Saturday, February 9, 2008

How Old Is Your Mermaid?

Among the many old line spools that tackle collectors can find, the Mermaid Brand is definitely one of the most popular. The Mermaid Brand of line spools has a dramatic image on a very colorful lithographed label. Naturally, it is an image of that legendary creature of the sea with the head and torso of a beautiful woman and the tail of a fish - the Mermaid.

Contrary to what many tackle collectors might initially assume, the Mermaid Brand does not represent a single fishing line brand, but rather it represents a much larger family composed of many fishing line brands. The Mermaid Brand label actually represented a company's brand and it always appeared on just one side of the spool, while the other side of the spool carried an entirely different label which always represented the specific brand name for the fishing line on that spool.

It may also surprise some collectors to learn that the Mermaid Brand side label is not even considered to be the main side label. That's right, as beautiful as she is, the mermaid is considered to be the back side or secondary label on all of those line spools where she appears.

So, who was the company behind the Mermaid Brand, since we have no company name on either the front or back side labels of the early Mermaid line spools to help us identify the maker? The answer is that the Mermaid Brand was the registered trade mark that was owned and used by the Newton Line Company and it was in effect their entire public persona during the first twenty years that they were in business. It was reported in an October 4, 1909 newspaper article, that D. D. Newton, who had previously founded the Newton Woolen Mills in the 1880s, in Homer, New York had invited two other men to join with him in establishing a factory to manufacture fishing lines. This new business venture, also located in Homer, was to be named the Newton Line Company, and the three principals of the new firm were identified as D. D. Newton, President; M. A. Whiting, Treasurer; and A. W. Gibbs, Secretary. Three months later in January 1910 the Newton line company opened their new factory and began the business of making fishing lines.


With the exception of the logo shown above which was used on the company's early invoices and stationary, Newton almost always chose to promote their Mermaid Brand name over their own Newton Line Company name during their first twenty years in business.


As shown in the example above, the Mermaid Brand name always took top billing over the Newton Line Company name in any public advertisements, as well as in signs, posters, and sales literature that were used from 1910 until that beautiful mermaid image and the Mermaid Brand name was finally retired forever in 1930.
While the mermaid enjoyed a twenty-one year life span on the labels of Newton's Mermaid Brand line spools, there is a way that tackle collectors can determine if there Mermaid fishing line was made between 1910 and 1921, or whether it was made from 1922 through 1930. A casual glance by a collector of the mermaid labels might not initially catch this, but a closer examination and comparison of several labels will reveal that there are actually two different versions of that artistic image on both the Mermaid Brand line spools and line cards. The ad shown above from 1922 clearly shows that this was the exact year of the transition from the old to the new mermaid image. If you look very closely you will see that there are some differences between the two unique images of the mermaid. The first version of the mermaid is the one on the cover of the 1921 catalog that is being advertised. The second version of the mermaid is the one in the lower left corner of this 1922 advertisement.
This difference in the label images on the Mermaid Brand lines provides tackle collectors with some subtle but very important clues to determining the approximate age of their line spools, just like the Cup rig and "L" rig hardware on Heddon lures help us to date their approximate age.

A close examination of the mermaid's image will reveal a difference in both the size and placement of her hair on the two label versions. The early version, 1910 to 1921, above has a mermaid showing much fuller wind blown hair (or maybe she just had a bad hair day) that extends well above and away from her shoulder and to the left of her right arm. For simple identification purposes, I generally just refer to this early version of the mermaid label as the "TEENS" label.
The later version, 1922 to 1930, above has a mermaid still with flowing hair, but which falls a bit more gracefully behind her back and it does not extend above and beyond her right arm. And again, for simple identification purposes, I generally just refer to this early version of the mermaid label as the "Twenties" label.
Another clue to look for is the fishing line that is stretched across the breast of the mermaid.
In the "Teens" version label above, the fishing line crosses her body at an angle well below her right armpit.
That same fishing line in the "Twenties" version label above is shown crossing her body much higher and right at the very apex of her armpit.

Finally, another pretty distinct difference in the two versions of the labels can be found in the position of the leaping fish that the mermaid is preparing to land in her net. In the "Teens" version label above, the leaping fish is positioned just below the background horizon and the top of the water line;

In the "Twenties" version label, the fish is positioned just above the background horizon and just above at the top of the water line.

Subtle as these difference may be, it will pay a tackle collector well to learn and look for them, because from my twenty years experience in collecting line spools I have found that you will find only one of the "Teens" version Mermaids for about every ten of the "twenties" version Mermaids that you can find.

While I currently have more than two dozen different Mermaid lines in my collection, I would always welcome the opportunity to add a few more. I would also like to hear from anyone that shares my interest in collecting the old line spools as I always have a few duplicates that I can trade. I can be reached at johnsetch@aol.com Thanks, John Etchieson