Kennebec and Old Town model reference

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
I offered to send Roger Young a copy of the Kennebec model records and thought that others might enjoy seeing this information as well. The four largest Kennebec pages with model information are attached below. These original Kennebec records are reproduced through the courtesy of the Maine State Museum.

A record for a four foot long Old Town model canoe without a serial number is also attached from the box of repair records for comparison.

I understood that a railroad boxcar typically held about 40 canoes and that one four foot long Old Town model was given to the dealer for ordering a full boxcar. Two boxcars would get either two foor foot models or one eight foot long model. The information at indicates that a typical modern boxcar has an interior that is just over fifty feet long by nine feet wide by ten feet feet tall with a nine foot tall door. This implies that you could probably arrange about nine packed canoes on the floor and stack them about five high before you couldn't fit any more through the door. This works out to 45 canoes which sounds about right. The last image shows that boxcars were smaller in 1949 and I understand that they were typically only about 32 feet long in the early 1900s. Can anyone provide more specific information about the sizes of railroad boxcars in the early 1900s and how many canoes would typically fill them? Thanks,



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Some more Kennebec model information pages are attached below. These original Kennebec records are reproduced through the courtesy of the Maine State Museum.

Three records for eight foot long Old Town model canoes with serial numbers are also attached for comparison.



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Thank you immensely for these postings. As you are aware, being a collector of miniature canoes, including display models or 'salesman samples', I have long been curious as to just how many may have been produced over the years by the various manufacturers. Certainly, in my personal experience, the practice of making display canoes seems to have been more prevalent in the US than in Canada, with Old Town and Kennebec leading the way. But that may just be an inaccurate surmise on my part, based simply upon what I have observed over a 15 to 20-year period. One tries to keep abreast of 'goings on', but I certainly have not seen them all, nor am I aware of all.

I think you are right about the railway boxcars; they were much smaller years ago. I also think your suggestion of roughly 40 full-size canoes making a boxcar load is more accurate than the figure of 60 I had heard elsewhere (and sometimes wrongly referred to, myself). Let's settle on 40 as being the more probable and reliable.

The fun part of this 'guessing game' exercise then lies in trying to estimate how many display models Old Town may have made over the years? Even if only a small portion of Old Town's full-size canoe production went to make up boxcar loads for delivery to large outfitters and retailers, this would suggest the possibility of several hundred display models (4' and 8") having been produced. Even so, whenever they appear at auction these days, they are treated as a rare commodity, and command high prices (as much as $16-$18,000 in several recent sales). Those 'give-away' display pieces of 80 or 90 years ago now sell for ten times what that original boxcar load of 40 canoes cost.

The Kennebec pages are equally interesting, as well as intriguing. Of the 9 or 10 Kennebec models I have seen, I can't recall any (maybe just one) that had a visible serial #. Yet, it is clear that Kennebec did assign #'s to them, at least for production record purposes. If I have read the above records correctly, Kennebec's pages show 7 "small" canoes being made in 1916, all started by Mansell or Maxwell (?). Other pages show twenty "5' Miniatures" being made between Jan. 1922 and Jan. 1924, with a further 30 made in Jan. 1926. Can one assume that Kennebec must have made still others in those additional years it was in production? Kennebec models are also regarded as rare when they come up for sale, although they have not quite fetched the same high prices as Old Town. At least, not yet!

Although Kennebec uses the terms "small" and "5' miniature" in its records, I can advise anyone interested that the Kennebec models I have personally seen have measured in three different lengths: 63", 66" and 69". As Alice said: 'It gets curiouser and curiouser!"

Thanks, again, for making this available. I'm always happy to share thoughts and any info I may have with others at WCHA should there be those who wish same.

Tried to post yesterday, but it wouldn't let me..

If you go to, and look for boxcars, you'll find a few from the early 20th century. They measure ~41 to 44feet long. Height is given only as overall height, including the wheel assemblies. Width hasn't changed much for many years...
Dan Miller created an extensive Excel spreadsheet many years ago showing a summary of each Kennebec serial number record. The sheet attached below shows that he found a total of 60 models listed. His exhaustive effort also indicates that Kennebec produced a grand total of 28,396 canoes and boats which works out to about 473 units per model. This means that if Kennebec created models for the same reasons as Old Town and shipped the same percentage of their canoes to large dealers then there were probably over 270 Old Town models created based on the roughly 128,000 serial numbers that Old Town issued before 1940.

