Facts and Folklore About Hooks

Facts and Folklore About Hooks

By Ron Reinhold

Since 1993 I’ve been making and collecting blind-eye hooks. My entire effort has been centered on the antiques and replicas of antiques that are so popular in classic Atlantic salmon flies. As a result, I’ve had many encounters and conversations regarding styles of antique hooks, their shape and dimensions, their history, and the methods of making them. The most interesting aspect of these experiences is the folklore and unusual facts about these hooks that most people never hear. The reason for this article is to share some of them with you, along with some of my own observations and discoveries. Plus, just to round things out, I’ve included some information that you may find useful for general cocktail conversation. Please remember that much of the following is fact, but some is folklore. None of it is any particular order:

Barbs on fishing hooks have generally become progressively shorter over time.

Bronze hooks are not bronze, nor are they bronzed. They are steel hooks that have a coating on them that has a bronze hue, and prevents them from rusting. Real bronze hooks would corrode and deteriorate almost immediately. I learned this from my own experiments while developing a true black japan coating. Bronze finishes are actually japan finishes made with the same compounds used for black japans; the compounds are just mixed in different ratios. The ratios can also be adjusted for brown. I suspect there are also some good baked-on lacquers that serve as a “bronze” finish. An alternate bronze coloration was (and still is) achieved by heat treating the wire to the desired hue then coating it with a clear lacquer compound.

Very early hooks were prevented from rusting by heating the wires and dipping them in hot mutton fat. The coating could be built up by repeating the procedure.

A simple test for determining an antique japanned hook from a modern painted hook is to wipe the hook with a swab soaked with acetone. The paint will come off, the japan will not.

The barb on the hook of the original Jock Scott pattern is referred to in the literature as “rank” It’s very long, and was considered quite becoming during the day. It’s approximately as long as the point.

The primary purpose of gutters is to allow space around the hook pint for blood to escape. Folklore holds that this was an adaptation borrowed from the old British marine trench knives.

The larger sizes of Vom Hoff hooks had the name (E Vom Hoff & Co) stamped (presumably with a rolling mill) on the hook shank. The smaller sizes are devoid of the name. The opposite side of the shank is stamped. “..ENGLAND..”

Stories abound about the inconsistencies of Bartleet hooks. The inconsistencies are often attributed to frequent employee changes, employees making hooks at home, each employee making them slightly different because of equipment variances, and the expertise and talent variations from one employee to the next.

Some original Bartleet hooks, particularly Wm. Bartleets, have different wire diameters for the same style of hook. I’ve never heard a plausible explanation for the discrepancy, but I surmise it may have had something to do with the imperialistic nature of the British Empire. A scarcity of materials may have developed during times of war, and hook makers had to use what they could get.

Because original hooks varied so much, even within the same company, modern day replicas are unlikely to exactly match many of the early models or other modern hooks.

T.E. Pryce-Tannatt hooks are constantly referred to as the ultimate hook, but ironically are one of the least popular models used by modern day tyers. The “T.E.” in his name stands for Thomas Edwin.

Original T.E. Pryce-Tannatt Group A hooks, Tannatt claims, were forged (hammer hardened), and he mentions this in his book. Modern replicas however ignore this feature, and it is not insisted upon by modern tyers. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen an original Tannatt hook that is forged; they’ve all been round-section. Truly a puzzlement.

In his book, “How to Dress Salmon Flies,” Pryce-Tannatt gives no concrete reference about who actually made his hooks. He gives Mr. John Forrest ambiguous but grateful credit for getting the hooks made.

Was Pryce-Tannatt a thief? Prior to 1899, the hook manufacturer Hutchinson (of Kendal) introduced its “Rational Scale” of hooks “ in which each hook rises a fraction of an inch in length from crown of bend to end of shank” This is mentioned in “Salmon and Sea Trout” by Sir Herbert Maxwell, 1989, when Pryce-Tannatt was only 17 years old. Pryce-Tannatt didn’t publish his book until 16 years later (1914), in which he laid claim to the “Rational” groups of hooks. Makes you wonder, eh.

