Martin James Greenheart rod

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Jeremy Croxall
Arctic Char
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Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Jeremy Croxall » Tue Dec 01, 2015 6:41 pm

Hi there, I'm restoring a Martin James Greenheart fly rod and wondered how old it might be? I'm assuming greenheart pre-dates cane although I guess there would have been a transitional period? I thought it may be as early as 1930's but probably not later than 1950's?
Any clues as to ascertain it's approximate age would be helpful.
The other query I have is that there is a slight downwards droop when the rod is held horizontally, I have heard of people turning a course split cane rod through 180 degrees before re-whipping the rings on, is this a good thing to do on a greenheart fly rod I wonder?
If anyone has any thoughts on this I'd be grateful to hear their views. Many thanks and regards to all reading my post!
Jeremy.

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Chris Bettis
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Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Chris Bettis » Fri Dec 04, 2015 10:59 am

Greenheart! Memories there. Take care it can snap at any time. My first rod had a greenheart tip spliced in, that tip got shorter and shorter with each break and subsequent splice. Just as well it was easy to do. There used to be the opinion that split cane made the best Dry Fly Rod and that Greenheart made the best WetFly Rod.It was accepted by most flyfishermen that Greenheart had the sweeter casting action and that may well have been right but (there is always a But, it is a dense heavy wood and you need muscles to cast with one for any time. Age I think you have about right. My advice, renovate it and display it. Will make a good talking point.

Dabbler

Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Dabbler » Mon Dec 14, 2015 4:10 am

Hi Jeremy,

just to let you know, by an odd coincidence, I also just got a Martin James 9 ft. Greenheart fly rod which I'm going to renovate. The owner said his Grandfather brought it out to Canada from Scotland when he emigrated. It's not in good shape as it's been used for trolling which not only puts a "droop" in the rod from the constant bend but also twists the top because the torque from the top ring twists the rod while it rests on the gunwall of the boat with the reel hanging down. A lot of the old cane rods are like that here, (Vancouver,Canada), because of all the lake fishing. Like you I'm wary about trying to steam it straight as when I've done it with cane rods I found they needed a significant reverse bend to do any good. I set them up like a bow with a string in a reverse bend and then steamed them. Perhaps a proper steam box would work better, I imagine wood can become very pliable if it is steamed properly, anyone know anything about that ?

My rod has the wood going all the way through the female ferrules and ending in a tapered "spike" - presumably this mates with a similar profile of the rod inside the male ferrules. Presumably to make it stronger. It looks very 19 th. century.

The rings are snakes all through, no agates, and the top ring is a simple 1 1/2 turn wire loop. Which is good, in a way, because I can use a modern fly line. Modern lines don't fit through the agate top rings on rods intended for thinner silk lines. The lower reel fitting is shaped for the reel shoe and pinned to the handle. The cork is pretty worn - you could almost take a handprint from it. I'd caution about agressive cleaning because in other rods I've had, after you scrub off the hard surface the cork just rubs away like powder untill it gets more solid deeper in. As well as altering the profile it results in "striations", and ridges, where the cork was harder to start with. So I think best not to do more than just a carefull wipe to remove surface dirt.

I'd like to swop some pictures of the rods.

Regards age, Martin James started making rods in the 1850's . Greenheart went out of fashion fairly early in 20 th century in defference to split cane, so I doubt if it is as late as the 30's. Especially since fly fishermen of those days were probably better able to afford the higher prices of split cane. However I expect there were afficianidos who swore by their Greenheart rods and to the devil with this new fangled split cane ! So it could be anywhere between 1850's and 1920. I'll have to reasearch some more. Any experts care to comment ?

I'll just clean up the old varnish, but I'm not going to strip it unless it flakes unevenly, and then I'll try to dip it in spar varnish in a 2 ins. tube after I've re-whipped the rings, ferrules and reel check.

I'm not a expert so any advice would be welcome.

I gleaned the following from a forum somewhere on the web, I think it was a geanology site, but it doesn't realy say much about Martin James, the rodmaker, just his descendents, but here it is, maybe someone else knows more about Martin James :

Quote:

Yes, Martin James rods are reasonably valuable. He produced rods in Redditch during the mid 1800's although his family carried on the business for a good while after that. I am Martin James Gt. Gt. Grandaughter and I remember being taken to stand outside the now deserted factory in the 1950's. As far asI know his split cane rods are quite revered, and should certainly be worth something. Good Luck if you are selling.

PS I don't think Martin James Fishing Column is anything to do with the family. Martin only had 1 son, William Martin born 1850 although he did have 4 daughters, Helen, Mary{my Gt.Grandmother} Catherine and Henrietta {Hetty}who never married and went to live with her sister Mary's family.

My late Father, towards the end of his life developed dementia, and all his wonderful collection of old rods and reels etc. did a disappearing act as did many other valuable household treasures. We know he was "befriended" by a bit of a rogue neighbour, but the only thing we ever managed to get back was an old oil lamp. All the valuable rods etc. which were mainly Martin James, Allcocks and Edgar Sealey, and reels, Hardy, Allcocks, Mitchell to name but a few were never seen again.

