In due course the box turned up; it was good enough to make my hackles stand up. This collection had been dry stored in an old barn for close on one hundred years. They were from a time when Salmon hooks were blued, not enameled as they are today. Some of the smaller hooks were attached to gut and were packaged in bundles with an award date of 1880. On top of the bundled hooks there were at least a thousand loose hooks of all shapes and sizes.
As you can imagine they were covered with a hundred years of grime and some were even a little rusty. The job of cleaning them up a little took hours and I still haven't finished. I sorted out heaps of different models. Some I had seen before whilst others I had only heard about, such as needle eyed hooks. Some of these were up-eyed some with the eye on the side and mostly with the eyes in a horizontal position.
The old Mustad box as shown is part of another collection but what was a surprise was a selection of lures. They were entangled amongst the pile of those old hooks; you can see them laid out on the lid of the gold box. But look again, resting on the wooden box at the back is what looks like two very large safety pins; these are in fact a part of history that is no longer with us. Back in the early days of Australia there were many very large fish in a lot of our northern streams we call Murray Cod. These guys can grow up to a hundred pounds plus and if a small bird or possum fell into the river, they did not last long. Our great-grandfathers knew of this and they would capture a a possum or a parrot we call a Galah, kill it and then impale it on the safety pin and troll it behind their boat as they drifted down stream. Cunning old buggers they were.
As I stated earlier, most of the old Salmon hooks were blued not lacquered as is standard today. This is another guide to the age of these hooks as it was late in the 19th century when they developed the lacquering process.
These Salmon hooks were also made in the blind eye; that is the shank is tapered to allow gut to be attached and they even placed grooves along the shank so that the gut could take a good grip.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to drift through the hook museum in Redditch England and sadly the history of the hook is not very nice. It was exploitation in its truest form. As an example, they hired children as 'pointers' to sharpen hooks and normally within ten years they were dead, as the picture below explains.
Most think that hook makers were just that, hook makers but the key business was in fact needles and Redditch was the needle centre in the world, as they were for a very long time the world's best hook manufacturers.
Not long after I received this fascinating package I made contact with the guys on the Classic Fly Tying forum and what a help they were, especially our own Aussie Salmon fly tier, the very talented Bob Frandsen from Nicholson in Gippsland in south east Victoria. So I sent a handful of hooks to Bob and he really got into the cleaning business but I will let him tell his own story.
"A couple of years ago I was browsing the posts on the Classic Fly Tying forum where I am a member. I came across this item from a bloke calling himself the Bug-Whisperer who put up these pics of some very old hooks someone had found in a barn and which he was trying to get some information on. The nearest he could ascertain datewise was that they were from about 1900 or earlier. Amongst them some very nice blind eye hooks with a blued finish, about 2/0, which looked promising as far as tying the old classics on, so, as you do, I put in a message (tongue in cheek) stating that if I could have some forwarded to me I would check them out personally.
Lo and behold, Mick being Mick promptly sent me off a few to try out. The first few flies I dressed on these got a mixed reaction from the lads on the forum with some saying that they had seen similar shaped hooks somewhere or other. The rest just didn't like them at all. However, just lately a good mate of mine to whom I'd sent a few, Mike Townend of Scotland, emailed me to say that he'd painted a few black and they turned out to be dead ringers for some hollow point Limericks from the 1800s illustrated in Taverner's Flytying for Salmon. So being one to experiment, yours truly had to have a go. Getting rid of the rust was easily done by soaking in vinegar for a short time then spraying with engine enamel to achieve the required finish. After drying in front of a heater for a few hours, it was into the oven to bake at full temperature for an hour to harden the finish, which came out beautifully. It really added some sophistication to some really old and sorry looking hooks. Pictured are the original, painted and fully dressed hooks for your amusement