The bona fide identity of most antique hooks is in extreme jeopardy because they have long ago been separated from their original packaging. Hook plates in the literature of yesteryear serve as the identifiers for most hooks touted as originals today. Unfortunately, only a few plates of a few styles and makers were published and preserved.

Some riverside landowners made hooks for themselves and visiting clients. Their hooks are almost surely destined for permanent non-identification.

When Phillips hooks are spoken of, the plate of limericks in Francis Francis’ book, “A Book On Angling” is generally brought to mind. They are a sleek and pleasing, light-wire pattern. The sizes are numbered with the largest being #1, the second largest #2, and so on. Few people however are aware more practical Phillips heavy-wire pattern depicted in “Jones’s Guide To Norway.” All flies in Jones’s are tied on the heavy Phillips pattern. Those hooks are sized in just the opposite order…the smallest being #1, the next large is #2 and so on. Another conundrum. Also, Jones’s does not reveal enough information to permit faithful replication of all the sizes. This has caused me to adopt the size designations of 1/0, 2/0, 3/0 etc.

The plate of Phillips Limerick hooks in Francis Francis’ book are supposedly the same hook shown in different sizes. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes obvious that the bends are different from one to the next. It just adds to the confusion. I have two hooks that are supposedly original Phillips Limericks in size#5, and they do conform to the size #5 hook in the plate. The finish on them is “blued,” not japanned.

To obtain any Phillips hook is likened to finding the Holy Grail. Some people claim to have one, but again they lack the provenance for its authenticity. Rick Whorwood of Stoney Creek, Ontario (noted fly tyer and friend to fly tyers everywhere) has recently uncovered what appears to be a genuine Phillips heavy-wire hook … in an original wrapper! Incredible! An interesting feature of this hook is that it only has a gutter on one side.

Hooks with deep keels (heels) were designed to prevent the points from catching to readily on stream bottom objects.

Gene Sunday’s two popular patterns, the Sunday Limerick and the Madden Celebrated Limerick, are both modeled from unknown antiques. (Info courtesy of Gene Sunday)

Before the era of japanning and lacquering, hooks were commonly blued; then packed in paper packages with a liberal sprinkling of talc to absorb moisture and prevent rust.

Antique Hook Manufacturer’s

By Ron Reinhold

Some of us crazies don’t know when to quit, we must keep digging. I’ve occasionally been asked about the time period from which various hooks can be attributed, but haven’t had a good answer in most instances. S-o-o-o, I figured it’s time to discover a little more about the origins of blind eye hooks, hoping that we could all have better information in the future. Thus I’ve begun working on the list of antique hook manufacturers below. Anything you can add would be greatly appreciated.

Unless otherwise noted, the date(s) next to a manufacturer’s name indicates a year that the manufacturer was probably in business. The dates obtained from various books that are also listed for reference. For most I used the year of publication of the book as the date next to the manufacturer’s name. In most instances the context, in which the manufacturers were mentioned in the books, was stated in such a manner that indicated the manufacturers were in business at the time of publication. Circumstances or conditions noted in the books may be cause for a date cited that differs from the books’ publication date.

Special Note:

The limerick, carlisle, kirby, kinsey and sneck were being referred to as bends or styles at the time of publication of Francis Francis’, “A Book on Angling,” 1867. The possibility remains that these were actually names of makers in earlier times, not just styles that were characteristic of hooks used (or made) in various places.