My Dad was the chief Buyer at Allcock's for many years, until they were taken over by Norris Shakespeare, he then went to work at Edgar Sealey until they closed in about 1970.

The James connection comes through his maternal Grandmother, Mary Dyer nee James, daughter of Wm. Martin James. She married my Gt. Grandfather in the early 1870's and they had 10 children 8 of whom survived. My Gt. Grandfather was also a self made man and owned a hardware store in Redditch which survived until the coming of Redditch New Town in the 1960's. They even opened another shop in nearby Bromsgrove which John Dyer, Gt. Grandson of the original John Dyer ran until the late 1980's. Mary had an unmarried sister Hetty {Henrietta} who lived with Mary and John Dyer until she died quite young. She worked for her Father and helped out with household duties in the large Dyer household.
I think Martin James Sn. also died fairly young and it was his son, also Martin who took the firm to greater heights. His Mother did not continue working in the company but set up in business running a grocery shop. Several of John and Mary's children and Grandchildren also followed this route. Unfortunately my Grandad was the youngest surviving child of John and Mary the last born {Leslie} having died at just around 4 months old ,so I never got to meet many people who new a lot about them. Two of John and Mary's children emigrated to America in the very early 1900's and did well over there.

Mary died quite a dramatic death. The Zepplin flew over Redditch in the early 1930's I think. She ran to Milward's Needle Factory, about 200 yards from the shop. She climbed up the metal fire escape on the outside of the factory for a better view. {I remember this fire escape and it had to have been at least 60ft high}. She watched the Zepplin fly over then in her excitement slipped and fell on the way down. She died early the next day. She was in her 70's.

Sorry I cannot be of more use about what went on at the actual factory, but I am very proud to have had such enterprising and successful ancestors as Wm. Martin , his wife and son and also John Dyer and his large and energetic family.
You may be able to find out more from the National Needle Museum, Needle Mill Rd., Redditch as they have a information on the the old fishing companies as well as the Neeedle Industry as they were both very intertwined in the old days.
Wishing you the very best with your fishing. I am now too old to participate but have wonderful memories of time spent with Dad fishing all over England and Wales as a young thing.

The full name of my Gt. Gt. Grandfather was William Martin JAMES. He was known as Martin and his son was named Martin after his Father.
Interestingly I have just been looking at a picture from another earlier em. which shows a fishing rod bag including the Martin James logo. The writing on that logo is practically identical to my Dad's writing, I can't help but wonder if he styled his writing on it. The capital M in particular is in the same style exactly and I still use that style of capital M also , although my writing is not as beautiful as my Dad's who would have been 100 in a few days time.

End Quote.

Anyway good luck with the project and let me know if you can send some pictures of your Martin James Greenheart rod and I'll take some of mine for comparison, if you find out anything more about these rods please let me know,
regards,
Eric

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Reedling
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Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Reedling » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:05 am

A fly rod is put under a lot of stress as you whip that line back and forth, I think you will be very very lucky if the Greenheart top does not snap at some point. I would renovate and display as a curio and a testament to your restoration skill.

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AshbyCut
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Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by AshbyCut » Mon Dec 14, 2015 10:43 am

Thank you for a fascinating post on the history of the Martin James name. Invaluable information.

One small point, though, about this comment :-
Dabbler wrote:Greenheart went out of fashion fairly early in 20 th century in deference to split cane, so I doubt if it is as late as the 30's.
Greenheart continued to be used in fishing rods well into the 1950's. For example, in the 1953 "Allcock's Angling Guide. 150th. Anniversary Edition. 1803 - 1953. Coronation Year" they list in bottom rods the "A160 Isis," which had a spliced greenheart middle section and"2 greenheart tops (one short for spinning and ledgering)." They also listed both "A310 The Gladiator, 3 joint greenheart" and "A315 The Taw, 2 joint greenheart" fly rods.

They added this about the fly rods :-

"Allcock's greenheart fly rods are built from only the best of seasoned timber. They are hand-tapered and balanced by craftsmen who have devoted a lifetime to their art. This explains the outstanding sweetness of action and perfect balance which have characterised Allcock's greenheart rods for generations."

I hope that helps, Sir.
"Beside the water I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) the quiet. The sort of quiet that allows one to be woven into the tapestry of nature instead of merely standing next to it." Estaban.

