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16' J.R. Robertson found at a local auction recently...

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by rushton, Apr 17, 2011.

  1. rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    At an antique auction in Rhode Island last week I saw this wonderful Robertson sitting in the parking lot, and it was the first item to be sold. In looking at it closely, I saw that it had my name on it, so I bought it and brought it home to add to the other canoes I haven't restored yet. It is in very good condition, with no broken ribs, planking, or gunwales. It appears to have its original interior finish, and its original canvas. The gray paint is over what appears to be a light green hull, with a maroon stripe down the sides, edged with yellow or gold pinstriping.

    In searching the archives, I see that not much is known about the Robertson chronology, as related to the numbers on the stems. This canoe has closed gunwales, so is fairly early. I would certainly appreciate more information, or referrals to m.b. postings that I may have missed. Thank you.
     

    Attached Files:

  2. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Four more pictures...

    In order to determine the exact placement of the trim stripe along the gunwales, I'd like to strip off the gray paint covering that area of the hull, at least in places, and record it, prior to stripping the canvas. Can anyone here suggest a method of doing that that wouldn't eradicate the original paint beneath? In an ideal world, there would be a miracle stripper that would remove the newer paint (which isn't that new, really) and leave the original paint untouched. But, I know we don't live in that ideal world.
     

    Attached Files:

  3. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    R,

    Can you mark where the strip is with say "magic marker" and simply take a series of pics with the scale along side to show the distance?

    Other than that, I'd try rubbing the desired areas with a rag with your choice of solvent, I'd probably try mineral spirts, followed by lacuer(sp) thinner followed by xylene (sp), rubbing lightly with each one, to see what happens. I wouldn't soak the rag, just wet it and go slow.

    Dan
     
  4. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Well, I'll need to get into it at least at the ends, to see how it is terminated, whether it stays the same distance away from the gunwales, etc., so a few sample areas a couple of feet apart should tell the tale. Thanks for the solvent suggestions- I do that sort of thing with antique clocks that I restore, going very slowly and carefully, in order to save existing finishes.
     
  5. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    Try sanding lightly? Wet sanding might be better? Just throwing out ideas -- I'm no expert.
     
  6. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Serial No...

    Not much is known for sure about Robertson serial numbers. You canoe looks like an early Roberson (No. 302?), some speculate the middle no. 35 is the beam, and the last number 16 is the length.

    There are probably other theories too.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks. I'll check tomorrow to see if the middle number is related in any way to the beam. I'll measure the length too, but I suspect that I am assuming it is 16' long due to my experience with O.T. serial mumbers, which are suceeded by length numbers. One thing I haven't been able to find anywhere (again, I may have missed it) is the dates that Robertson operated in Auburndale- are they known? From my reading over the years, I have deduced that closed gunwale canoes are generally earlier than 1912-15... is that correct?
     
  8. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Closed gunwales remained in use until around 1920 by most builders.

    We know quite a bit about Robertson's canoe building activities. Robertson set up shop in Auburndale in 1885, following the dissolution of the partnership Holmes and Robertson which was located in Lawrence, Mass. In 1902, Robertson became a partner in the newly formed Indian Old Town Canoe Company, which changed its name to Robertson & Old Town Canoe Company until it Robertson left in early 1903. From that point on, his factory operated in Auburndale until it closed in 1938.

    This just scratches the surface...
    Dan
     
  9. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Wonderful, thanks very much, Dan. This is just what I was looking for, and probably missed, when going through the archived postings.

    I just measured the beam of the canoe, and it is 32" to the outsides of the rails. There is quite a bit of tumblehome, so it is difficult to measure the overall width of the hull without giant calipers. Measuring the widest part inside shows about 33.5"... add a bit for the thickness of the planks and canvas and filler, and it will still be shy of the 35" that the number on the stem might indicate, so that relationship seems tenuous at best. The canoe is just over 16' long, which correlates to the Old Town style "16" on the stem.
     
  10. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Canoe color, decorative stripe pattern...

