B. N. Morris Dating

Paul Scheuer

LOVES Wooden Canoes
In reading my recently acquired copy of The Morris Canoe, I see that there have been many updates in the Morris dating game since 1989. Thank you Katheryn.

Soon after I got the boat I sent the info that I had to Jeff and Jill Dean. At that time we were reasonably convinced that I had a Morris, based on that info, no Serial Number and a comment from the seller that his grandfather had told him that the builder's factory had burned in 1920.

I now believe that I have a B.N. Morris Molitor from Belle Isle.
The seller's grandfather lived in Northern Ohio, near Detroit.
I have 36 inch fwd deck, 24 inch aft,
Three cant ribs,
Mahogany trim, "D" outwales
SN plate holes (fore n aft) on the aft splayed stem (no holes in the fwd stem).
And it sure looks like all of the pics I've seen so far.

I have two questions, for now -
First. The open gunwale construction is different than the open gunwale shown in the 1908 catalog. The sheer planks are not tapered. They are full thickness up to about 3/16 in from the top, and the outwale has a lip covering the top of the planking. Is that a date clue ?

Second. Are there any records from Molitor that might indicate when the canoe was sold to the previous owner's grandfather? I have the previous owner's name and assume his was a paternal grandfather.

Pics attached. (maybe)


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Hi Paul--

Thanks for this information-- I've added your canoe to the database!

Unfortunately, there are no records from C.J. Molitor's livery. I worked pretty hard, trying to get as much information on Molitor as I could... even traced his ancestry, hoping to find a living relative I could contact. Apparently he only had one child, a son, who didn't marry and who pre-deceased him (C.J. Molitor lived into his mid-90s).

There's no way to know for certain whether your canoe was actually part of Molitor's livery or if the original owner ordered it from the Morris factory (perhaps after seeing one on Belle Isle) or if your canoe was part of another livery on Belle Isle. It IS "a Molitor" however--- since "we" (old canoe folk) refer to a canoe with a 36 inch bow deck and 24 inch stern deck as a Molitor, because of C.J. and the fact that Old Town's original (1920s era) canoes with 36/24 decks were designated as Molitors on their build records. Because your canoe was found in close proximity to Detroit, it's a fair bet that it may have been part of a Belle Isle livery though-- and it likely was paddled there: it was THE place west of the Charles River to show off a pretty canoe!

If I had to place a date on your canoe, it would be "between 1916-1920", because of the presence of "special ends" (those torpedo stems) and because of the open gunwales. The open gunwales are a puzzle, as the known Morris canoes of C.J. Molitor's livery (which are few in number) had closed gunwales and the canoes he ordered from Old Town after the Morris factory fire also had closed wales. This suggests that maybe some other livery owned your canoe-- or someone who admired the canoes of C.J.'s livery and wanted the same but with open wales. Or maybe C.J.'s livery had both open and closed and yours is the only one that has turned up. Later Old Town Molitors of the 1920s had open wales and a Molitor C.J. ordered from Old Town after he closed his livery had open wales.

Note that your canoe has one of the short, curved decks used as a support for the longer deck. That curved deck was the standard short deck (replacing the heart) in the latter years of Morris production.

Morris Molitors are "rare"... whether used on Belle Isle or not. Four are in the database and with yours there are five known to exist. They look pretty spectacular-- especially when tricked-out with a fancy design.

I look forward to seeing more of your canoe!

Forgot to reply to your question: "The open gunwale construction is different than the open gunwale shown in the 1908 catalog. The sheer planks are not tapered. They are full thickness up to about 3/16 in from the top, and the outwale has a lip covering the top of the planking. Is that a date clue?"

I can't say for certain what the differences are between the early Morris open wale canoes and the later ones... this is partly because there aren't many open wale Morrises around... and partly because to my knowledge, you are the first to bring this question up. Maybe someone who has worked on a pre-1910 open gunwale Morris can offer some insight.

