Saturday, May 26, 2012

Deconstructing Old Ads: Artistic?…Simplex?…Simple? (1907)


There are many ads for the Heddon Artistic Minnow that appear in outdoor magazines through out the year 1907. This one is from the July 1907 issue of National Sportsman. It is difficult to find an ad for the Heddon Artistic Minnow in a magazine from any other year. You will also find the Artistic Minnow only in the 1907 Heddon Catalog. It may have been in the 1908 catalog but that is one of two early Heddon catalogs that have never been found. The other missing catalog is 1904.

There was much conjecture at one time as to where the name “Artistic” came from including the story that Heddon possibly had the bodies made by the Artistic Wood Turning Works in Chicago. Words go in and out of style and at the turn of the last century the term “Artistic” was a commonly used term meaning “refined, cultivated or in good taste.” In this case using this small wooden minnow was supposed to represent the height of refinement, the same way a dry fly fisherman thinks of himself as someone more cultivated or refined than a bait fisherman. The Artistic Minnow, despite being small, is listed at 1/2 oz. and came with a weighted buoy that was to aid in casting as 1/2 oz. was then thought of as a very light weight bait. It is even suggested that the bait could be handled successfully on a fly rod. The very idea of slinging a 1/2 oz bait around on a bamboo fly rod makes me cringe!

The Artistic Minnow presents several mysteries in my mind. Occasionally, an Artistic minnow is found with two or three belly weights. I have no explanation for this other than a special order as these are somewhat rare and I have never had a chance to weigh one. Another mystery is that the bait was only offered for a short time then was gone forever to be replaced in 1909 by the first model of the Heddon #20. That first #20 used an identical sized body and came in the same small maroon colored boxes as Artistic Minnows. Upon close inspection, almost all of the small maroon boxes for the earliest Heddon #20 prove to be overlabeled Artistic Minnow boxes. An explanation for the Artistic Minnow's short run is found in a 1927 interview with Will Heddon that was published in the Clermont Press, Clermont, Florida.

Asked what was the most popular bait ever marketed Mr Heddon said, “Styles in our business change as completely and just as quickly as women's clothing. I remember one bait that I perfected in a lake north of Minneola which had only small fish in it, knowing that this bait would sell well in the North where many fishermen are glad to catch any Bass that escapes the legal length. This bait met with a wonderful reception. We were unable to meet the demand, but by spurring production finally were able to catch up with orders for it. Suddenly the public fancy veered and we were caught with 50,000 of this one model on our shelves. We finally sold them to a wholesaler for 10 cents each taking a heavy loss on them that ate up our profits during the time they were in vogue.

In my mind this explanation of the Artistic Minnow's short life contains the answer to another supposed mystery. It has been stated (in print) that the Heddon Artistic Minnow is virtually indistinguishable from the Pflueger Simplex Minnow. Every possible theory has been posed to explain "perceived" differences. The very few Pflueger Simplex's I have seen (less than ½ dozen) are obvious Pflueger products. The paint jobs, the gill marks, the hardware and overall appearance all scream “Pflueger” to me. I personally have never seen one of the “Artistic” appearing baits show up in the wild in a Pflueger box. If it did happen I would suggest that Pflueger simply purchased the “wholesaled” Artistics and put them in their boxes. It would certainly be cheaper than making them themselves. The first pair of pictures below show a true Pflueger Simplex Minnow and box paper. These photos are compliments of NFLCC member Wayne Jansen. The second set shows a Heddon Artistic Minnow and a copy of the Artistic Minnow box papers.

Heddon Artistic Minnow:

You be the judge!

-- Bill Sonnett

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