By Robert Verkerk, 2018…
Kelson rose to fame through his work for the Badminton Library in 1885, and his articles for the Fishing Gazette in the years that followed. In 1890, he completed the Salmon Fly, which was published in 1895.
The Kelson, a Fly Tier’s Compendium
Somewhere back in time, around 1890, George M. Kelson licensed his brand, the Kelson name, to a custom made, leather and wood, fly dressers travel kit. It was a beautiful, oak lined box, concealed in a leather casing, made by B.R. Bambridge of Eton-on-Thames.
If there were sold many at the time, nobody is able to tell us. We only know that you never, ever see any for sale. In fact, my friend was lucky to obtain one from a key collection of antique tackle, that came to auction in a very unusual manner. It was the finest, and most essential collection of antique tackle to come to auction in more than a decade.
B.R. Bambridge was renowned tackle maker, that kept shop from the late 18th century, well into the 1930’s. Today, there are still some old copies of catalogues in circulation, and some come up for sale from time to time, much like old Farlows or Hardy’s catalogues, except they are much rarer.
It is in catalogues and magazines of the period, that another friend of mine came across an advertisement for the very kit we have on display here, providing proof and precedent for its link to George M. Kelson.
A George M. Kelson Travel Kit
We should actually say “one of his travel kits”, because George M. Kelson had a lot of materials, stashed in a large quantity on boxes, cases, wallets, books, and the likes. We know this from the grand auction of Kelson’s collection, some years back. All items of this auction, with the exception of the three Selina Fane cases, disappeared into private collections, and were never seen again.
Evidently, George M. Kelson was involved with the marketing of this item, and very likely, also its design. As with the hooks that carried his name, he was a fond and proud user of his ‘own products’, which he considered and promoted as superior. It is therefore unthinkable that Kelson didn’t have a sample of The Kelson Cabinet for his own use. What makes the latter even more probable, is that many of the items inside this kit provide a direct link to Kelson’s time and preferences. For example, there is a dubbing book which includes many of Kelson’s Standard Colours, including the Crimson Magenta Seal’s fur that was unique to him. When you add the handwriting, which is downright similar to Kelson’s hand, you’d make a hard case disproving authenticity.
There are also several other scarce materials that Kelson made specific reference to – Golden Bird of Paradise – which GMK notes was incredibly expensive and is not specified by anyone else -, Nankeen Night Heron, and Amgold. In addition, all materials have been prepared for use. It is the kind of anal retentiveness that Kelson was known for. He had vast amounts of tying materials, and everything was organised to the tiniest detail.
This collection is linked to George Kelson directly, in so many ways, that it would be hard to disprove or debate his involvement and original ownership.
Collected and used, it remains today in the exact state is was discovered in, and it is on display exclusively here, on ClassicFlyTying.net. A wonderfully legitimate item. A valuable, and accurate reference. A window into the past, gorgeous and glorious in its own right.
A Look Inside
After opening the leather case, wooden compartments can be removed, containing hooks and dozens of envelopes with hackles and herls.
Salmon and Trout hooks in a large variety of sizes, as well as a jeweller’s vice.
Underneath the hooks and envelopes compartments, there is a gorgeous final tray that contains early Bambridge of Eton compartment boxes, holding salmon fly materials.
Removing the final tray reveals a dubbing book, made of parchment.
Inside the dubbing book are notes about the contents of the kit…
… followed by dubbing in a large variety of colours. Note the handwriting?
The contents of the cardboard boxes is very relevant indeed. These boxes contain Ariel Toucan, Grey Jungle Fowl, Nankeen Night Heron hackles and Golden Pheasant tail sections.
Macaw, Duck, Flame Bowerbird patches, and Chatterer.
The Flame Bowerbird is labelled with Golden Bird of Paradise, in Kelson’s hand. Mohair is crossed out, and written in a very different hand.
Bustard hackles (notice the light brown colour) in the upper left box.
P.S. Granadensis patches, labelled Indian Crow.
Small toppings in small envelopes inside one of the boxes…
Amgold tail slips on the left upper side, and Great Argus Pheasant hackles on the lower right side.
Original Kelson hooks.