Manufacturer Location Date Notes
Adlington (of Redditch) 1847 Possibly the same Adlington as below) Known for round-bend hooks (6)
Adlington 1860 Possibly the same Adlington as above (2)
Allcock & Co. (of Redditch) 1885 [and Mssrs. Allcock of Redditch 1867 (1)]. Mr. Court (of Redditch) 1885 invented hooks of various enameled colors (possibly just trout hooks) red green blue & yellow, which were manufactured by Allcock & Co. See Plate 14 #1 in Francis Francis. I have a photocopy of a floding hook package obtained from Rick Whorwood of Stoney Creek, Ontario, that is printed with “S. Allcock & Co. Limited Standard Works, Trade Mark Estab. 1805.” (1.4.10)
Bartleet (of Redditch ) 1847 (6)
Bartleet & Sons (of Redditch) 1867 (1)
Carlisle early 1800’s (5)
Hardy (of Alnwick) 1898
Harrison & Bartleet (of Redditch) 1885 (4)
Harrison & Co. (of Redditch) 1885 (4)
Hatchet (of the Strand) 1867 possibly just an agent for a hookmaker. (2)
Holland (at Winchester) 1895 this may not be a manufacturer but simply a dealer Kelson is unclear in the distinction (9)
Holyoake (of Redditch) 1847 (6)
Hutchinson (of Kendal) 1867 Made the Kinsey hook. Francis Francis referred to it as the American Kinsey. Could be the same Hutchinson as below. See Plate 14 #10 (1)
Hutchinson 1898 Could be the same Hutchinson as above (3)
John Denny’s no year referenced but mentioned as “Hookes of hardest steele;” they preceded Kendals, Limericks, and Carlisles (5)
Kelly (of Dublin) 1834 This may also be Martin Kelly that’s mentioned in “Anglers Companion.” by Thomas Tod Stoddart, 1847 (,6)
Kendal 1816 (5)
Kinsey see Hutchinson
Kirby 1808 Spoken of by Barker (no year ref.) and cuts are given by Salter (5)
Limerick 1800 earliest mention is in Taylor (5)
Millward & Son (of Redditch) 1885 (4)
O’Shaughnessy 1834 (original maker died about 1820) (5)
O’Shaughnessys (of Limerick) 1847 (6)
Partridge 1923 as A.E. Partridge Ltd. Currently Partridge of Redditch (8)
Pennell (H Cholmondeley) 1885 (4)
Phillips (of Dublin) 1848, 1850, & 1867 Noted for an esteemed light wire Limerick pattern. Francis Francis included a plate depicting a dozen sizes. Address: Mr John Phillips, 18 Ellis’s Quay, Dublin (Ephemera). A heavy-wire pattern is shown in all the flies depicted in Jones’s Guide to Norway (1,11, 12)
Sell (of Dublin) available sometime during the O’Shaughnessy and Phillips era (5)
T.E. Pryce-Tannatt 1914 Born in 1881 died April 19, 1965. A Plate of his hooks is depicted in his book. Well known for his “Rational” groups of hooks (7)
Warner & Son (of Redditch) 1885 Held hook patents as early as 1866 (4)
Wm. Bartleet & Sons 1895 celebrated Dublin Limerick fish hooks. This manufacturer is not directly mentioned in Kelson, but a full plate of its hooks is depicted therein (9)
Woodfield & Sons (of Redditch) 1885 possibly just made trout hooks (4)
Wright (of the Strand) 1867 possibly just an agent for a hookmaker (1)

(1) Francis Francis, 1867 “A Book On Angling” as noted in the reprint by John Culler & Sons, 1995
(2) Wade Henry 1860 “Fishing”
(3) Maxwell, Sir Herbert 1898 “Salmon and Sea Trout”
(4) Pennell, H. Cholmondeley 1885 “Fishing”
(5) taverner, Eric 1942 “Fly Tying for Salmon”
(6) Stoddart, Thomas Tod 1847 “Anglers Companion”
(7) Pryce-Tannat, T.E. 1914 “How To Dress Salmon Flies”
(8) Schmidt, Bill 1997 “Hooks for the fly”
(9) Kelson, George M 1895 “The Salmon Fly” as noted in the Reprint by John Culler & Sons. 1995
(10) Cross, Rube (publication date not available) “Complete Fly Tier.”
(11) Ephemera, 1850 “The Book of Salmon”
(12) Tolfrey, Frederic 1848 “Jones’s Guide to Norway” as noted in the reprint by the Flyfisher’s Classic Library 1994

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