My first fishing rod -- a hand-me-down from my dad -- was a steel rod. I have no idea who made it or when, but I my guess is it was from the early 1940s.
Every time I look at old family photos of someone holding up the catch of the day, I am reminded of the many wonderful fishing trips with my mom and dad as well as with my children in more recent years.
Back in the late 1970s and 1980s I collected old rods, reels, and lures in boxes, but then I made the mistake of selling them later. I recently starting buying vintage fishing collectibles once again, and this time I'm a lot more choosy about what I purchase.
In the past few months I've been lucky enough to find several items manufactured by the Horton Manufacturing Company of Bristol, CT.
Horton Mfg. Co. makers of Bristol Steel Rods
The Horton Manufacturing Company, of Bristol, CT was a successful manufacturer and dealer of quality fishing tackle from the late 1880s through the 1950s.
The business was started in 1887, when Everett Horton, a Bristol mechanic, patented a fishing rod of telescoping steel tubes. The rod was lightweight and compact, and the steel tubes protected the line from tangling and snagging on branches while hiking to a favorite fishing hole.
Within a short time frame The Horton Manufacturing Company located in Bristol, CT and began producing a complete line of steel fishing rods. They offered everything from delicate fly rods to hefty deep sea rods.
Horton Mfg. and Meek Reels
On Monday, August 14, 1916 the Bristol Press newspaper reported on page one:
"General Manager Charles R. Riley and Secretary Towndsend G. Treadway of the Horton Manufacturing Company returned this noon from Louisville, Kentucky from a business trip which is very important to this city. While at that place on Saturday, the purchase of the B. F. Meek Company, manufacturers of fishing reels, by the Horton Manufacturing Company was completed."
So, in 1916 the Horton Mfg. Co. went from having no fishing reels in their catalog to being the manufacturer of the most famous fishing reels in America.
E. J. Martin Co. and Kingfisher Fishing Lines
In 1920, the Horton Mfg. Co. acquired the E. J. Martin Company, of Kingfisher Line fame.
Meek Fly Fishing Reels
Beginning around 1930, the Horton Mfg. Co. offered the Meek fly reel in three sizes. They were designated as numbers 54 (2 7/8" - 35 yards), 55 (3 1/8" - 45 yards) and 56 (3 1/2" - 65 yards). Later the Meek reels were dropped and the less expensive Bristol reel was introduced.
Horton's Marketing and Advertising
Some of the most beautifully illustrated posters, calendars, and catalogs offered by any fishing tackle company were created by the Horton Manufacturing Co, for their Bristol Steel Rods.
Two of America's finest sporting illustrators, Oliver Kemp and Philip R. Goodwin, were commissioned to do paintings for their calendars, catalogs and other marketing materials.
I have been fortunate enough to obtain a 1920 Bristol Catalog (above) with a cover illustration by Philip Goodwin. The best part of the catalog is that it was late enough to include not only Bristol Steel Rods, also Meeks Blue Grass Reels, and Kingfisher Lines (photo above).
These early catalogs are extremely collectible and fetch fairly high prices.
A good source of information about these vintage catalogs is "Classic Hunting Collectibles" (2005) an identification and price guide by Hal Boggess
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I am offering a CD with 176 MB of pdf files which includes all 42 pages of my c1920 Bristol Steel Fishing Rods Catalog.
If you are interested see http://www.cowboyup.com/Bristol.html for contact information.