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!
I just can't seem to stop researching and writing about these old, obscure tackle sellers. Today we focus on one from an old Dutch part of New York--Poughkeepsie--run by a gentleman with an old Dutch Name.
The store in question was owned by John Henry Wiggers, and he ran a classic old-world shop for a number of decades in the heart of fishing country.
Wiggers (1861-1937) owned an all-purpose general store in Poughkeepsie, New York from the 1870s through the 1930s. His obituary notes he founded his first store--a cigar shop--at the tender age of 18. "He had probably engaged in the sale of sporting goods as long as any merchant in the state," the paper noted, which can be interpreted as the fact he was selling sporting goods, and tackle, very early on.
He carried all the kinds of general goods you would come to expect from such a store: newspapers, magazines, paper goods, toys, sporting goods, and of course, fishing tackle.
He exploded on the scene on July 4th, 1887 when, as the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle reported, an explosion set off when someone threw a lit firecracker into his fireworks display threatened to burn down the store. Fortunately for Wiggers, the loss was only about $30. "The meanest part of the whole thing," the paper reported, "was that some person carried of Mr. Wiggers money box which contained between nine and ten dollars."
John Wiggers was sometimes called the "Dean of Poughkeepsie Anglers" and his store seemed to be the center of the local fishing world. He was certainly a fine angler, if the newspaper records can be trusted. One blurb in 1929 notes that he landed 21 brook trout from the Duelle Brook in Dover in one afternoon. He was often consulted on the opening of trout season as well. "Saturday Night at Wiggers" became a bit of a catch phrase, as anglers would congregate at the store after a day's fishing and swap yarns well into the night. In addition to being a fine angler, he was also the city champion checker player and a boxer of repute, having trained many local men in the "fistic arts."
Wiggers ran a fishing contest for many years for largest smallmouth and Oswego bass caught within 30 miles of Poughkeepsie. The June 10, 1919 Daily Eagle noted the past year's winner had been a five pound, nine ounce fish. A list of tasty prizes included a Shakespeare Reel for 1st place, a Wiggers steel casting rod for second, W.H. Sharpes Casting Line for 6th-9th, and a half dozen White Hat casting spoons for 10-12th. As someone who owns a White Hat spoon on the card, the only thing nicer would be a half dozen of them!
The family pops up from time to time in the pages of the Poughkeepsie Eagle-Herald, the local newspaper. For example, on 08 January 1924, "Two strangers got away with $150 from the cash box of J.H. Wigger's store." That would be the equivalent of a loss of around $2000.00 today--a tidy sum to have stolen, to be sure. We know his wife Mrs. J.H. Wiggers was a member of the Women's Council of the Reformed Church and active in its affairs until at least the mid-1930s. They resided at a home on 59 Clinton Street for many decades.
John Henry Wiggers died suddenly on May 18, 1937, after only a few hours' illness. He was 75 at the time. His son Howard was equally active in the local social set and continued the store until at least 1940. We see here a small advert from 1939 indicating the store was still selling toys, at least, after the founder's passing.
The only fishing tackle I've seen marked for Wiggers has been snelled hook packets, both regular and in envelope form (see below).
John Henry Wiggers served his community faithfully for over six decades, dedicating his life in large part to the sporting trade and putting fishing tackle into the hands of tens of thousands of local anglers during his lifetime. Revered as the Dean of Poughkeepsie Anglers, it is likely there are only a handful of people around who remember him at all.
What do we have left as a measure of such a man? A couple of musty pieces of ephemera and a cloudy picture on microfilm.
Let's pause and remember the John Henry Wiggers of the world, for every community has had one or more, their names likely lost forever to the march of time.
But they all lived. They all died. They all sold fishing tackle. And they all passed on their love of the outdoors to anyone and everyone they could.
If that's not worth remembering, and celebrating, than nothing is.
-- Dr. Todd