Sunday, March 2, 2008

David Harum and the Cardiff Giant

Newton's David Harum
One of the reasons that I like to collect vintage fishing lines is the opportunity that it provides for me to learn more about them. I like to research the company names and brand names that appear on the labels to see what more I can discover about their history. Almost every line spool label that I have ever researched has inevitably had a story to tell me. From fishing line labels I have learned about some very special and historical geographical places in our Nation, and I have learned about many famous Indian tribes, and I have learned about many mythological and fictional characters as well as real people like U. S. Presidents and others who were famous fishermen.
Boxed pair of Cortland's Cardiff Giant
I have learned quite a bit more about the tackle industry, and American history in general than I ever knew before I started researching line spool labels. I have learned more about the companies, people, places, events, politics and pop culture that collectively tell us stories not only about fishing history and the American Tackle Industry, but also about the history of our nation as well. For me, discovering these stories that are hidden behind the brand names on line spools has added immensely to the pleasure I have received from collecting those vintage and antique fishing lines.

The original Cardiff Giant being dug up

An example of what I am talking about can be found in two brand names that have a connection to both history and to each other. They are the Newton Line Company's "David Harum" and the Cortland Line Company's "Cardiff Giant".

1869 Flyer to see the Cardiff Giant in Albany
The Cardiff Giant fishing line takes its name directly from the Cardiff Giant Hoax of 1869, which is still considered to be one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

Cardiff Giant being exhumed on August 16, 1869

In 1869, New York cigar maker George Hull had a block of gypsum carved into the likeness of a man over 10 feet tall. It was artificially aged, then buried on the Cardiff, N.Y., farm of Hull's confederate and cousin in the scheme, William Newell, who then arranged for it to be "discovered" by workmen digging a well on his property. Its discovery was heralded as a great geological find of a huge petrified man, and proof of the Genesis verse: "There were giants on the earth in those days…" People, including the rich, and powerful, and famous individuals of the day flocked in great numbers from all over the Nation to see the giant for a mere 50 cent admission charge. When showman, P. T. Barnum, saw the large crowds paying money to see the giant, he decided he wanted to buy it to put in his museum of oddities. When Hull and his financier, banker David Hannum refused Barnum's offer of $30,000.00 to buy it, Barnum simply had a copy made and declared their giant to be a phony and declared his giant to be the original.

P. T. Barnum's Poster of the Cardiff Giant

The Cardiff Giant hoax was the incident that inspired "There's a sucker born every minute" quote, but P. T. Barnum didn't say it. One of Hull's partners in the hoax, David Hannum did-but history has for more than one hundred years incorrectly continued to attribute it to Barnum.

P. T. Barnum

David Hannum was the banker that formed a five man syndicate that bought a two-third interest in Hull's Cardiff Giant and had moved it to Syracuse to put on display and charge a larger admission fee. When P. T. Barnum's began displaying his fake copy of the Cardiff Giant, he told the newspapers that David Hannum had sold him the original and that David Hannum was now displaying a copy of the real giant. The newspapers and public, believed Barnum's version of the story. It was at this point that Hannum -- NOT BARNUM -- was quoted as saying "There's a sucker born every minute." Hannum, still under the impression that HIS giant was authentic, was referring to the thousands of "fools" that paid money to see Barnum's fake and not his authentic one.
David Hannum - Banker and Horse Trader

A lawsuit subsequently ensued and Hull finally confessed in court to his perpetrating a fraud, but in the end it was ironically old P. T. Barnum's fake copy of Hull's fake stone giant that drew more people and made more money than had the original.
Edward Noyes Westcott - Author of David Harum

The actual Cardiff Giant can be visited today in Cooperstown, N. Y., while Barnum's fake Cardiff Giant is located in Farmington Hills, Mich.
So how, you might ask, does the brand name David Harum fit into this story? Well, David Harum is the fictional character in Edward Noyes Westcott's novel "David Harum - A story of American Life" published in 1898. The principal character David Harum, a small town banker and cleaver horse trader, was based on the real life and legend of none other than David Hannum, the real life banker and scheming horse trader involved in the Cardiff Giant hoax. Westcott's 1898 book became so popular, that it was quickly adapted to the stage and enjoyed several successful runs over the next thirty years.
Stage scene from David Harum the play