There are also several Old Town records for sign canoes which include models and one eighteen foot example with lettering upside down to advertise the name of the dealer as shown below.



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Kennebec models

Benson, Roger and Dan thanks for the info. Its nice to know a little bit about the model that I own. Thanks for all of the hard work. Zack Smith
Another interesting extrapolation of the Kennebec canoe to model percentage could be applied to the Carleton Canoe Company. Carleton was purchased by Old Town in March of 1910 and produced about 13,030 canoes and boats as shown at over the next few decades. This means that if Carleton also created models for the same reasons as Old Town and shipped the same percentage of their canoes to large dealers as Kennebec did then there were probably over 28 Carleton models created.

There are also some interesting old images from the factory showing how one of the models was used as a toy in 1912. These images and the comments on the back are attached below.



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I'm not certain that I'm that good with numbers, or even with logic, necessarily, but perhaps there is another way to 'attack' the matter of the 'numbers game'.

We know that Kennebec made 28,396 full-size canoes; we also know that 60 serial #'s were assigned to models. Old Town gave away one model for each boxcar load of 40 canoes ordered. Assuming Kennebec shipped models in the same proportionate number and for similar sales reasons as Old Town, this could suggest that Kennebec shipped about 2400 (40 x 60) big canoes to large retailers, or about 8% of its total production. Gut feeling tells me that could seem low, but, then, I don't know the 'ins and outs' of canoe making or sales.

If Old Town and Carleton shipped even 10% of total production of big canoes to large outfitters, and given that it took 40 to earn a model, this could also suggest, I believe, that Old Town might have made only (128,000 x 10% = 12800 divided again by 40) = 320 models. And Carleton would be at 1308 divided by 40 = 33 models. Perhaps we have wound up at about the same spot.

I love the historic photos of the young boy in the canoe model. Priceless.
Roger Young said:
Perhaps we have wound up at about the same spot.

I agree, these are only estimates so anything in the same order of magnitude is probably as accurate as can be expected.

Here's a quick up-date, albeit still incomplete, on the numbers of Old Town 'display' models produced (for those who care about such things) in comparison to other manufacturers of the day. Those following the discussion above will know that Kennebec appears to have produced some 60 'miniature' or 'small' canoes between 1916 and 1926. It is speculated that Carleton may have made about 30 (but that is 'guesswork' on our part).

I have just completed a visual 'crawl' through the individual Old Town build records between serial #'s 30,000 and 90,000, covering the period roughly from January 1914 to the end of 1925. (I'm still working on the balance). So far, I have come across about 80 small canoes, described as either 'display' or 'sign' canoes. About half of these are of the 4' dimension; the balance vary (and I found this surprising) from 8', to 10' and even 12'. Until now, I did not know that Old Town made a 10' 'display' model, or that it shipped some of it's 12' canoes described as 'display' items. There are several of each, so it seems more than mere coincidence.

When finished, I hope to have a spread sheet with comprehensive details. My system is based upon a rapid visual scan, clicking through the files one at a time, but sometimes viewing as many as two, three or four files a second. Eyes do grow weary at times, and the mind gets numb (often my situation anyway), so I may have missed some. There could be a few more.

Interesting tid-bits jump out when doing a search like this. For instance, I found 4 kayaks, built between 1924 and 1925: three 10 footers (ser. #'s 82096, 87669 and 87666) along with a 12', # 85104. I found a 16' torpedo, #61768. There could be others; these just jumped off the pages. I found several Carleton model canoes built with Old Town serial #'s. And, for those keen on knowing more about dinghy production, I found roughly 450 9' dinghies built in this period, along with 375, or so, 11-1/2' dinghies. There were also about a dozen 10' dinghies, and a handful of 7-1/2' and 8' styles.

