Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Discourse on Trade Tackle

I posted this little blurb a couple of years ago on Reel Talk, but felt it was worth revisiting as it is a subject poorly understood by most collectors. I revised and updated it for the blog.

A Discourse on Trade Tackle:
The Structure of the Pre-World War II Fishing Tackle Trade

by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson

Nothing confuses people more than trying to figure out which company was a manufacturer, a wholesaler, or a retailer. Hopefully this little discourse will help you to better understand how the fishing tackle you so greatly covet made its way from a factory (or a basement) into the fisherman's hands.

The structure of selling for the pre-WWII tackle trade (like many others) was approximately as follows:

Manufacturer -- Wholesaler -- Jobber/Distributor -- Retailer.

This little graph begs a few questions. The first is what is the difference between a wholesaler and a jobber? Think of it along distribution lines. A Wholesaler was a BIG company whose buying power allowed it to purchase huge loads of goods (read TACKLE) cheaply from manufacturers. Then the wholesaler would sell at true wholesale prices to a number of other distributors, called Jobbers or Distributors, who then would mark up the goods and sell to a number of retailers in their local region. Thus three people had profited from your fishing tackle before it ever got into a retailer's hands, who would then profit from the mark up to retail price. In other words, four people sometimes made money from the same piece of tackle. The bigger the retailer (think Target or KMart here) the more likely they could cut out the distributor or even the wholesaler and buy direct from the manufacturer.

Let's confuse things even more. Some wholesalers sold directly to retailers, cutting out the jobber. Most of these Jobbers advertised themselves as wholesale houses but in reality they were one step removed from wholesaling, as they were distributors. Some jobbers became wholesalers, some wholesaled in one field and distributed in another. Some wholesalers set up distribution networks (think Marshall-Wells Associate Stores here). Large wholesalers controlled the means of manufacturing for many items (think Diamond Manufacturing Company, both an actual manufacturer of items like Keen Kutter axes and a distributor of fishing tackle under the same name).

Let's not forget that many manufacturers sold directly to the trade; why do you think catalogs were so important in the tackle industry? Far greater profit was made when you ordered from Heddon or Shakespeare than from selling to Shapleigh at wholesale prices, and watching three other people make money from your Kazoo Trolling Bug. Further to confuse things, many manufacturers also acted as distributors--look at early Shakespeare catalogs and find, in horror, Heddon fishing tackle.

How does this affect fishing tackle? Take for example a Montague reel marked Marshall Field Conway. Clearly made directly for Marshall Field and a true "trade reel." How about a Montague reel marked Rainbow? Defiance? No trade name specific to one company, these reels show up in both wholesaler and distributor catalogs. These "generic" trade reels as they were called, were often bought in huge numbers by wholesalers like Simmons who would then sell them to Jobbers/Distributors throughout their region, which explains why they show up in every one else's catalogs. Confuse the issue even further, because Montague retained the right to sell these "generic" trade reels directly to the public--a little known fact is that Thos. Chubb was Montague's retail outlet. So a Defiance reel is both a trade reel and a true Montague reel at the same time!

I would argue true trade tackle is imprinted with a specific trade name, usually a registered trade mark or the name of the firm, of the company for whom they were made. Sometimes this trade tackle was sold to jobber/distributors, but they remain trade tackle only if sold with a unique wholesaler trade name (Bingham's Uncle Tom, Shapleigh's Diamond, etc.) and NOT OFFERED for sale under that name by the manufacturer. In other words, a reel marked in such a way that they can be traced back to ONE source. Initerestingly, this does not always mean a wholesaler; true trade reels were also made for distributors (Morley-Murphy e.g.) and retailers (Marshall Field, Klein's Sporting Goods, etc.).

So in my humble opinion here are your categories of trade tackle:

True Trade Tackle (made specifically for one company for retail or distribution and marked with a unique trade name specific to one company)

Generic Trade Tackle (imprinted with a generic name like Defiance intended for wholesale or retail by manufacturer, wholesaler, jobber, and retailer)

Blank Trade Tackle (trade reels made with no identifying mark and purposely left blank to facillitate sale on every level. Sometimes these are found in boxes that identify mftr, wholesaler, distributor, or retailer which would then make them Generic Trade Tackle).

Unique Trade Tackle (made by a manufacturer on contract to commemorate events, advertise something, for fishing clubs, etc. Very rare as they were cost prohibitive.)

The next time you get a piece of marked trade tackle, try and place it within the framework of the pre-World War II structure of the fishing tackle trade!


Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. Keep it up. Hope to read more post from you guys.