Hardy Gear & Gadgets
I meet a lot of people who think that Hardy’s have only ever sold fishing rods and reels, and it is true, those have always been the company’s stock in trade, but did you know that back in the late 19th century they advertised Mauser machine pistols? According to the Anglers' Guide, these fired 6 or 7 shots a second, with a range of 1000 yards and one could be yours for £5. Before everyone writes in, the reason was that William Hardy, the founder of the company, was trained as a gunsmith and the company sold their own brand of shotguns right into the 1930s. William and his brother John James (JJ) were engineers and designing and maintaining machinery was in their blood, so they more or less couldn’t help trying out new ideas in the Guide, a tradition which found its way into the company’s DNA and accounts for why Hardy’s have started so many new trends over the 140 years of the firm’s existence.
The trouble with being an engineer and an inventor is that once you get an idea in your head, it is difficult to stop yourself making one and seeing if it works. So besides selling rifles, pistols and shotguns, Hardy’s sold a slew of gadgets which varied from complete strokes of genius through to the sort of stuff that even they found hard to explain away. Take, for example, the mosquito veil the company sold just before the First World War - which was advertised with my one of my favourite catalogue illustrations of all time, featuring a contented angler puffing contentedly on a Meerschaum pipe. Even if you forget the moustache, he looked a complete prat, and I can’t believe that Hardy’s made many sales - they sourced this unlikely looking outfit from a company in Hamburg, and supplies completely dried up after war broke out, which may not have been such a bad thing for the firm’s reputation.
If the mosquito veil was Hardy’s silliest gadget, their most sensible one was their line of Sportsmen’s Pocket Flasks that were advertised in the Guide between 1914 and 1951. These were understandably popular and if the company ever starts making them again, I will be first in line for one, there being nothing better than a shot of Sloe Gin on a cold winter’s morning, not to mention a warm summer’s evening. Actually, whenever.
The classic Hardy gadget of all time has to be the Curate. This was a early multi-tool and after launching it in 1910, it featured in the Angler’s Guide right up to the Second World War. The original ad describes the device as a “combined oil bottle, stiletto, tweezers, disgorger, gut cutter priest and match striker”, which is going some in a piece of machined metal only six inches long. I guess the name came from the fact that it was a small priest, but apart from the danger of tipping oil down your sleeve every time you needed the stiletto to poke out the eye of a hook, the curious thing was that Hardy continued to mill the handle so it could be used to strike matches long after safety matches were ubiquitous. Anyway, even if there was some technical overshoot here, the Curate was a big seller and it is such a classic piece of Hardy kit that it has become highly collectible these days.
One of the most memorable Hardy gadgets just has to be the “third arm”, which the firm sold from 1951 to 1962. Just in case anyone thinks that the firm got into bondage in the fifties, this device was advertised for use by disabled anglers - the page in the Guide showed a fisherman who had lost an arm looking very comfortable - but this doesn’t explain the monicker and the only time I ever saw one use was by a salmon fisherman on the Spey. That man very definitely had two arms and he was using that amazing combination of straps and brackets as the name suggests, a third arm.
Did you know that Hardy’s sold harpoons? For whales? These first showed up in the Guide in the late 1920s and featured in the Big Game supplement for many years afterwards; I have never so much as heard of anyone with a set, but they must be just about the ultimate Hardy collectible and they would make a great talking point up on the wall of the hut at Broadlands.
You could write pages on this stuff and Keith Harwood, David Stanley and I have in our new book, but before I sign off, I can’t resist telling you about one more gadget. When John James Hardy retired, he was inclined to make a nuisance of himself telling his nephew Laurence Robert Hardy how to run the company and I suspect that Laurence saw a golden opportunity to keep his uncle quiet - and so the Hardy’s Anglers’ Pipe project was born. J.J. had never married and so his sister Emma, who looked after him, had to put up with endless experiments at getting the thing to work just right. Even then, J.J. wouldn’t consent to its launch without a pamphlet explaining the intricacies of the design. Was it good enough to sell? Yeah, I think you could say so: the firm introduced the pipe in 1929 and they only discontinued it half a century later. That’s what founding a company on sound engineering principles does for you.
If you want to learn more about Hardy gear, read our new book, Gear & Gadgets, which is available from the Medlar Press and if you want to read more about Hardy reels and would like a primer on the subject, try David Stanley's The Hardy Book of the Reel. You can visit Hardys' website by clicking here.