Where to start saltwater hooks?
Virtually all hook makers made saltwater hooks. Since I have a Jones for Vom Hofe hooks; I will start with some of theirs. The company of Edward Vom Hofe has always been synonymous with high quality. Their reels, rods, hooks are all of high quality and sought after by collectors.
In so far as hooks goes, it appears that Vom Hofe had several companies make hooks for them. I have them marked NY, Redditch and Norway as place of origin and Vom Hofe as the brand name. I even have Edward Vom Hofe packages with hooks marked R Harrison & Co., Redditch that was part of the 1900’s collection. All of them are of high quality.
You will find snelled hooks in this section that were likely intended for saltwater fishing. You will also find other saltwater snelled hooks in the snelled hooks section. No real sinister reason for that. Just seems the thing to do at this moment.
The Van Vleck Improved Fish Hook is a wonderful commercial hook. These hooks were all hand made and were very difficult to make. I still haven’t figured out how they lifted or provided enough metal to make the two barbs. There was one large barb which was cut or ground into two barbs.
Up until just recently, I had just a couple of these hooks but then I had an opportunity to buy a fairly large number of them in three of the sizes that were made came up. When I was able to put several of the same size hooks side by side, the results were dramatic. Virtually, no two hooks are the same. The bends are quite close but even there they have subtle differences.
In the photos above where the eyes and/or points are all lined up, I had the other end of the hooks lined up so you can see huge differences. Actually, these differences are almost unbelievable from a hook maker’s point of view. I have differences in my hooks but I would never send out hooks with this much variances. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time as a fly on the wall to see how these hooks were produced.
A few of these are not marked with the name and patent date. I have conflicting information about the unmarked hooks. One source tells me that the Van Vlecks made these hooks for a few years before receiving a patent on them. I have been told by another collector that later (after the patent) someone was copying these hooks. I am not buying that. I suppose it would be possible but such a labor intensive hook with what proved to be a very small market, one would think a more broadly marketable hook would be a better choice. After studying these hooks in great detail, I come to the conclusion that the unmarked hooks must have been made pre patent and/or post Van Vleck’s closing by the same makers. There are just too many consistent areas on all of the hooks to have been done by other hands. Without all of these hooks I could not have made such a statement.
There is also the issue of the unclosed and unwelded eyes on ALL of the medium size hooks. They were closed down with a hog ring type tool over a soft lead triangle piece to prevent chafing gear. This also facilitated a quick change of hook size.
The eyes while all similar, are not the same. There are many hallmarks of hand made hooks on these.
The hooks look like forged hooks and certainly they were. They weren’t forged in the way that all others are though. The wire is more of an oval shape than with the clearly defined flat surfaces that conventional forging produces. After looking very close at the bends of the hooks, it is almost certain that they forged the wire BEFORE they bent it! The wires on the hooks I have are almost all twisted off perpendicular in the bend……………..from bending the wire the “hard way”! The wire falls over just a bit when bent this way. And, other forged hooks have sharply delineated margins of the forging areas and they are flat whereas bending the hard way would deform the flat wire and stretch the margins and rounding them and the flat area. They must have bent the hooks last and that made more chance of the different lengths either at the eye or spear. Most commercial hooks are forged last.
It is well to remember that these hooks were made at a time when hook making machines were in common use so these were clearly a throwback to earlier times.
I’ve been told by a commercial fisherman who fished Tuna and other food fish and he tried the Van Vleck hooks but gave up on them because they were too hard to remove from the fish’s mouth. I can only think that would be the case if the hook were tried to be released the way a normal hook by pressing down on the shank to elongate the hole to make room for the barb to pass. Doing that with these, the effect would be just the opposite. Of course there is the issue of the spread out double barbs resisting any attempt to remove it from the flesh.
My opinion is that these hooks were as much a marketing gimmick as they were a real improvement on fish hooks. In the end, I expect that the difficulty of producing these hooks outweighed the additional money that could be made. Remember that they were, at that time competing against inexpensive machine made hooks.
In any case, these are very cool hooks and would be a real prize in any hook collection.