As these roughly 60,000 records flashed by, I could not help but form some impressions from the repetitive words being seen. I was surprised at the number of 25' and 34' War canoes, along with the seemingly quite common 'square stern' models. More, perhaps, than I would have expected when starting out. What were the most common styles of canoe seen? I'd have to say "HW", "CR", "Ideal", "Otca", with some "Guide", "Livery", "50#" and "Special" trailing them, and a sprinkling of "Yankee" and others. But, that's only an overall impression; I did not keep track of the numbers; it was all I could do to get what I did.

More to follow.

Anyone wishing to add comments or thoughts to this 'project' is most welcome to join in.
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Thank you for this; it is appreciated. I noticed it on your store website just a day or so ago. I recall seeing something similar (perhaps the same piece?) about a dozen or so years ago at a Lang's fishing tackle sale in Boxboro, MA, one summer. At least, I believe it was there. Very intriguing side profile in canoe form, long and very narrow, with almost vertical sides, and covered.

I have a question for you: I'm a bit puzzled by what I am finding in the OT build records. I'm not finished checking all the records yet, but the earliest of the OT sample canoes I have seen were of the 8' length (or 10' and 12') and they are always called 'display' on the build records. I have found them back as far as 1914. The 4' pieces begin about 1922, and for several years they are always referred to as 'display' models. Around about 1925/26 this changes, with two 4' models first being referred to as 'samples', and then the next ten or so 4' pieces being described as 'sign canoes'. What does one make of this change, if anything?

I have never seen a 4' Old Town sign similar to your 14' piece; i.e., narrow and with vertical sides. Actual sign canoes like yours are, as I understand it, quite rare. Looking at the build records, there doesn't seem to be much difference in description of the canoe model's contents, whether it is called 'display' or 'sign'. Just wondering from your broad experience whether you have any insight to add?

I may have missed seeing your 14' piece in the OT records. Because I was concentrating on looking for 8' and 4' lengths, coupled with the word 'display' or similar, I may have missed seeing a record of your sign canoe. I don't claim to have an absolutely accurate count; there is plenty of room for error, given human eyesight limitations, and the fact that a number of the OT build records are simply illegible or did not reproduce well with the equipment being used to record them. The objective is to get something of fairly reliable handle on the overall numbers of 'samples' or 'display' items that were made.

Thanks for anything you can add.

Did you notice the per cent of canoes with keels? I reviewed the records request forum here once and extrapolated that Old Town put keels on over 90% but I cannot say there was any statistical accuracy to my review.

I wasn't particularly looking for that info, nor really paying much attention to other than 'display' models. It seemed to me that many of the display pieces were fitted with keels. I will be revisiting those #s again. As to full-size canoes, I simply don't know because I didn't focus on that part of the build records.

I've noticed that most of the old companies put keels on their canoes unless specifically asked not to do so by the buyer. Looking at the Old Town catalogs, they offer omitting the keel on the Guide and 50-pounder as an option, but the cost of the canoe is the same with or without.

As some will know, I'm presently searching the OT build records trying to build a data base on OT 'display' or 'salesman sample' type canoes. The research to date has uncovered some interesting info. Some of this is posted on another thread in the 'Research & History' ('rarest' OT canoes) section, but I thought I'd re-post it here for those specifically interested in 'models', lest it go overlooked. I'm looking for info and help from others.

I have found a reference to an 11' 'special sign' canoe by OT, made back in 1915. There are many references in the build records to 4' 'sign canoes', and at least one reference to an 8' 'sign canoe'. There are a number of 10' or 12' items described as being 'display' pieces, and I suspect several other 9' items fall into that same category.

I find this a bit puzzling. I always knew there were 4' and 8' 'display' canoes made by OT. All this leads one to believe that the smaller advertising pieces did not just come in two lengths - 4' and 8' - but in at least six different lengths: 4', 8', 9', 10', 11' and 12'.

I also wonder about the terminology: "display" and "sign". Was this just a choice of description made by the tradesman concerned in the building, or is it descriptive of a real difference, in ALL cases? Sign canoes I have seen were of a very narrow, deep "V" construction. One that I once saw up close was also covered as well as being very narrow; obviously intended to be hung outside as an advertising piece. I recall a couple of auctions where such items were offered.

