Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Voices from the Past: The State of the British Tackle Trade (1907)

The following rant appeared in the pages of the British Sea Angler's Society Quarterly dated March, 1909. It is a portion of a paper written by R. St. John Mathews, and deals with the British tackle trade. Of interest is the statistics as applied to American tariff protection. Richard Cobden, mentioned in a slight at the end, was the apostle of "free trade" and advocated the elimination of all tariffs. Of all nations in the Victorian age, only Britain and Belgium did not have damaging tariffs on imported goods.

Let us here pause to consider the fishing tackle industry, which was in its inception purely a British one. Its centre was Crooked Lane, then actually a crooked lane alongside the river, at the foot of which watermen used to wait with their boats for men who wished to go catching salmon in the pool below, where London Bridge now stands. In this lane were eight fishing tackle shops (there are now only two) and the makers kept men in employment all the winter through by making tackle for export to foreign parts, and principally in later years to America.

What a difference to-day with respect to America! There is a scale of duties on our goods entering the United States commencing with 25 per cent. on gut and increasing to 35 per cent. on gut-hooks, 40 per cent. on rods and winches, and 50 per cent. on hooks and waterproof lines, and the Americans send into England cheap rods which could not be made in this country under 2s. 3d. each, and certainly not in America under 3s. each, and their price to the retailer here is 15s. per dozen. This is their surplus stock, and the manufacturer's profit has already been made on those sold in U.S.A., so whatever he receives for the overplus which he dumps in this country is clearly additional profit, while it has the effect of keeping our fishing tackle artisans in this country out of employment.

If we turn to the Board of Trade returns we find that in the year 1907 we imported into this country fishing tackle valued at £28,000, or in other words we placed, in this particular industry, about £15,000 of wages into the pockets of American artisans, money which, had we had a protective tariff, would have given employment to at least 150 of our own working men. I should like to know what possible argument can be produced to refute this.

Fishing tackle is one of the smallest of many industries, all of which tell the same tale, and the foreigner is gaily holding a perpetual "sale of surplus stock" in our markets while our figures of unemployment are 9.1 per cent. of skilled labour alone; which is higher than those of any other country! And all this because of a sort of "fetish" worship of the son of a small Sussex farmer, who when he tried finance on his own account failed miserably, and whose friends had to bolster him up to the tune of £100,000. I refer to Richard Cobden.

-- Dr. Todd

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