    With a little Strypeeze I was able to get through the battleship gray overpaint to have a look at the underlying original paint. It was difficult to isolate the layers of paint, in part because of the heavy checking in the gray layer. Nonetheless, I think there is enough exposed to get a good set of measurements and color scans. The hull is a beautiful deep maroon or burgundy color, with a green stripe, edged in yellow pinstripes, traveling the perimeter. Outside of that stripe is another yellow pinstripe. I'll have to do some more archeologizing to figure out where the stripe ends up on the side of the canoe- I presume just above the waterline, but I'll find out.

    I know that original Old town canoe colors have pretty much been determined and formulated for currently available paints- is that true with Robertson canoes also? That would be too easy, wouldn't it? I'd love to hear from anyone who has done some research on Robertson colors.

    Fitz, you've mentioned in another post colors you've gleaned from a catalogue- "Rich Tuscan Red", and "New Haven Green". are there samples of these colors published anywhere?

    I'd love to have a canoe that was painted Rich Tuscan Red. All the neighbors would be envious.
     

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  11. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Trim stripe detail at keel...

    This looks familiar, and makes sense. The trim stripe and associated pinstripes dive into the keel a couple of feet back from the stems.
     

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  12. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Paint

    rushton:

    I think I got the Rich Tuscan Red and New Haven Green color names from a description in a Robertson Catalog. The catalog was printed in black and white, so no examples of the colors were shown. I think this same catalog is included in the Historic Canoe Catalog CD available on this website.

    I would ask Kirby Paint in New Bedford, MA. They have been around since the dawn of time and may have even supplied some canoe builders with paint. Get George Kirby IV on the phone and tell him you need Rich Tuscan Red (he won't even need a chip) and I bet you will be very happy.

    http://www.kirbypaint.com/

    This is from an undated Robertson Catalog in the Newton Library:

    Catalogue Details: "The Robertson Model"
    - 15 footer 32 in. beam 11 in. depth 50 to 55 lbs. "The Robertson Long Deck Models" - 16 footer 32 in. beam 11 3/4 in. deep. 58 to 68
    lbs. Decks 30 to 36 inches long. Stock Colors - Rich Tuscan Red, and
    New Haven Greens. Bronze or gold leaf stripes. Birds Eye Maple, Birch,
    Mahogany seats, thwarts and decks. Decks: Short 18 in., Med. 30 in.
    Long 32 to 36 in. Extra Long 48 in. Grade A: Cedar/spruce, Birds eye or
    mahog. trim copper fastenings Grade B: Maple seats, thwarts and decks.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2011
  13. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    The image of the Old Town design number ten at http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/old-town/designs/design10.gif shows that this was a popular style of stripe. The New Haven Green was probably based on the New Haven Railroad although they used several different shades over the years. The "N. H. Green" shown on the Old Town chart discussed at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?&p=39528 probably represented the version of this color used on the Old Town canoes of the same era. I don't know of anyone who has researched Robertson colors so feel free to be the first. Let us know what you find.

    Benson
     
  14. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Benson, we have an old time hardware store here in Wakefield, RI, that is a long time Benjamin Moore dealer, and they have a color matching scanning computer, and a feller who has operated it for ten years or more- they have matched colors for me on some house restoration work I've done over the years, and the result is very good. That might be a place to start. I'll post whatever I come up with. These colors are exceptionally rich- sort of like the colors we see on old machinery and tower clock movements, just full of pigment and life, unlike most modern paints in the era of silver and gray and beige automobiles. These colors bring to mind wonderful old Ford colors like Washington blue and Meadow green, colors that they stuck with for a decade or more from the thirties into the forties.
     
  15. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks for the wonderful reference to the Kirby company! I restore antique clocks, and the Nye Oil Co. is still in business in Fairhaven (now called Nye Lubricants), adjacent to New Bedford- they started in whale oil a few years ago, and are still at it with modern synthetics that I use every day. We should do whatever we can to help these old companies hang on- Shaw & Tenney is another good example.
     
