of Archie B. Taft (William's son) as a bicycle repairman. In fact, bicycles appear to have been a major part of their early business. In fact, they had two proprietary trade names in the cycle trade: Tribune and Featherstone brand bicycles. In the early decades of the 20th century, the firm sponsored the "Piper & Taft Seattle Star Labor Day Bicycle Race" beginning in 1916. Additionally, they offered the Piper & Taft Cup for motorcycle endurance racing.

1905 Piper & Taft ad.

The company became known for their Sportsman's Guide and Handbook. As The Hardware Review for May 1920 noted, "the firm has not only encouraged touring and camping, but actively leads in this matter, sending auto research parties to map and chart different routes for the benefit of the general public, and procuring information that is invaluable to the tourist and sportsman."

1925 Taft Guide from the great Pacific Northwest Fishing Golden Years web site.

To attract anglers, the firm posted fishing cards, which as the 1913 Dry Goods Reporter reported, the company posted them "on a bulletin board in the store, where anglers can readily refer to them. Piper & Taft report that these cards attract much attention throughout the summer and that hundreds enter the store every day to look them over." Many of these visits resulted in sales.

This is a nifty Piper & Taft brass compass ca. 1920.

Of course, many people only know Piper & Taft as the place that hired a 14-year old Eddie Bauer to tie flies in 1913. He would work on-and-off for Piper & Taft until he founded his own company in 1920. By this time they were an icon of the Seattle scene, even owning the popular radio station KCGL in 1928.

Piper & Taft sold as much tackle as any West Coast trade house from 1900-1930, but not a lot of it was marked. Those items that were marked Piper & Taft included fishing rods (especially fly rods made by Heddon), and terminal tackle like line spools, snelled hook packets, and the like. Here is a great early line spool marked "Taft's Samson."

Piper & Taft line spool.

It is interesting to note that Piper & Taft had a proprietary trade name in "Tribune" used on bicycles. There are rare trade reels marked only "Tribune" we have never been able to pin down. Are these Piper & Taft reels?

I don't know when Piper & Taft went out of business but I assume they were a victim of the Great Depression, compounded by the growth of Eddie Bauer. I find no record of them in the 1930s.

Tackle from Piper & Taft is always rare and always a great find. They were a Seattle institution and their history is worth recounting.

-- Dr. Todd

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