In 1934, the story was finally adapted to the movie screen, and American humorist Will Rogers played in the staring role as David Harum.
Movie Poster of Will Rogers as David Harum
The David Harum character even spawned a very popular weekly radio show that was sponsored, in part, by advertising from the famous S. S. Kresge Stores (known as K-Mart today) The Kresge version of the David Harum fishing line was custom made for the Kresge Stores by the Newton Line Company.
S. S. Kresge Store's David Harum Line - made by Newton Line Co.
One final footnote: All of the characters real and fictionalized of this brand name story were New York based, and the events both real and fictionalized took place either in or very near Homer, N. Y. (home of the Newton Line company) or Cortland, N. Y. (home of the Cortland Line Company) Naturally, when these two popular fishing line brand names were being sold in the 1920s and 1930s, their significance and their place in history and local pop culture were very well understood and did not go unnoticed by the fishermen who purchased them.
Early 1930s version of Cortland's Cardiff Giant
If you have a line spool with a brand name that you would like to know a little more about, then please write to me, and I will share with you what I know from my research of the several hundreds that I have now completed for the book that I am currently writing about America's Vintage fishing Lines. Thanks, John Etchieson at

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Invincible - World's First Waterproofed Silk Casting Line

To help my fellow tackle collectors learn how to determine the age of "The Invincible" Japan Silk fishing lines that they may encounter I have included information about the different labels and boxes and the dates associated with each throughout this article about the history of the "World's first 'waterproofed' silk casting line".

First version with printer's flourish beneath the word waterproof and with Large size letters used in the words HARD BRAID SILK - 1900 to 1931.
In 1816 John Gladding, who was a 7th generation member of the original Gladding family that had immigrated to America from England 140 years earlier, started a new cordage business in Pharsalia, New York making ropes, chalk lines, and fish lines.

Second version with printer's flourish discontinued and Made In U S A added in its place beneath the word waterproof and with Large size letters used in the words HARD BRAID SILK introduced in 1932.
The fish line portion of John Gladding's cordage business grew steadily and was eventually to become the dominant product that was made first by himself, then by his children, and finally by the year 1900 was being made both by his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The year 1900 not only marked a new century for the Gladding's growing family business, but it also marked the year fishermen were first introduced to - THE INVINCIBLE - which was to become the flagship line of all of Gladding's many brands for the next half century.

Third version with By Gladding added above Trade Mark and with Medium size letters used in the words HARD BRAID SILK - introduced in 1934.

By definition, Invincible, means "incapable of being overcome or subdued," as in an "Invincible Army" or "Her invincible spirit." As it was used by Gladding, the brand name "The Invincible" was intended to connote a fishing line that was incapable of being overcome or subdued by water, which was most appropriate for what was to become known as the "World’s first waterproofed silk casting line."

Fourth Version with Made in U S A reduced to outer edge of label; Test and Yards added in its place, and with Small size letters used in the words HARD BRAID SILK - introduced in 1938.

The history of the creation of this remarkable fishing line actually began well before 1900. "The Invincible" line was created over a period of several years under the leadership of B. F. Gladding, for whom the Gladding family business had been renamed after he took over as head of the company in 1878.
The first "Musky" Line version of "The Invincible" line was introduced about 1924 - it had all of the same features as the 1909 first version of "The Invincible" silk casting line except for the words "Musky" Line which replaced the words Casting Line on the labels.

This particular version of the Musky label could only have been offered from 1934 through 1937 - Note the significant similarities to the Third Version Invincible casting line label introduced in 1934 and significant differences to the Fourth Version of the Invincible casting label introduced in 1938. A comparison of each version of the Casting line labels to the Musky line labels reveals this line was made from 1934 to 1937.


B. F. Gladding had installed a new hand turned braider in 1878, eventually adding ten more and then subsequently using horse and sweep for the power source to operate these fishing line braiders. By 1890, Gladding had moved the factory from Pharsalia to South Otselic New York where he built a dam on the river there and installed a water wheel to power 50 additional new braiders. To operate these new braiders the number of employees was increased to 19, of which 9 were Gladding family members.

Gladding, had made only linen and cotton lines since its founding in 1816, but by 1895 they had begun to make silk lines too. B. F. Gladding selected what was considered to be the very best Japan silks that could be obtained to use in manufacturing his new braided silk fishing lines.

The First Box used for The Invincible was a simple white two piece cardboard box with gold trim around the top edge. There are two different versions of this box. One was used from 1900 to 1911 and the other one was used from 1912 - 1933. If you have one of these boxes, you may contact me for help in determining which version that you have.

Gladding acquired his silk from the Nonotuck Silk Company which had been established in 1835, and which had produced the famous Corticelli silk sewing threads. These silk threads had won several World's Fair Awards, and had produced the first and only silk threads of a consistent diameter and quality that could successfully be used on Isaac Singer's new invention - the sewing machine - without the threads jamming the machine as was the case with all other competitor's silk threads. By combining Gladding's many years of braiding experience with the much superior quality imported Japan silks from the Corticelli Silk Mills, the creation of "The Invincible" was close to being realized

The Second Box used for The Invincible was of a modern Art Deco style design with bright silver, red and black colors. This second box had the words "Highest Quality Japan Silk" printed at the top and was offered only from 1934 through 1936.