  16. ken.kelly

    ken.kelly LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Irene

    rushton:
    Congratulations on finding such a great canoe. Look forward to seeing it after you have finished.
    I'm not expert, but have experience trying to remove overpaint from a few courting canoes. My best results have been from wet sanding. I use 400 grit to control it the best. Attached is on before and after and another still in progress.
    Good luck with this great restoration project.
     

    Attached Files:

  17. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Hi Ken, thanks. I've stumbled into several great canoes over the last fifteen years or so, including a 1928 O.T. Yankee that I restored, later took down the St. John river (2005), a 1912 Carleton, that I have sold to a fellow in Louisiana (three years ago now, he keeps threatening to pick it up), a B.N. Morris in great shape, needing recovering (posted elsewhere on this M.B.), and a Rushton Nessmuk in original condition that I found at a yard sale here in RI. It has local provenance, and was used as a drag for a trapper in the early twentieth century on local streams. It came with three skinning boards and a couple of leg-hold traps. Another interesting and early canoe showed up at a local antique auction- no maker's name, but probably a Maine canoe, it features gunwales extending past the stems, birchbark canoe style, and it has no seats, only thwarts (I've also posted pictures of that one). This one and the Rushton are artifacts to be kept as they are, as artifacts of a bygone time. This Robertson, on the other hand, is well worth restoring. Now that I have precise locations of stripes and colors, I can strip the canvas off and have it recovered. I'm not sure what to do with the interior finish, which is original. As a long time collector of antique clocks, I am loath to do anything much with the finish, so as to preserve its originality. There will come a day when none of these boats have original interior finish, except those in museums. I have a 1973 BMW motorcycle that I restored in 2006 (bought used in 1979) and I've left the original Monza blue paint on the tank and fenders, despite the fact that it is somewhat oxidized, based on this same theory- as soon as paint get into a marginal condition, it is replaced in the name of improvement or restoration.
     
  18. ken.kelly

    ken.kelly LOVES Wooden Canoes

    serial number

    rushton, Fitz, Dan and all,
    I've had a couple Robertson with a 'middle' set of numbers. On the Green and Yellow in the first photo below the middle digits matched the year the original owner said they purchased the canoe from the Robertson factory. It did not match any dimension on the canoe. I've only seen middle numbers of 32, 33, 34 and 35. Know this isn't conclusive by any stretch, but I am thinking it is the production year indicator and that Robertson probably started doing this in 1932 and stopped in 1935. Similar to how Penn Yan added 'year' numbers to their serial identification 20 years into their manufacturing and then stopped after about 10 years of doing it.
    I think Robertson was an exceptional builder and didn't stop making closed gunnels as others did around 1920, but kept this 'premium' feature throughout production into 1938. We know of a couple open-gunnel Robertson canoes, but very few. Seems like too few if 18 years worth of short deck Robertson canoes were open gunnel.

    Attached below are photos of Robertson 304 35 16. IRENE appears to be almost the identical canoe and has a similar paint scheme that was not painted over. She is in nice enough original condition I don't intend to restore her....at least not till a few others are done. I think she is 1935 vintage.
    Thanks for considering my experience and thinking.
    Ken
     

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  19. OP
    OP
    rushton

    rushton Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Irene, Irene! Please don't restore Irene. What a specimen. Huddie Ledbetter sang about this canoe in "Goodnight Irene". Ken Kesey plagiarized a line from this song for the title of his novel, "Sometimes A Great Notion", which prominently features a river. Ledbetter's famous line is "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown".

    Your serial numbering scheme theory is intriguing and counter-intuitive, but obviously has merit. Part of the appeal of Robertsons and Morrises is the ambiguity of their numbering systems, and the various theories to try to date them. A holdover of closed gunwales would certainly upset my closed mindset regarding same, i.e. they are early.
     
  20. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Interestingly, your proposed start and stop dates for these numbers correspond with important events at J.R. Robertson, Inc. ... Charles Bertram Robertson (J.R.'s nephew) was President of J.R.R, Inc. He died December 1931. J.R. Robertson himself died in 1935. Presumably Arnold Laskey ran the company from 1935 (or earlier) until 1940. He is listed as GM at least by 1938.

    Dan
     

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