Closed gunwale canoe I.D. help needed!


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
Hello all,

I recently aquired this closed gunwale canoe, and need help in identifying it. It is just about 14' long, and the stems overhang the ends by about 2" (or at least they once did... one end is a bit shortened by rot.). The metal stem bands are let into the keel at bow and stern so that they are flush. A distinctive feature that may aid in identifying it is the rib pattern... very close together in the middle where one would kneel to paddle, then gradually further apart towards each end. There were never seats, and it was obviously built as a solo canoe. Any help from the grizzled oldtimers will be greatly appreciated.

This is my first post to this forum, though I have been following it for a while now. In addition to this canoe, I have a Rushton Nessmuk in original condition, a 1928 Old Town Yankee that I restored in 1996 and took down the St. John River in Maine last year, and a 1912 Carleton that I have yet to restore.

Thanks for all the wonderful replies! In response to comments and questions, I offer the following: The planking appears to be butt jointed, but very tight... no perceptible space between planks, as there is here and there in my Old Town. Most of the planking is straight, but two or three on each side are tapered at the ends, right down to a point. There is one set of ribs up under the decks at each end. The ribs are not tapered, but full thickness right up into notches in the inwales. A couple of people have mentioned a perceived bow to the thwarts, but that is not the case... they are straight, thin in the middle and flaring out towards both gunwales. I think there is a "ladder against a wall' optical illusion in the pictures causing the thwarts to look curved. The thwarts are bolted up through the inwales, with the bolt heads covered by the gunwale cap.

If anyone would like any more detailed pictures, I would be happy to send them along.

Thanks again for the enthusiastic response. If only it were more conclusive!


Thank you,

Peter Nunes

Rhode Island


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This is an interesting canoe, but it beats me who built it. The fact that it has gunwales extending past the stems suggests that it is an older model- maybe late 1800s or very early 1900s. The thwarts, being curved, look like those in canoes made by C.P. Nutting & Co. (Waltham, MA) and by F. Brodbeck (Boston). The chamfer of the stem is also reminiscent of that group of makers. But the use of iron fastenings seems odd for any American production builder (and there are a heck of a lot of fasteners in those rail caps!). The irregularity of the rib spacing is also odd- not only do the ribs get farther apart in the ends of the canoe, but the spacing is haphazard even in the center of the canoe. Another odd feature is the fact that iron fasteners were put all the way through the inside stem- from the inside. Not much help, I know, but it's fun to mull this over.:confused:


The thwarts look a lot like the Old Gerrish that has been talked about on this site. Are there any ribs way up under the decks?

Just guessing. Neat boat.
John- I thought the same thing too, when I first saw these photos. But the thwarts here are not mortised into the gunwales, and they have a different shape. The decks on the Old Gerrish are heart-shaped, and the gunwales do not extend past the stems. Some other Gerrish canoes have curved deck cutouts, but are capped by a small coaming- not the case here. Plus, the manner of attaching the rail caps is different, the ribs in the Old Gerrish are evenly spaced, and if I remember correctly, it has wider planking than the narrow material here. Hmmm...

I meant to say the first time- the other thing this immediately reminded me of was E.M. White:
- fairly open ends... but here there are NO ribs vs. one set end the ends of an E.M. White)
- taper of thwart thickness... thinned to ends (oh, and they're not curved like I originally stated, so NOT like Nutting)
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In general form it certainly suggests the maker is still evolving toward a production method. Its not a Gerrish deck and Gerrish seems to have struck and stuck with that heart shaped deck formvery early. But the deck itself is slight enough, and the tips so pinched and concave that they do look like the old gerrish in that regard. Also the uneven rib spacing and more ribs in the middle suggest a maker who is still tinkering with method. Also no seats suggests very early.

It looks like a very round bottomed canoe too.

How much you think original? The canvas for example?


Yes, I agree about the White. It is not much to go on, but I have a White with a similar deck and stem profile. Also it looks to me in the picture the stem band may be White - like. Also - doesn't it look like the planking is very tight - if not bevelled?

If I get a chance I'll post a photo of the White deck for what it's worth.



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I have done a few one-offs and I suspect this is not a production model as well. The ribs at the end are widely spaced--a temptation as a one off, but not in production models where there is little reason to not put those extra short ribs in; the ribs look to be varying slightly in thickness; but most important the ribs seem too consistently round to have come off a form or bending mold; the lack of a uniform spacing for wood expansion in the planking would also fit this explanation; the gunnel has a simple curve as if there was one wide central form or spreader. A commercial builder would likely hide his iron fastenings. Just another 2 cents (or less) worth.
This is a neat canoe! It looks to me like it has a Maine origin, but I don't know who. The hull shape, the gunwales extending beyond the stems, the arched thwarts, its overall appearance, are all characters that appear in Maine-built canoes. I suspect it is an early one, probably pre-1900. The spacing of the ribs I believe is an attempt to save weight, while maintaining strength where it is important. Not a bad idea in my mind!

Michael, Gerrish built canoes with the thwarts morticed, with the thwarts bolted under, and in combination, so that feature alone can't be used to distinguish Gerrish-built canoes.

Peter, can you please elaborate on this comment: "the lack of a uniform spacing for wood expansion in the planking"? A sign of a well-crafted canvas canoe is tight planking. Gaps between the planks, in those canoes that have them, are usually the result of shrinkage over time, but they would not have been built that way...
Also re planking and age, one of the features of the old Gerrish is the planking. It was very unsystematic and the goring of planks was not used. For example, because goring was not used, planking stopped considerably short of the inwales at the ends, leaving the canvas visable from the inside.

It sure is an interesting canoe you acquired and very likely quite an old one.
It would aid in identification and be interesting to know the following;:)
- Are the rib-ends feathered in thickness where they are attached to the
gunnels or are they full thickness?
- Are the planking edges beveled?
- And if the canoe was built on a building form without the aid of metal bands, the tacks would have been clinched by hand and if so the tack tips likely are bent in the same direction.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop
In reply to the tight planking. If you dry store and day use your steam bent rib and wood planking (plus canvas) canoe then tight planking is a aestheitic benefit. But after 5 to 10 days in the wet the wood expansion of the planking becomes an issue, I guess it comes down to how you want to use it. The commercial canoes that I have used for tripping and the 2 commercial ones I now have where made with this in mind, The 9 others (9 to 23 ft) I have built (have 4 daughters and the workshop got lots of use during the evenings and years they were teenagers) When I started building I skimped on the bow ribs on the thought that it would keep the weight down and they wern't that important; but they do stabilize the planking at the bow and it is what you look at when paddling. I made the same false economy at the start. I did make lots of mistakes (the books by Jerry Stelmock were not out yet) and I thought I might have spotted a few of the same ones.
As to saving weight; 30-40% of the wieght of a standard commercial canvas canoe is in the canvas, and useing a different fabric saves that, plus the dacron does not wick up water the same way in the wet. My 18ft chestnut I restored went from 85 lbs to 49lbs with a dacron fabric. A change my back is more and more appreciative of.