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Unknown maker canoe backrests

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by Michael Grace, Mar 23, 2020.

  1. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    I have a few unusual (to me) backrests and I'd like to know who made them. They could be one-offs from good home woodworkers, but they are crafted so well that they may be from commercial builders. I wonder if anyone out there has seen anything like them before. The first one shown here is made of a single piece of spruce or similar, backed up by two horizontal braces of oak or ash. It is 18.5" tall by 11.5" wide, and is curved laterally - concave front and convex behind. No hint of a maker's label. Any ideas?

    Grace backrest 1 front.jpg Grace backrest 1 rear.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Here's the second one. It is made of something a wood that looks like maybe chestnut(?). It is 10" wide x 18" high, a simple one-piece board that appears to have been steam-bent so that it's concave side-to-side on the front. This one appears to have the ghost of a decal on the back, and the shape and size look like Peterborough. There were once (before I got it) rectangular hinges attached to the back, so this is probably the top half of a folding seat. The hole at the top appears to have been drilled by a previous owner for hanging. I thought I remembered something like this from an old Peterborough catalog, but I can't seem to find it again.

    Grace backrest 2 front.jpg Grace backrest 2 rear.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Backrest #3

    Okay, here's the third one. Alternating strips of spruce/mahogany supported by white oak cross pieces. 18.5" tall x 14" wide.

    Grace backrest 3 front.jpg Grace backrest 3 rear.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2020
  4. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Are you just dribbling these out one day at a time to keep us entertained during our self isolation? Oh and I have no idea whatsoever but I like the idea of making the curved single board back rest.
     
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Hi Craig,

    Actually I did think of that (dribbling them out for entartainment's sake) after simply wanting to start a fun conversation during these isolation days. But the truth is that I just didnn't have photos of them, and so I just stop work whenever I think about it and dig another one out. I've got only two other unknowns; I'll try to get some pics of them tomorrow.
     
  6. Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    I wish everyone would do so, even if its just to show your shop, tools, projects, collections (not you Michael it would shut down the whole internet trying to up load your collection):D even if it was posted a while ago post it again. It sure helps pass the time. I plan to start stripping my PennYan Carry tomorrow and I'll post some stuff.
    Norm
     
  7. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Well, a quick look at Dan's Decals and Deckplates summary at http://dragonflycanoe.com/decals indicates a broad variety of oval decal possibilities. I've also been through many canoe company catalogs from both North America but haven't yet seen any backrests similar to these. The Boat Novelty Company one at https://adirondack.pastperfectonline.com/library/19A50C1E-198A-4EEC-9D0D-467435339501 seemed promising but showed nothing close. Backrests are frequently listed in canoe catalogs but not always pictured so it may be difficult to confirm a match. These were typically made from scrap so the dimensions, woods, and styles of construction varied tremendously. Sorry,

    Benson
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2020
  8. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Here is one made by the late Ralph Kohn of flame birch. Traded him for a custom knife.
     

    Attached Files:

    Norm Hein likes this.
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Thank you for your thoughts, Benson. I figured this would be a tough one for the reasons you mention, but hope springs eternal. I'll post the last two now. And Rob, that Ralph Kohn folding chair is very pretty. The wood is stunning! And still missing Ralph. He was a great guy.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2020
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Backrest #4

    This one is probably my favorite of the lot. It's both simple and elegant. 19.5" tall x 12.75" wide. Flat panels of butternut (?) held together by oak back slats.

    Grace backrest 4 front.jpg Grace backrest 4 back.jpg
     
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Backrest #5

    This one is a slat-type backrest like those used by several other companies, but distinctly different in shape. The material may be birch. It's very light in color and weight It is 19.25" high x 25" wide. The "ears" at the top left and right are slightly chipped off; I think the original shape would have been a smoother curve there.

    Grace backrest 5 front.jpg Grace backrest 5 back.jpg
     
  12. Norm Hein

    Norm Hein Canoe Codger

    So Michael, These are backrests that a for sitting in the bottom of the canoe leaning back on the seat rail or thwart, correct?
     
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    Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Yes, Norm, for leaning against a thwart. At least that's what I think, but some of these could have been made for purposes other than serving as canoe backrests. The backrests I see most commonly here in the US are the wide slat-type backrests from Old Town, but a variety of types are shown in catalogs of different makers and some canoe manufacturers offered more than one type (Morris, Kennebec and Willits attached here to show some similarities and some of the variety; most are wood, some caned, and Willits switched from wooden slat-type backrest to a flexible upholstered backrest). Many canoe companies may have farmed out some of this work, bought from outside suppliers, and/or provided their own products to other companies. Plus there were aftermarket suppliers and many canoe owners made their own accessories. So it can be hard to know for sure where accessories like these came from, particularly when they are a type we've never seen before.

    Looking forward to seeing photos of your Penn Yan under restoration!

    Morris_page-28.gif Kennebec_1920_page-28.gif Willits_1954_page-15.jpg
     

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