On the other hand, 'display' canoes in the 4' and 8' lengths are generally just smaller versions of the full-size - width proportionate to length. Any 'sign' canoes, at least as I know them, are a very different animal. What does one make of the fact that at least a dozen of the OT 4' canoes are designated on the build cards as 'sign' canoes, while another 30 or so are described as 'display' canoes? I have seen 12 or 15 Old Town 4' display models turn up at auction over the years, but never one which I thought fit the description of 'sign' canoe.

So, I'm hoping that others of far greater familiarity and experience in OT history can shed light on this.
Just to wrap up the comparative "numbers search" info that has been found on 'salesman sample' or 'display'-type canoes made by the early US makers, here's a review of what is now known (to date).

Thanks to previous research by Dan Miller, we know of some 60 "small" or "5' miniature" canoes having been made by Kennebec - ten being built 1916, and another 50 between 1922-26. Just in passing, I should note that any of the actual Kennebecs I have seen (personally, or in auction catalogs) have measured 63", 66" or 69".

The Carleton build records have now been reviewed and found to contain serial #'s issued to 11 models, six of which are referred to as 4', and five of which are described as being 8' in length. There is one further 4' Carleton model, painted and lettered as such, which was actually built under an Old Town serial #. However, it is felt best that it be included, here, as a 'Carleton', bringing that overall total to 12. The earliest date reference to a Carleton model was 1911, and the last found was 1926, with all but two being made between 1922 and 1926. Here, again, I would note that three Carleton models of which I know each measures 42" long. I am given to understand there is a 42" canoe form in the possession of OT.

A review of Old Town build records and repair documents discloses work was done on an 8' canoe in 1911, with another 8' "sign canoe" being shipped in March 1912. Records were reviewed from the beginning right up until #177999 (1967). The last reference found to a display model dated to 1936 (no serial # given), while the last known production model appears to have been shipped in 1931. Given a span of 31 to 36 years, respectively, with no obvious references to any further "sample" or "display" models, I decided at that point (178000) to discontinue looking. This leaves the last 43,000 records unchecked.

What can be quickly stated is that, prior to 1922, Old Town shipped 'display' canoes in four different sizes: 8', 10', 11' and 12'. In 1922, OT began making 4' models, concentrating on that length and, to a lesser extent, on 8' as well, up until 1926. In that short period, OT made at least 34 of the shorter models and at least twelve of the 8'ers. I say "at least" because I found serial #'s for that many; it is possible that I could have missed (overlooked) some, but I believe they would not be many. Overall, records were found for some 81 (revised 9/4/09) Old Town display-type pieces: thirty-five 4' models; thirty-five 8' models; seven 10' models; one 11' model and three 12' models, most of which are described in the OT (1906-36) records as being, "sample", "display" or "sign" canoes. My thanks to Benson Gray for double-checking some build records of which I was uncertain, as well as for guiding and assisting with my research.

It can also be said that, for the most part, these display pieces were 'high' quality. After 1916, OT made only AA grade displays, whereas it was more common to find CS grade prior to that. Carleton seems to have made predominantly AA grade models. The typical OT 4' and 8' AA models from the 1920's were planked with western red cedar, had open mahogany gunwales with mahogany decks, thwarts and seats. Some had floor racks. While green and red were predominant colors, there often were other paint choices made, some with fancy border stripes, many with gold lettering.

This would seem to suggest that these companies may have produced their "display" pieces in a competitive sales or advertising environment, mainly in the mid-to-late teens, and again in the early-to-mid-'20's, of the last century.

Anyone with further info or thoughts on the matter is welcome to contribute.
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I just found the reference in the attached image below to “sign canoes” in what appears to be the 1905 inventory of the Old Town Canoe Company. It looks like they had three at that time: two “sign canoes small 1 good 1 poor” for $3 and one “sign canoe I. O. T. C. Co.” which may have been from the Indian Old Town Canoe Company.



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It is so cool that you can go through that information and find these wonderful little tidbits. It must be very satisfying :D