More info and advice on a Robertson Courting Canoe


New Member
Hi all,

I am new to these forums as I came across them researching an old canoe I recently inherited from my grandfather. It appears to be a J.R. Robertson courting canoe, which was probably bought new by my grandfather or his father sometime in the early 1900's. My grandfather used it frequently until he got married to my grandmother in the 30's, after which it hung in the garage untouched until I took it a few months ago.

I have many questions about the history and approximate age of the canoe, and I'm looking for some advice as to the care I should take of it. It appears to be it pretty good shape, all original with the original varnish, etc., but I have no idea if it's still watertight or what.

So, to my questions:

1. What is the best way to clean it? It has a layer of dust on the side that was facing the ceiling on the outside, as well as some on the inside. I would normally just use a damp rag, but I'm concerned I might damage it in some way.

2. Is it possible that it's still usable after all these years being out of the water? Or would I be risking ruining it if I even try? It looks like the varnish is old

3. It's all original, so is it better to leave it as it is, or should I consider restoring it? I would like to use it on occasion if possible, but if restoring it would reduce it's value significantly I rather not.

4. I don't have a huge house, but I do have a garage with high ceilings. I plan on hanging the canoe using a hoist and pulley system ( Any advice as to the best way to hang it while avoiding damage?

5. Any ideas as to the year it was built or history of that particular design? I'm gathering that there isn't a lot of documentation on these old Robertsons. I guess I'm also interested in the approximate value, as I'm not sure if I should insure it or not.

Anyway, thats it for now! Any help you guys can give me is greatly appreciated. I've included pics I took when I first picked it up, but it's currently stored a couple hundred miles away, so I'll need to wait until I get it in a week or two to take more pics. The last one is my grandfather (in his early 20's I think) using the canoe....

IMG_1219.jpgIMG_1217.jpgIMG_1224.jpgIMG_1220.jpgIMG_1222.jpgYoung Bernard Fritz and Family with Canoe-2.jpg
Congratulations, it looks like a wonderful canoe. Cleaning it with a damp rag is fine and should do no harm. There is little risk to a water test and it may not leak significantly. The restoration and insurance choices are really personal ones. Most people here like to use their canoes so restoration is the only option once the canvas starts deteriorate significantly. The information at covers the valuation question in some depth, including an insurance appraisal example. I hang canoes upside down in my garage as shown at and which seems to work fine. There are no known Robertson serial number records available so a build date or other information is not available. Several of his catalogs are available at which may help identify yours. Good luck with your decisions and feel free to respond here if you have other questions,

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Thanks Benson, I did see the thread on valuation, but I wasn't sure where on the spectrum this canoe falls. It seems like it's somewhat rare, although I have seen one on ebay (in a restored condition), as well as a few in these forums....I assume it's worth more if it's fully restored?

How can I tell what condition the canvas is in? It's no longer shiny/glossy, so I'm assuming that means the original coating (was it varnish?) has degraded. Is it possible to apply the coating without replacing the whole canvas if it otherwise appears in good condition?

If I put it in water and it leaks, will it just dry out and be ok, or will the wood warp or crack? Do I need to condition the wood at all? I read somewhere it needs to be somewhat supple, and I'm concerned the years out of the water will have dried it out a lot. The interior seems to be in nice condition, so I really don't want to risk damage in any way ;)

Thanks again for the info, very helpful!
An original Robertson like yours with a tag, long decks, and an interesting paint design will fall on the upper end of the price spectrum. Fully restored canoes are usually worth more but the costs of restoration typically exceed the increase in valuation. It is best to do nothing if a financial return is your primary objective.

A primary function of the canvas is to keep the inside dry so the best test is to put it in the water and watch for any big leaks. A short test is not going to cause any new damage and no special advance conditioning of the wood or canvas is necessary. Adding new paint and varnish will often stop small leaks and these are common maintenance tasks. All woods regularly warp and crack over time, especially during the wet/dry cycles that accompany the typical use of a canoe. Replacing any badly warped and cracked components is a common part of most restorations. Good luck,

Beautiful canoe-- and what a joy that it is a family canoe and you have that wonderful old picture. Thanks for sharing here.
Wash it and use it as-is. Keep it stored inside preferably where it can get air flow at least until it dries. If the canvas has started to rot it will appear to be pulling away from the rails and have deep cracks in the filler (not to be confused with surface cracks in the paint). If you can see canvas peeking through and the canoe leaks significantly then the canvas is probably shot. Age is only part of the equation, how it was stored is more important. Unless the canvas is obviously worn out don't mess with it! It's very unusual to find a long deck courting canoe in that condition and based on the old photo it's probably original! Use it carefully and store it properly - it needs to be paddled! Get a kneeling pad to put in the bottom, prop your butt against the wide thwart, lean her over a bit toward the paddle and go. The experience is unlike any other canoe if you have the knees to go for a while. A backrest or canoe seat in the bow for your significant other (seated facing you while you do all the work) completes the rig. The fittings around the cockpit are for canopy bows and also original to the boat but the canopy hardware rarely survives.

If you start using it a lot you might consider repainting the original paint scheme and a fresh coat of varnish or two. Unless the varnish is badly deteriorated don't strip the old finish because it will take all the age, character, patina - whatever you want to call it - out of the boat. Marine enamel and marine spar varnish, no poly for the old girl.