The reference to the open gunwale construction in 1908 Morris catalog is the illustration on page 83 of the Morris book. Most of the tops of the sheer planks were toast, but there was enough to convince me that the only way the outwale would fit was to have normal thickness planks. That illustration may be intended to show the structure near the stems, where the planking does feather out, where the outwale tapers to about 1/2 inch.

Some additional info:
There were no builder's decals.
I regret that I didn't keep at least a photo of the two paper stickers that were on the inside of the hull to starboard in front of the rear seat. I remember them as being local permits from someplace in Ohio. One was red the other yellow.
What was left of the canvas was painted solid red.
There were no DNR stickers or numbers.
There are holes for pennant mount in both decks, frames and battens.
There were no pennant sockets, but there were mounting holes.
Deck mounting was done with ferrous nails, leaving much patina, which I was not able to bleach out.
The aft 24 inch batten was broken at the hole.
Outer stems and bands were missing.
The keel was attached with a single screw through each rib.
The boat came with two back rests, one mahogany, the other cedar (?). Fastened with flat head clench tacks.
There were two paddles included in the deal.

For the record, I registered the boat with Illinois DNR as IL 4381 HD. in 1989 and kept the registration current. I don't plan to attach the sticker or numbers.

I don't seem to be able to post attachments in a quick reply. Is that the rule ?


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Yes, you have to "go advanced" to attach images.

The Belle Isle Morris Molitor that Denis Kallery and I owned (which is now owned by Dave Westerman and was present at the assembly this past July-- "Moon Mist") is no. 15768, c.1917. We bought it off eBay from a woman in lower Michigan whose Grandpa had purchased it from a Belle Isle livery and had used it as a fishing boat. (It was fiberglassed and painted "bug squish green".)

I've had a problem wrapping my brain around those Morris wale-drawings... I do "get it", but it took me a while. That may be "just me", as I'm someone who is somewhat directionally challenged, who finds it TOTALLY AMAZING that people have been able to map areas of this planet without heading up in an airplane or spacecraft. So, congratulations for seeing something in your canoe that is different from that open wale drawing. We learn from each other in this place! I continue to learn those things that I should be looking at with Morris canoes... or asking people about. This is how we may be able to hone the dating of Morris canoes.... by seeing something that might make a small difference, that suggests something new. There's currently a discussion of planking patterns in canoes by the various builders that I find interesting too... as Morris canoes have a specific pattern and it would be interesting to see if, and how, this has changed over time.

Your canoe probably had outside stems and diamond-shaped pennant holders.

If you post pictures of the backrests, I can tell if they're Morris or not. The ones I've seen have been mahogany and also maple.

MorrisCanoe07s.jpgThanks for the posting tip.
The backrests are not where I can get to them, but they haven't changed since being acquired and photographed.
I mentioned two paddles. There were actually four. I've re-finished two.
There were outside stems. I can see the rivet holes, which I don't think they would have been used with stem bands only.

I did re-cane the seats, pic attached.

I have the one picture of the red and yellow paper stickers that came off with the old varnish.


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Update to the coaming repair effort.
After reaching a stopping point on the forward deck coaming sub-project, on to the aft coaming.
The aft coaming had a similar break, with the grain across the top of the arch (pic 30). The curve of the aft coaming for the 24 inch deck is tighter. The first interesting observation was that there had been what looked to me to be a hasty effort to correct the break by light sanding and a coat of paint. The second was that the coaming had been mounted in a higher position with the top just above the deck level so that the edge of the deck was hidden. In the remounting using the existing screw holes, the screws themselves ended up in the seam between the deck panels and the deck frame. This will be corrected when I mount the coaming. In the attached pic, with the deck panels removed, you can see the screws (Pic 10).

The repair plan was to again laminate, but I ended up steaming the last lamination after breaking the first attempt to dry fit it.

My stopping point is a close-but-not-final shaping, with enough wood left for final fitting (Pics 34,35,33).


