Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The American Snelled Hook, Part I: A Triple Threat (Pequea - Roberts - Hartmann)

Beginning this week, I'm going to start a new series detailing snelled hook envelopes -- one of my favorite collectables. I'll feature a variety of different styles and kinds of snells, and hopefully give the reader an idea on how great a variety there are of these neat pieces of fishing tackle history.

We'll begin with the Gold Medal Standard Bearer of snelled hooks -- the "Triple Branded" packet with the original store envelope. "Triple Branded" means a snell that we know the manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer for--in this case a Pequea Works snell manufactured for W.F. Roberts Co. and then sold to L.H. Hartmann & Son ca. 1920.

Tracking the history of such snells offer great insight into the tackle trade of any given era.

Let's start with the manufacturer. Due to the style of the card, we know this snelled hook packet originated with the great Pequea Works of Strasburg, Penn. They were responsible for the majority of American snells in the first half of the century. Presided over by the great scoundrel of the tackle industry, Harry Kaufman (profiled by J.K. Garrett and L.P. Brooks in an on-going series on this blog), they manufactured the snells for most East Coast wholesalers of the day, ranging from Ed. K. Tryon to Supplee-Biddle Hardware to W.F. Roberts Co.

The famous "Pequea Tribe" logo was used beginning around 1920 for some wholesale snells, to indicate quality, and also on their own brand name as they began to sell direct.

With this particular snelled hook packet, Pequea manufactured them in large quantities and then wholesaled them to W.F. Roberts Co. of Washington, D.C. -- who acted as a jobber, distributing such goods to a number of stores, including (as we can tell from the label) Hartmann's Sporting Goods of Philadelphia.

Roberts Co. has an interesting history. William F. Roberts founded a Washington, D.C. based publisher responsible for many books in the period 1890-1940, including one of the earliest guides to raising Japanese Koi in 1909 (H.M. Smith's Japanese Goldfish, Their Varieties, and Cultivation).

At some point around 1910, like other companies of this kind (including Chicago's A.C. McClurg, another publisher) it expanded into general sporting goods wholesaling for a short period. As Roberts told the trade journal Printing Trade News in the April 7, 1914 issue, "Our photo goods and sports goods departments are now installed in 1411 New York avenue…" They were at it for a while; the publication Who's Who in the Nation's Capital for 1921 lists William F. Roberts as president of the "W.F. Roberts Co., engraving, printing, and sporting goods, 1514 H St."

The W.F. Roberts Co. used this stylized "R" logo on the copyright page of books they published.

Servicing a large number of independent retailers, the Roberts Co. jobbed their "R Special Brand" snells to an established sporting goods house in Philadelphia named L.H. Hartmann & Son, who branded the snell with a sticker. You might ask why Hartmann did not get their tackle from the nearby heavyweight wholesaler Ed. K. Tryon; I think it may have been because Roberts offered both radio and tackle, two major departments for Hartmann ca. 1920.

This sticker was used to brand the snelled packet for Hartmann.

L.H. Hartmann & Son was founded in 1904 by Louis H. Hartmann, the former gunsmith for the sporting goods house of Nelson & Mattson and erstwhile instructor at the Royal Shooting School in Sandau, Germany. He was a crack shot and something of a local icon in the shooting community. He was a sufficiently known national figure on the subject that an article in The Minneapolis Journal dated Nov. 21, 1901 featured an interview with Hartmann, who disputed the claim of local gunsmith P.J. Kennedy (of Kennedy Bros. Arms of St. Paul) that high power sporting rifles were inherently dangerous. Later, the journal Sporting Life wrote on February 21, 1914 that "L.H. Hartmann, the veteran gunmaker, who is secretary of the Scheutzen Park Gun Club, of Philadelphia, Pa., is being highly praised by local shooters for his work in building up trap shooting in that organization." Below is an advertisement for Hartmann dated March 7, 1914 and also from the Sporting Life magazine.

Hartmann also advertised in the 1919 Yearbook of the Ocean City Fishing Club:

Note that the firm claimed expertise in salt water tackle, offered repair of tackle, and trafficked in live bait (and even offered 10% discount to Ocean City Fishing Club members).

The angler who purchased these snells was given a really cool L.H. Hartmann & Sons envelope to put them in, which is just frosting on top of the cake for this particular snell. An original snell, with triple provenance, in the original retailer envelope? The only thing missing is the receipt.

I can't promise that all snells have a history as detailed as this, but we'll try and feature some of the neater ones over the coming months.

-- Dr. Todd

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