Lately I've been looking hard at all the bamboo fly rods in my rod closet, trying to mentally define why I fish them and how I apply value to them--values that often differ markedly from the marketplace.
Then that crafty bunch over at MidCurrent went and excerpted a chapter from Casting a Spell by George Black
, a book about craftsmanship and its survival in the face of the industrial revolution.
I found it interest because it paralleled my thoughts about Bill Phillipson's fly rod company, which tells a similar story about craftsmanship in the face of growing corporatism.
George Black's fascination with bamboo rod-craft pivots on Eustis Edwards, whose personal history speaks volumes about the survival of craftsmanship in American culture. This excerpt looks at the final disillusioning and yet productive years of Edwards's life, and at the rods which exemplified his obsession with perfection.
Black focuses on Edwards rods, using the rods and their makers to illustrate the changes rapidly overtaking society post WWI.
I place Bill Phillipson's rod company in a similar context; his small, individually owned company thrived for years before it was bought in 1972 by a large corporation which--immediately and somewhat inexplicably--folded the company.
His bamboo trade--like most others--had foundered with the appearance of fiberglass and the bamboo embargo of the cold war years, but unlike so many other production companies, he was innovating and building what were probably the best fiberglass rods available.
I'm sure there's an answer to be found at the bottom of a spreadsheet in a file cabinet somewhere, but it's hardly possible to overlook the larger trend at work: the corporatization of business in the USA.
That's why the George Black excerpt at MidCurrent dovetails so nicely with the post I was already writing in my head.
I love it when the Universe writes my lead for me.What's Desirable in Bamboo?
In the weird, overlapping hierarchy that defines "desirability" in modern bamboo fly rod collecting, it's possible that the Edwards rods were among the best, least-appreciated models--at least until Black's book was released.
Longtime bamboo rod collectors will be reminded of the release of Michael Sinclair's "Heddon: The Rod With The Fighting Heart" book.
It had an immediate (and galvanizing) effect on the price of used Heddon rods, which--until the book's release--crowded the used rod lists at relatively low prices.
Still, the Edwards rods were never as plentiful as the Heddons, and I know I ignored the Edwards creations simply because there weren't enough of them available to interest me.
Yet, equally true is the fact that the rods I owned and fished weren't really considered desirable among the majority of collectors.
If I could have afforded it, I might have made an exception for the fishable, consistently excellent Paynes, but the Garrisons, Gillums and others were too rare (and expensive) to even contemplate buying, and the time I spent with their tapers (as represented by modern builders) was underwhelming.
In my case at least, the need to "collect" simply didn't exist, at least not in the sense that I was looking to assemble (or could afford) a quiver of rods whose makers and tapers would impress when casually dropped in bamboo-savvy company.Bill Phillipson & His Fly Rods
When I first grew interested in older bamboo rods, I focused on the Western rods, and soon fixated on Bill Phillipson's creations.
Phillipson was foreman of the Granger shop starting in the mid 1930s and owner the "Phillipson Rod Company" until the early 70s.
It's likely my interest was fostered by what I learned about Phillipson himself; a sometimes gruff man, he valued function over form, and his goal was to build rods that cast and fished as well as the most expensive models, yet at a price anyone could afford.
It's likely that tapped into the populist vein that runs through me, and clearly, Phillipson was no huckster.
He was, in fact, an expert caster and a fine fisherman, who right up until his death could be found fishing Colorado's waters
, including the South Platte
John Gierach cops to sometimes fishing an 8.5' Phillipson on the South Platte not just because he sometimes ran into Bill Phillipson there, but because the rod's perfectly suited to fishing that river
.Fishing Rods, Not Toys.
If day-to-day fishability defined collectability, the Phillipsons would occupy a place on the food chain far above many more expensive rods, perhaps only one rung below the vaunted Paynes and one above the currently hot Grangers (most of which were also Bill Phillipson's children).
Still, though I own an even dozen Phillipson rods, I never became what you'd call a "collector," and because I like talking to rod builders, I'm wholly interested in what today's bamboo rod craftsmen are doing in the now century-old bamboo rod trade.
Still, after years of use, a couple of my favorite Phillipsons require some ferrule work, so I need to ship them to a rod repairer (the true downside of bamboo rods).
I fish a couple of the rods often, and wonder if that means I value them so much as fishing tools that I overlook the fact that another Phillipson will never be made.
In fact, the rods fish so well, I could--in a fit of Thoreau-esque simplification--surplus all my other cane and end up a perfectly happy camper (for most trout situations anyway).
Still, let's face it; I'm not going to do it.
What I am going to do is split this post over a couple days. So tomorrow, more on Phillipson fly rods--the models I actually like to fish.Click to read Part II of "Bury Me With My Phillipsons."
See you at the rod closet, Tom Chandler.