By 1897 Gladding hired a Mr. Shields from Boston to spend several months teaching his employees the secret Scottish process for enameling fishing lines. Three additional years of research, experimentation and testing of the enameling process, eventually led Gladding to discover a more thorough waterproofing process that not only treated the surface of the silk fishing lines but treated the individual threads within the silk line too. It was this formula (which remained a closely guarded secret of the Gladding firm for more than 50 years) that was finally used to create the World's first "Waterproofed" silk casting line - “The Invincible"

The Third Box used for The Invincible was also the modern Art Deco style design with bright silver, red and black colors; however, it had a modification to the logo and the words printed at the top of the box were changed to read "Best Japan Silk". This version of the box was offered for only one year - 1937 - and it was then changed again the following year. This was also the last year for the version three labels that are shown with this very rare one year box.

"The Invincible" brand offers collectors of vintage fishing tackle an opportunity to find several different rare and historic labels and package variations of their Japan Silk Casting Lines that were manufactured from 1900 to 1941. Collectors, who are observant and know what to look for, can easily distinguish the nuances and clues that indicate the specific year or specific time periods that their particular spools of "The Invincible" Silk Casting lines were made. As a general rule, knowing whether the age of a fishing line is 100 years old or 50 years old is important, because it can make a very big difference in its rarity, as well as in its historic significance and collector value.

The Fourth Box used for The Invincible was a standard two piece card board box in orange color with the company logo stamped in black at an angled pattern across the entire surface of the lid. It was introduced in 1938 and is not a very common box to find since it was used for only that one year.
The Fifth Box used for The Invincible was introduced in 1939 and it included a counter top display feature. The spools that came inside this box were also packed inside of a revolutionary new plastic cylindrical container that was much like today's modern plastic bubble packaging. With this innovative packaging, Gladding was almost two decades ahead of everyone else in the use of plastics for packaging. This combination counter top display box with the plastic packages was offered for only two years from 1938 through 1939, and while they are quite popular with collectors, they are not easy to find today

The Sixth Box used for The Invincible was a simple yellow color box identified only by an end label. It was introduced in 1940 and continued to be used throughout 1941 until America's entry into World War II. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the practice of selling any Japan Silk Lines (like The Invincible) to American fishermen was immediately discontinued. This was due in part to the political sentiments of the times, but it was far more due to the embargo on Japanese Silk imports that Franklin Roosevelt had signed as a Presidential order just a few months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
If anyone has any examples of "The Invincible" line spools that are packaged in the gold trimmed white box, then please let me hear from you as I am still in need of a picture of one known variation from that time period for inclusion in the book that I am currently writing - America's Vintage Fishing Lines. Thanks, John Etchieson at

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Identifying Antique Line Spools

As a collector of old fishing lines, I can often find those called "collectibles" that were made during that fifty year span from 1909 to 1959. However, I consider myself extremely fortunate whenever I can find any old fishing line that can truly be called an "Antique." You see, technically speaking, for a fishing line to truly be considered an ”Antique" today it should have been made at least 100 years ago or more.

"Antique" can refer to almost any old object that has value due to its age, aesthetic appeal, condition, rarity, and/or historical significance. But it's not always simple deciding what is or is not an antique. In the 1930s, antiques were considered artwork, and thus could be brought into the United States duty-free, and so everyone wanted to call every old item an antique.

The U. S. Customs Office stepped in and surveyed antique dealers, and concluded that antiques were objects made before the development of mass production in the 1830s. Since that defining moment — mass production — was 100 years in the past, the customs office decided that an antique was something made more than 100 years ago. Duty was collected on objects less than 100 years old, but items more than 100 years old were still duty-free.

That 1930s definition is still in use today, and is used by collectors and dealers to distinguish between true antiques and collectibles

The truly antique fishing lines that were made more than 100 years ago are extremely rare, and surprisingly, are often passed over by some rather astute collectors of "antique" and "collectible" fishing tackle simply because they have not yet learned how to recognize them for their antiquity. To remedy that situation I would like to share with my fellow tackle collectors a few of the clues that I have learned over the past 20 years of collecting fishing lines. The following clues have helped me to identify those tell tale signs of antiquity that often appear on those 100 year old plus fishing lines:

Clue one - the simple text labels. Simple text labels are very common on those lines spools that were made more than 100 years ago. These style labels will usually containing only a company name, maybe a line brand name and very limited text. They will usually have no graphic art work, except for the occasional trade mark art. An example of such a simple label is the one shown above that was custom made between 1895 and 1903 for Stark and Weckesser of Dayton, Ohio by the Hall Line Company of Highland Mills, New York. The "S & W" brand was also marked on metal spinner lures that were made for Stark & Weckesser by Pflueger. In the late 1890s, Stark and Weckesser operated a bicycle shop and also sold fishing tackle just a few blocks from their main bicycle shop competitors, the soon to be famous, Wright brothers. This simple labeled wooden spool of fishing line predates that first successful airplane flight that was made by Orville and Wilbur Wright in December 1903.

