More Morris Madness... serial numbers

Michael Grace

Lifetime Member
A lot has been discussed lately (again) about dating B.N. Morris canoes based upon serial numbers. Here is a summary of years of discussion along with some additional thoughts:

The issue of dating Morris canoes is far from solved, and I predict that (unfortunately) it never will be without actual sales receipts or some other records from the long-ago burned Morris factory. It was originally thought (guessed?) that Morris serial numbers included the last two digits of the year of manufacture as the first two digits of the serial number. Almost as fast as this theory was published, it was retracted (see Wooden Canoe numbers 21, 22 and 27). Jeff and Jill Dean then developed a modified theory of dating Morris canoes, but even that is far from proven. It is unclear why either of these theories is still held to be accurate. It has also been suggested that the last two digits represent the last two digits of the year built, but clearly this is not the case- existing serial numbers ending in 60s, 70s and 80s, for example, were certainly not built by Morris.

Compounding the confusion was the recent discovery of Morris records among Old Town’s files. See information compiled by Benson Gray at:

At least some of these were canoes that were partially built by Morris, but completed at the Old Town factory after the Morris factory burned. Serial numbers on these canoes range from 69 to 17263. During 1921 and 1922, the Morris canoes shipped by Old Town had serial numbers from the 14,000s to the 17,000s. If it is assumed that these serial numbers were assigned by Morris and these canoes were partially built in the Morris factory, then they would have been shipped by Morris in 1920 or later (if the catastophic fire had not occurred). Therefore, these canoes all have serial numbers in which the first two digits neither match the year of shipment, nor correlate with the year of shipment in any predictable way. It seems apparent that at least by the late teens, serial numbers had little to do with year of manufacture/shipment. Thus, there can be no way to accurately predict when a canoe was built if, for example, both numbers 12002 and 17263 were still in the factory in 1920.

Other canoes in this 25 record set have 5-digit serial numbers as high as 16252, 4 digit serial numbers as low as 1866, and even one serial number of 69. This lowest numbered canoe was shipped in 1949, which indicates that either (1) Old Town (and Morris, for that matter) held on to some Morris canoes for many years before completing them, or (2) some of the Old Town Morris canoes were built starting after the Morris fire (but why would Old Town assign them a particular serial number more in the Morris- not Old Town- range, especially one like “69”?).

Morris also collaborated with Kennebec after the fire (this has been discussed at length by Dan Miller), and it is possible that some of the canoes surviving the fire ended up in the Kennebec factory. If so, it is completely unknown when or if these were shipped or with what serial numbers.

Finally, it is unclear whether Morris always used serial numbers; in fact, I would argue that he did not. I personally have two Morris canoes (both with Morris decals) that lack serial numbers. There is no plate on either canoe, either on the stem or inwale, and there is no evidence that one ever existed (no escutcheon pin holes). Both of these canoes have little stem recurve (stems are almost plumb), and this shape has been attributed to earlier Morris canoes; canoes with more recurve in the stems are thought by some to be from later years.

Thus while it is unclear when Morris began using serial numbers, it is likely that his earliest canoes are un-numbered, and that the serial numbers of numbered canoes do not correspond in any predictable way with year of production.
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Well put Michael.

Morris also collaborated with Kennebec after the fire (this has been discussed at length by Dan Miller), and it is possible that some of the canoes surviving the fire ended up in the Kennebec factory. If so, it is completely unknown when or if these were shipped or with what serial numbers.

To elaboarate on this point a little, there are two aspects to the Kennebec relationship.

We know that there was some relationship between Morris and Kennebec, as a fair number of hulls are around that were built in Morris but have Kennebec tags or decals and Kennebec serial numbers. These canoes match the specs as recorded in the Kennebec ledger, but no mention is made of the fact that the canoes originated elsewhere.

In addition, there are 291 entries in the Kennebec ledgers for Morris model A and Model B canoes built in 1924 and 1925. These are numbered between 50,000 and 50,289 (one was not assigned a number). Presumably the Morris molds survived the fire as well as the canoes that ended up at Old Town, and Kennebec used them for a brief period. Benson has also found another mention of the Morris molds in Kennebec papers that further supports the idea that they survived.

A little trivia for a Sunday morning...
Nice addition, Dan. But a question-

When I said that "it is completely unknown when or if these were shipped or with what serial numbers", I was referring to canoes that may have been assigned serial numbers by Morris. I would think that most of any such serial numbers would have been in the 16,000 - 18,000 range given the set of canoes that were completed by Old Town (and these numbers fit with what we know of Morris serial numbers from the late teens). Thus, I have always thought that the set of Morris/Kennebec canoes with serial numbers in the 50,000s represent serial numbers assigned by Kennebec, not by Morris. Would you agree?

As Alice said, "It just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser..."

I recall reading in an early back-issue of "Wooden Canoe" that someone had a Morris with the original paperwork. I'll look for that article again, and cross my fingers that the canoe's owner is still a WCHA member or is otherwise find-able.

I have many questions about the fire that burned the factory, beginning with one about the actual date of the fire. Denis found a newspaper article dating from the first week of January, 1920, stating that the Veazie town council had met and decided not to tax Bert Morris if he rebuilt his factory... which leads me to wonder if the factory was already gone by 1920.

Sorry, I read that too quickly... However, I'm not aware of any specific collaboration between Morris and Kennebec after the fire. Did I really write that somewhere? I understand that after the fire, Morris worked for Old Town for a while. In an interview with Jerry Stelmock by the Northwest Chapter, Jerry indicates that some of Morris' employees went to Old Town and some to Kennebec following the fire. It would not surprise me that Morris did collaborate with them - especially since it is clear he was supplying Kennebec with hulls even in the early teens, and that the molds apparently went to Kennebec by 1924. If any Morris canoes that survived the fire were finished by Kennebec, they are not, to the best of my knowledge, documented in their ledgers, so we may not be able to differentiate between these and pre-fire canoes. I would be surprised if a Morris is assigned a number as high as 18000...

Yes, the Morrises in the 50,000s would be Kennebec assigned numbers, and I would expect them to have Kennebec tags or decals. To my knowledge, none of these have materialized yet. I, for one, would love to see what they are like...

BTW, the "anomolous" Morris canoes in the Kennebec records are canoes that were sent to Old Town for repairs by their owners, not fire survivors. Old Town kept track of repairs they made to other makes of canoes, including recording builder and serial number if present.

Kathryn - the couple references I have to the fire put it in January 1920. The meeting offering tax exemption took place January 7, so it could easily have been on one of the 6 days prior. If it was indeed arson, as we are told, arsonists tend to pick significant days - like perhaps New Years? (Pure speculation). