As there does seem to be interest in the history of Salmon flies on this forum, I thought I would share a bit more information and take the opportunity to ask a couple of questions.
Firstly on the question of the “invention” of the Gardener, I have had access to quite a lot of original material relating to the William Brown business from the late 1800s to early 1900s (including one of the original catalogues). In amongst it all I found various letters, the first a letter from James Harper (uncle of James Harper owner of Browns), this is from around 1905
“Your letter arrived about Gardener Fly the pattern is the very same as I made at Monaltrie House and not Garden. Blacklaw will testify to this also John Harper Dess. First I made three, sent one to John, gave one to Mr Wilkinson tenant at Monaltrie and then one for myself. The three flies in one day landed 4 fish for John. Gentleman sent an order to me for 18 flies the same pattern, being scarce of feathers, I sent the order to Blacklaws of Kincardine O’Neil.
Mr Wilkinson was much disappointed giving it away, he offered me 20 pounds to take out a patent for same, I wish I had done so and stopped the Garden work.
The second a letter from James Harper (owner of Browns) to R B Marston the then editor of the “Fishing Gazette” on the 19th Feb 1908 - I quote from it :
“I have not the personal acquaintance of G.M.K. and would shy of it, but am familiar with his identity from my old Bernard days in the early eighties. He has not left kindly impressions here (on the river Dee) nor on Spey. I marvel at the anxiety of some angling writers for the credit of invention. (Pennel seems another in case). The obvious shallowness of much of the quibbling must undermine any real claim they could establish for respect from future generations.
G.M.K.s “Salmon Fly” and his long list of fearfully overdressed “inventions” is not to my liking, I recall to mind one error by him. He ascribes the “Gardener” to Garden. This fly was “invented” - to repeat his, in such case, ridiculous term - by my uncle James Harper while Gardener at Monaltrie, Ballater. There was, I believe, a real novelty here in the use of Golden Pheasant Topping as a hackle. Well do I remember my boyish difficulty to get this to lie smoothly. This uncle is still alive but this winter has been hard on him”
And just to wrap this up a quote from the obituary of Francis Harper (James Juniors dad) published in The Fishing Gazette 24th December 1898, written by Marston.
“His favourite flies were the Heron (with red wing). the Gardener (invented by his brother James), Jock Scott, Popham, Eagle (with mottled turkey wing), Gordon, Akroyd, Silver Doctor, Black Doctor, and Thunderer, and almost invariably the White Eagle was the fly with which he closed the day.”
The Browns catalogue lists over 560 different salmon flies - I wonder if this is the longest list ever produced - unfortunately the actual dressings are not listed. There once existed a typed notebook called "Mr Browns receipt book" which contained the salmon fly patterns, this was loaned by the owner to a famous tackle shop in London in the 1990’s who have subsequently lost it (thrown out during refurbishment) ! I wonder if any of the forum readers have ever heard of it ?
So my question is, I have discovered a hand written note book of instructions on dying feathers from the 1880s - would this be of interest to the modern tier of salmon flies and should I include it in the book ?
When I publish the book - it will cover the history of Browns business (a lot of this will be about the Phantom Minnow that he invented) and short histories of the other Aberdeen tackle makers (you will be surprised how many there are), it will have some focus on salmon flies and hopefully some nice illustrations of vintage and modern tyings. I’m guessing I’ll produce about 200 copies, with perhaps 20 deluxe with a real fly. What do you think ?
Last edited by scottishtrout; 11-16-2005 at 08:37 AM.