Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Snarls & Backlashes with Finn Featherfurd: The Tackle Hawks, Part II

The Tackle Hawks, Part II

I will continue our discussion of pictorial newspaper tackle advertising. There is not very much to learn about the tackle itself from these ads; few tackle companies advertised directly in newspapers, which is why we don't often see a Pflueger or Heddon ad carried in papers back in the day. Shakespeare seems to be the exception as I've seen some beautiful newspaper ads from the Kalamazoo giant, but then again, Shakespeare was years ahead of the rest of the tackle world for most of its history.

I left off talking about the beautiful Silhouette ads of the Salt Lake Hardware Company. They could have given a master class in advertising. Take for example the ad below, from a May 24, 1916 issue of Goodwin's Weekly:

While not as striking as the silhouette ad, the simplicity of design is still evident. An iconic image, sparse design--the use of silhouette in the logo and black bars at the bottom is visually striking--and the spartan text, well-written and too the point. It's just lovely. I award this ad eight fish for aesthetics and eight fish for effectiveness.

For some reason, among the more prominent newspaper tackle ads from the pictorial era are ones for the American West. The Ogden Standard from the state of Utah ran a lot of these over the years, including the rather strange one dated June 11, 1918 below:

It's not a well-designed ad, and it isn't a large one, either, but it IS oddly effective. I guess nothing gets your point across like a big picture of a fish. Plus, the appropriately titled "Proudfit Sporting Goods Co." makes me think of the passage in Professor Tolkien's Fellowship of the Rings where Bilbo Baggins is giving a speech on his eleventy-first birthday and mistakenly calls out the Proudfoot clan, to which someone corrects him that the plural is "Proudfeet."

The text of the ad is odd as well. "Cranky" being the theme, it seems as if the Proudfits were actively seeking out the most persnickety tackle buyers. I'm sure this is why no one remembers the Proudfit Company, as any firm that courts such folk is in for trouble. There is nothing on God's green earth worse than a tackle snob. I once heard an eastern sport say, in all seriousness, "I ONLY fish Jim Payne rods," as if that said anything about his discernment. Payne made great rods like Ferrari makes great cars, as any eight year old with a bucket full of matchbox cars knows. I am far more impressed when someone can come up to me and say, "The Montague Red Wing is a great fly rod," because this person has the ability to know the difference between a fine rod (the Red Wing) and a box of tomato sticks (most Montague rods).

I award this ad five fish for aesthetics and six fish for effectiveness. The lesson here: don't be a jerk when it comes to tackle, and be careful to whom you boast about your fine tackle. If you're the kind to brag about your rod and reel, I can almost promise you the majority of it is overrated.

Speaking of overrated tackle, let's talk about Winchester. Winchester collectors are crazy. This is one of the indisputable facts of the tackle collecting world. They spend ridiculous amounts of money for what amounts to Horrocks-Ibbotson quality fishing tackle, with very few exceptions (the Eustis Edwards hand-made rods being the most notable). They do this because the name Winchester holds a legendary spot in the American psyche. They also do this because, and I repeat myself, all Winchester collectors are crazy.

Below is an ad from the June 24, 1921 Bemidji Daily Pioneer featuring the Bemidji Hardware Co., a licensed "Winchester Store." The Winchester Stores were an effort to franchise the Winchester name by licensing it out to hundreds of existing stores all across the country. Some big names bought in to this idea--the legendary Boston firm of William Read & Co. being among the prominent ones--but it was a failed idea from the beginning and bankrupted the company after less than a decade.

One of the things Winchester did was provide the franchise stores with pictorial advertisements ready to use in newspapers. This is what we have here, a "cut-and-paste" ad utilizing catalog print blocks. It's effective if you're in the market for an axe, a pocket knife, and a pack rod at the same time. It does not make me want to buy tackle, any more than a page from an old Sears mens' wear catalog makes me want to buy a suit.

In a sense I admire Winchester collectors, because they take so much joy in even the smallest pieces of marked fishing tackle. I once knew a collector who specialized in collecting Winchester fakes, which abound. When I asked him why he said simply, "I admire the creative way people have tried to dupe Winchester collectors." He was known to pay real actual money for items he knew to be forgeries.

All Winchester collectors are crazy. I award this ad four fish for aesthetics and four fish for effectiveness, and an additional one fish for the crazy Winchester collectors.

But at least the Bemidji Hardware Company showed some restraint in their advertising department. No such luck with the legendary Browning Brothers of Ogden, Utah, another legendary name in guns that sold fishing tackle. Yes, this is the same John Moses Browning of gun fame, and in my mind the finest gunsmith who ever lived. Don't believe me? Browning invented the legendary Auto-5 shotgun in 1897. The gun stayed continuously in production until 1998 -- 101 years.

He and his brothers Matthew, Jonathan Edmund, Thomas, William, and George ran the Browning Brothers Company beginning in 1872, with a retail store in Ogden that sold everything from dry goods to fishing tackle. The advertisement below comes from the Ogden Standard and shows that, despite being gun geniuses, the Brownings were not great advertisers.

Where do I begin? Could you possibly fit more tackle into a single ad? Perhaps. But it would require hard work and dedication. The Brownings clearly did not subscribe to the idea of open spaces.

Let's start with the Phantom Minnow on the left, because I was unaware that in 1918 anyone was fishing these outside of octogenarians on English chalk streams. By my count this ad depicts 27 distinct items, 17 of which are tackle related. Wow. Just wow. It appears much of the tackle is Pflueger related, as they utilized a lot of the catalog cuts provided by Enterprise Manufacturing in this ad.

The text in the center column is hard to read but I can sum it up by reproducing the bold text in the middle: "We can't win the war by sitting in a dark closet and heaping ashes on our heads." GET OUT AND GO FISHING, DAMN IT! It's actually a pretty refreshing commentary about how, even in times of war, life must go on. But it's also a bit of a desperate plea to buy tackle, presumably because the Brownings had a metric ton of it sitting on the shelves not moving because people were being too austere to go fishing.

So remember that every time you go fishing, you're being patriotic. At least according to the Browning Brothers and their aesthetically horrible ad.

I award the Browning Brothere one fish for aesthetics and three fish for effectiveness, and hope they don't take out their BARs and try to hunt me down.

-- Finn

Finn Featherfurd is the pseudonym of a sad and lonely retired professor and newspaper columnist who has spent the better part of the past four decades (unsuccessfully) chasing fish in the Lower 48. A long-time collector of vintage fishing tackle of all kinds, he is currently fascinated by pre-1920 children's fishing reels (40 yards and smaller). When the spirit moves him, he will contribute occasional pieces and essays to the Fishing for History Blog. He can be reached at

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