Thursday, July 15, 2010

From the Stacks: Gone Fishin'

"The whole purpose of summer fishing, the Old Man said, is not to worry about catching fish, but just to get out of the house and set and think a little."    --Robert C. Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy

Fishing, a popular American pastime, is well-represented in the collections of the Clements Library. Once exclusively a subsistence activity, fishing became a leisure sport for the upper and middle classes in 19th century America. In the post-Civil War era, publishers began to produce popular magazines focused on field sports, including Forest and Stream (1873) and The American Angler (1881), the first magazine devoted entirely to fishing.

Browsing through the Clements Library collections provides a glimpse into a variety of materials documenting different aspects of fishing in American history. The first item of note is from the Rare Book Room:

First American book on angling

John J. Brown, a New York fishing tackle dealer, wrote this book in 1845. The book cover has a fisherman tooled in gilt. The frontispiece illustration is "Trout fishing in Sullivan County, N.Y."

Fishing tackle catalog

To prepare for a fishing excursion, you need to buy the proper equipment. This fishing tackle catalog from 1870 offers "Fine quality goods at lower prices than any other house in America."

The fish hooks for sale include styles such as the Yankee Doodle, Snap and Catch "Em," Eagle Claw, and the Pearl Weak Fish Squid.

Guide to fishing spots near Philadelphia

"There are thousands of persons, who, having only an occasional holiday, would gladly indulge in a day's out with rod and reel accompaniment, if they but knew where to go, when to go and how to go where there would be a reasonable probability of finding fish. . . . it was with a view to meeting that want, this little volume was written, with the hope that the information it contains would benefit somebody."  A.M. Spangler's helpful little volume for the Philadelphia fisherman includes discussions of the different species of fish to be found in the area, how to fish for them, and a map at the back with fishing spots marked.

An artistic endeavor

Joshua Benjamin, an American sailor, kept a journal of his various sea voyages with different ships. He drew several fish on a blank page following his entries for the Brigandine Dolphin (Boston to Portugal, 1714).

"That eccentric angler Randolph G. Adams"

The Clements Library itself has a distinguished connection to the topic through the 1934 publication of a small pamphlet by the first director of the library, "that eccentric angler Randolph G. Adams." It is an excerpt from Cotton Mather's Magnalia Book vi, p. 9, which purports to answer the question, "What makes the fish bite?" The first 20 copies of the pamphlet were printed in London by James Tregaskis and Son on authentic Dutch paper from c. 1700. Concerning the first copy, Mr. Adams wrote, "Note the genuine wormhole on [A3]. Nationality, date, and christian name of worm is unknown."

Further reading: Colleen J. Sheehy, "American Angling: The Rise of Urbanism and the Romance of the Rod and Reel," in Hard at Play: Leisure in America, 1840-1940 (Amherst, 1992)

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