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Not to get off topic, BUT, I saw in a previous post that you mentioned Morris paddles. Are they the ones on the left in the photo? The reason I ask is that I have a Morris that came with paddles from the previous owner and they look just like the ones in the photo. Did Morris make paddles and did they send them with each canoe and is there a way to determine if they are "Morris" paddles ??
Morris did make paddles, but it's unknown whether they were originally marked with a decal, as the paddles made by some of their contemporaries were. My feeling is that if a Morris came with paddles that appear to be the same vintage as the canoe, they could be Morris paddles. I'd love for one to show up with a decal or other identification! I believe Morris initially sent paddles along with their canoes (back in the 1890s) but charged separately for them, for most of the time they were in business. It seems they were made in-house, and not jobbed-out. I'll poke through the catalogs and post pictures... I still owe a reply re the backrests Paul posted.
Posting images from the 1916 Morris catalog (from the catalog collection available through the WCHA Store) showing Morris paddles and backrests. These images appear again and again in the catalogs and aren't for 1916 alone.



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There were actually four paddles included in the acquisition. I have refinished them, and didn't see any identification markings at that time.
One has a very heavy dark stain that looks like mahogany, but the wood does not appear to be that from the grain that I can see. The dark brown looks like the same color as the canoe trim.
The other three are lighter colored made of a wood that I have not identified. One of these is quite a bit larger than any normal modern paddle that I have seen or used.
I'll get some better pictures.

Neither of the backrests that I have match up exactly with the Morris catalog drawings. Both appear to have been repaired. The dark one has different length and width slats. I'll take a closer look so how many sets of nail holes are present. The light one has at least one odd slat. If these were in livery service, I can imagine that they were likely to get damaged and repaired.
More on Paddles.
The paddles relating to my B.N. Morris acquisition that I have are shown in the attached pics. I'll post more info in following posts identifying paddle 1,2 etc as shown from left to right in these pics.

Here is the list of basic information:
1. Dark Paddle – 59 ½ inches long. 6 ¼ inch blade width.
2. Light color, Short Paddle (Oak ?)– 59 inches long, 6 3/8 blade width.
3. Less Dark Paddle – 63 ¼ inch, 7 inch blade width.
4. Big Paddle – 66 ½ inches long, 6 7/8 blade width.


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Last edited:
Here is paddle number 1, which I think has the best promise of being a real antique, and possibly Morris.
1. Dark Paddle – 59 ½ inches long. 6 ¼ inch blade width.


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Now that I'm digging into my paddle collection, I see that there is an error in my listing above. I don't seem to be able to edit. There is actually a fifth paddle in the mix. What I showed as paddle 2 above is actually a later acquisition that turned up as refuse in the Boundary Waters where it had been used for fish cleaning. I remember removing the knife marks and refinishing.

What I'll call paddle 5 is the larger than normal unit that I remembered. It is 65-1/2 inched long with a 7-3/4 inch wide blade. It has the same top grip, weight and general blade shape as 4, except wider. Pics will follow.
Jan: I'm working on identification of the wood. I hope to get input on the non-modern shape that these paddles seem to have.

Paul: I'm in Hoffman Estates IL (N.W. Suburb).

Attached are the pics of paddle 5, the "large paddle"


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One problem with figuring out who made a particular paddle and when it was made (unless there's a decal), is that paddles are still made in this classic style... so, we need to go by "patina" and whether it seems about the age of the canoe it came in. Unless it's an old one made of American chestnut (or similar indicator suggesting a time-frame).

The following video was scrolling through facebook today, and shows a paddle much the style of the old ones posted above being made by Shaw & Tenney. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP93CA_Aqbg

Here's a different (but old) style being made with a spoke shave by Graham Warren: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUux8RBdrOY

(I could watch this stuff all day--- mesmerizing!)
Paul, I'm in Gurnee (way north 'burb). We could cross paths relatively easily, though guessing a species could be tough.

Do you think the dark paddle has stain on it, or is that the natural color/patina? Is there any evidence of wear on it, especially on the grip?
I've probably caused enough confusion on this thread. I've gathered more information and measurements on what I now believe to be the actual four paddles that came with the canoe. I'll start a thread on the "Paddles" Forum, later today with what I now have.