Clue two - look for fancy script lettering and printer's flourishes and dingbats (the printer's term, not the lure). It is quite common to find these little fancy swirling lines in the "white space" of labels or incorporated directly into the letters used on the labels of line spools made from the 1880s through the 1890s with a few from the very early 1900s. These ornamental design styles were especially in vogue with printers during the last third of the 1800s. The Edward K. Tryon (the Crown and Fish was their trade mark) Hardware Company of Philadelphia, line spool label shown above is from the late 19th century and make use of ornamental flourishes in the letters. Note, in particular their use in the capital letters "B," "C," "S" and the "L." Fonts such as these can help a tackle collector to identify fishing lines as being made prior to 1900

The Abbey & Imbrie "Maltese" line spool above would now qualify as a true antique line, because it was listed in the firms 1907 and earlier catalogs. Note also in particular the style of the font used in the A & I logo. This same logo which was also in use by Abbey and Imbrie during the late 1800s uses the previously described printer's flourishes and dingbats which are incorporated into the intertwined letters "A" and "I."

Clue three – look at the shape of the spool when viewing it from a side profile. The shape of wooden spools changed several times between the 1870s and the 1930s, so it helps to learn about the different shapes and the period in which they were used to identify the age of your line spools. If the spool has a wide diameter (3 inches wide across the face of the spool) and is very thin (3/8 inches thick or less) then it is very likely a candidate to be a true 100 year plus antique line spool. Every one of the line spools in my personal collection of more than 2000 spools that fit this exact same profile have all been identified through information contained on their labels and from catalogs and advertisements as being confined to the 1903 to 1908 time period. These very thin wood spools have not yet been identified nor associated with any other time period other than these early 1900 dates, so they were most likely a short lived fad with the line spool manufacturers.

Another important shape or profiles to look for are those spools with the "V" shaped center or the modified "V" shaped center. All of these "V" shaped styles that I have ever seen and researched have all been associated with labels on line spools that were made only between the late 1800s to the very early 1900s.

Clue four – look for a company logo that is centered right in the middle of the label. This was a common practice and design style that was characteristic of fishing lines that were made only between the 1880s through the very early 1900s. After 1910, line spool labels still continued to feature a company's logo, but not usually in the very middle of the front main label, and the logos were not generally as prominently featured as they had been in the 1800s. The Shakespeare Company's "Indian Silk" logo design shown above (centered in the middle of the label) was first introduced in 1908 and was then used for only one year before the Indian's image was changed in 1909. In 2008, this particular line spool became a true 100 year old antique. The three examples shown below are all pre - 1908 line spools, and they also, all employ the simple centered company logo in their label design. All of these also qualify as true antique line spools.

This particular version of the Saranac brand fishing line label was only made between the years 1905 and 1908. This fishing line features the Clark - Horrocks (later to become Horrocks - Ibbotson) logo centered in the middle of the label, which was typical of labels made from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. Note also the printer's flourishes just above and below the words "Trade Mark" which offers still another clue to this lines antiquity.

The simple centered company logo on the spool above was used from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. The logp, consisting of the intertwined letters "E" and "C" and a tied feathered hook was the trade mark of "Empire City" which was a popular 1890s "house brand name" that was owned and used by Abbey & Imbrie on their less expensive lines of rods, reels, fishing lines, tackle boxes, and other economy fishing tackle. Note the flourishes at the tips of the letters and incorporated into the font design. This is still another clue to this line spool's age of 100 years or more.

The Thomas J. Conroy "Minnow Casting" line spool above features the company's logo centered in the middle of the label. T. J. Conroy used this same design on their line spool labels from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. And, while this line spool has not yet been completely researched to determine its exact age, it is a very likely candidate to be classified as a true antique, which was made more than 100 year ago.

If you have any line spools that have a company logo centered in the middle of the label, or fancy printer's flourishes designed into the white space of the label or incorporated into the lettering, or have any wooden line spools that are very thin or have the "V" shaped side-view profile, then you may well have a very rare and historically significant fishing line spool. I would like to hear from anyone that has such spools, and will be happy to try to help them further identify the makers and exact ages and values of their truly antique fishing line spools. I can be reached at Thanks, John Etchieson

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 Thanks, John Etchieson