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AshbyCut
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Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by AshbyCut » Mon Dec 14, 2015 11:30 am

Here's a link to a British Pathe film made in 1939 showing the manufacture of greenheart fly rods :-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bj0NCXwC9GY
"Beside the water I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) the quiet. The sort of quiet that allows one to be woven into the tapestry of nature instead of merely standing next to it." Estaban.

http://www.AshbyCut.com

Dabbler

Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Dabbler » Mon Dec 14, 2015 9:43 pm

Hi AshbyCut,
thanks very much for the filmclip it was most interesting. I guess greenheart rods would have been much cheaper than split cane as they seem very easy to make. Which is probably why they remained in production so long. It would be interesting to find out the relative production numbers for split cane vs. greenheart for fly rods for the period 1850 to 1950 to find out when the transition occurred, I would have thought that split cane became the prefferred choice before 1950, but it looked like they had stacks of them, and they seemed to be "turning" them out pretty quickly !

After seeing the film I'd like to try making one, they make it look so easy, and if they were that popular, and from the filmclip, I can't believe that they were quite so delicate. I will mic. my Martin James rod at 6 in. intervals to see what sort of profile it has. It didn't look like the turner in the film paid much attention to the profile, presumably he was making a straight taper. An experienced eye, no doubt, and he only seemed to be bending the very tip to check.

I did have a whole cane bottom and middle section with a greenheart top coarse rod when I started fishing in the late 50's, and I remember it was a step up from the whole cane top that I had before, but split cane was beyond my price range.

Most of my fly fishing is done with an indicator, from a boat, on lakes, and as such it doesn't require frequent or long casting, I'd be more concerned with it being broken during playing a fish. This style of fly fishing does require holding the rod ready to strike, you have to be fast, it's float fishing really. I know that split cane rods feel very heavy after a few hours, and I would expect Greenheart to be even heavier. Anyway I don't see much point in renovating a rod not to use it occassionally, but it wouldn't be my choice for a "daily driver" unless I fall in love with that "sweetness" of Greenheart !.

regards, Eric

Dabbler

Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Dabbler » Tue Dec 15, 2015 8:29 pm

Jeremy,
here are some pictures of the Martin James Greenheart that I am going to refurbish.

Image

Image

I don't know if it will appear in this post but just for the record, since I did the measurements, I have included the rod profile. Total length is 109 ins.

The handle is 12.75 ins. long and the snake guides are at 27.5, 57.25, 67.75, 80.25, 91.25 and 99.5 from end of butt. Ferrules are at 36 and 72 ins. approximately.

From the profile it looks like the rod may have been "tuned" at the tip by the turner, like it showed in the film.

There is a definite "step" at the mid section ferrule and you can see that the rod is noticably thinner coming out of the ferrule. Maybe it broke onetime at the top of the ferrule, if so it didn't loose much length.

I am missing the rubber butt button, I expect there is something available somewhere.

As regards weight it is 8.6 Oz, compared with a Seely "Rainbow" SC at 7.8 Oz. and a Hardy LRH wet/dry at 5.2 oz. It is not as heavy as I thought it would be.

The on-line wood-database.com says that Greenheart "Responds moderately well to steam-bending" so I'll give it a try, just for cosmetics but if it doesn't respond I'm not going to force it.

regards,
Eric
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Dabbler

Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Dabbler » Wed Dec 16, 2015 2:43 am

Well, it never ceases to amaze me that no matter how obscure the subject, when you go back into history you run across the dusty footprints of those who have travelled the path before.

My copy of Taverner is dated 1950, " Trout fishing from all angles" and on tackle he says "The tendency of Greenheart is to crack suddenly across the grain, hard up against the ferrule" - which is exactly what seems to have happened to this rod.

He says that Greenheart "can indeed be perfect in action" but otherwise doesn't recommend it , because it breaks without warning and suffers from more depreciation than split cane "if the fisherman wishes to sell it".

I didn't give much for it, but I'll bet it was still a few times what it originally sold for !

regards,
Eric

Dabbler

Re: Martin James Greenheart rod

Post by Dabbler » Fri Feb 26, 2016 1:02 am

Well,
Here it is brought back to life - I didn't polish up the brass as it had a nice patina. I steamed the worst bends out of it but I didn't want to risk breaking it. It seemed to respond easily but that may be because the wood is tired and they may just come back. I rubbed the rod down with 1000 grit just to smooth it out a bit , I didn't want to remove the original stain, and applied a thin coat of Guebrod Speed Coat by finger. I kept the original rings but they were not up to much - it looked liked they were just blued and laquered steel and some were rusty. obviously not a high quality rod, but I expect Mr. James didn't expect them to last that long given the reputation of Greenheart !. I'll polish them up and give them a good coat of varnish. I rewhipped with size D Fuji and sealed with Guebrod colour preserver. Interestingly, that pattern of spigotted ferrule has been around since 1850. The action feels really good, I think I can see what they were talking about the "sweetness" of Greenheart but you can't really tell until you have a line on it. I'm looking forward to trying it out when I go up to the Cariboo in the Spring, but I think I'll keep away from the "big fish" lakes as it might not survive.

Someday I'd like to try to make a solid rod, Greenheart is difficult to get but it seems that Ipe is available as it is used for floors and is similar, if not better, than Greenheart, but a trifle heavier.

regards,
Eric
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