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Early seat construction in wood canvas canoes

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by 1905Gerrish, Feb 10, 2021.

  1. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Wondering if others have any evidence of any early seat construction that they believe would pre-date the images supplied below? Are these pictures below the first style of seats constructed in wood canvas canoes? Was a front seat and a rear seat both added at the same time? I have seen, and own, a single rear seat canoe that pre dates IMO 1900 but it is certainly not older than the canoes pictured. Was the single rear seat requested by guides after the two seat design? It would certainly have its advantage in keeping the craft stable if the sport was seated as low as possible.

    The green Gerrish pictures are of my canoe that has been recently restored. I am going to assume that the mortised seats were a bit earlier than the E.M. White pictures as I believe the Gerrish seats are of a weaker and lesser design and evolved in a stronger and better design being the cleats. I do have knowledge and photos of a Gerrish with the same type front seat cleat design as shown in the E.M. White. Is Fly Rod Crosby sitting on a front seat in the E.M. White on Moosehead Lake similar to the other E.M. White photo? It does not look like she is on the floor and is leaning on the thwart fighting the fish. I cannot find any evidence of earlier photos of a E.M. White canoe but by the looks of the construction it is very early with the tiny mortised thwarts as well. I have also unaware of a single seat Gerrish. Am I right in assuming that these were the only two manufacturers competing and wood canvas canoes at the time? evolving g-seat1.jpg g-seat2.jpg early-white.JPG White_canoe_image_1908.jpg
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
  2. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Interesting question.
    I don't see any dates associated with the photos shown, so what is the benchmark you are asking about?

    Perhaps we can only narrow down to which whiteman (sic) started designing/installing seats. It would be more difficult to pin down who "invented" and/or the first seats (vs thwarts) in native (birchbark, dugout, etc.) canoes. These would have been less systematically documented. A related challenge is the coincident evolution of canoe building overlapping the development and popularization of photography.

    The question may warrant further research. We might start with a survey of the earliest "commercial" builders (not that natives didn't build and sell canoes).
    Here's a short list of the early builders-thanks to Dan Miller's compilation -Wooden Canoe Museum;

    William English Canoe Co. 1861
    Dan Herald 1862
    Thomas Gordon 1858
    J.G. Brown circa 1870
    Rushton 1875
    Gerrish circa 1882
    Stephenson 1882
    White 1885
    Strickland/Lakefield 1892

    Perhaps Dan has already begun this research to include as a new section of his online Wooden Canoe Museum.
    1905Gerrish likes this.
  3. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Stephenson's 1878 patent shows 2 kneeling thwarts. No seats.

    Rushton 1893 "World's Columbian Exposition" and the 1899 Rushton catlogue
    have elaborate descriptions of the deck options offered.

    Counfoundingly, NO SEATS are shown in the schematic drawings!
    1893 Only "special order" seats are show on pg. 51; Folding seats, cane seats, "easy backs" (folding upright held in place by straps) and chair seats. Also, sliding deck seats for racing canoes.

    1899 Pg. 20 SEATING ",,,seats will be provided as heretofore, viz."
    3 fixed seats for 15, 16, 16 ft models
    2 for 14 & 15 ft.
    one folding seat for smaller sizes
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
    1905Gerrish likes this.
  4. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    These are some great questions and a wonderful looking canoe. My research has uncovered a broad variety of manufacturers selling canoes in the United States as far back as 1877. See for more details about this. The specific builders advertising canoes in Maine grew from Gerrish alone in 1881 to nine in 1890, 19 in 1900, and peaking at 30 in 1912 so there were clearly more than just two.

    It appears that seats started showing up in both bark and canvas canoes during the 1890s. See for a nice Ranco canoe in bark with a stern seat that is dated to 1895 although it may be older. The Gould Brothers advertisement from 1898 at shows a single seat. The Indian Old Town Canoe Company catalog showed a canoe with only one seat as shown at in 1901. The two known Gerrish catalogs are dated from the 1890s and both show two seats. The Morris catalogs from the 1890s shows their Indian Model without any seats. His catalog from 1900 shows two seats in all of the canoes. The Carleton canoe picture that you provided shows two seats but the date of that image is not known. The building behind it burned in 1912 so it is clearly older than that. The White canoe image you provided does seem to show Fly Rod Crosby on a seat but it is not clear if this part of the canoe or a drop in seat similar to the one shown in the middle of the Carleton. The information at dates the White image as circa 1895.

    Let me know if you find better information or if there is anything else that I can do to help.

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2021
  5. OP

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Benson and Rob,

    After researching the older of the two Gerrish catalogs dated 1895 led me to a to find the photo. I own this style pictured below and it is certainly a later model of the one I just restored. The second photo is of a add dated 1892 from Dan's lovely collection. Not exactly sure how accurate the illustration is but have my doubts. Assuming the bow is on the left, no deck in the rear? Not sure what is going on with the front deck material wise. Certainly mortised thwarts and the no seats. If my description is correct I can't say I've seen anything like this. The three years between these photos/illustrations seems like there have been more changes then I have assumed that would have taken place. Seems that the earlier part of the 1890's would be a decent guess of when seats made there way into canoes but by who and who followed in order we may never know.

    1895 gerrish catalog.jpg 1892 Gerrish FandS Sept 29.jpg

    I did not realize this photo below was of a Carlton canoe. I found it while searching for photos of E.M. White. Seems you have more info on it? The canoe looks identical to the canoe Fly Rod Crosby is in. ravenwood.PNG
  6. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Andre Cloutier of Ravenwood Canoe regularly posts here so he may be able to explain why the Carleton picture was included in a White Canoe blog posting from 2017. This image was originally found by Harold Lacadie who died in 2013 so I suspect that Harold probably did not provide it to Andre directly. Harold published a book titled Nos Histoires de L'Ile: History and Memories of French Island, Old Town, Maine in 1999 but I didn't see this image included there during a quick search just now. It is available from his web site at with "Carlton Canoe Company, North Main Street 1890's in 1897 you could buy a new 18 foot canoe for $19.00 P-20" as the caption. Sue Audette's book from 1998 at includes this image on page 13 with "A Carleton canoe is displayed outside the Carleton shop in the late 1880s. Courtesy of Harold Lacadie" as the caption.

    Guy Carleton purchased this land in 1889 as described at in the deed. It is shown on the map at from 1906 and the undated picture at shows the other side of the building.

    Many of these early canoes look very similar so it can be exceptionally difficult to distinguish the different builders from old pictures alone. I agree that this Carleton canoe looks like the one with Fly Rod Crosby. However, White used that image for many years in his catalogs, advertising, and bill heads as shown at so that canoe is probably a White. Let me know if you have other questions or want more details. Thanks,

    Last edited: Feb 14, 2021
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  7. Canoeal

    Canoeal Canoe/kayak builder/resto

    There pictures of the Brodbeck seats , both as original frames and in restoration on Woodstrip Watercraft's facebook page, and the rear seat, left in the one I am currently trying to ID. I'll post a few of the Brodbeck and one of the UFO.

    Attached Files:

  8. Andre Cloutier

    Andre Cloutier Firestarter. Wicked Firestarter.

    Benson, thats taken out of context. the 1920s description is not meant for that historic photo, but rather the subject of the post as it goes on to demonstrate. It was included to loosely demonstrate the characteristics of early Maine canoes.

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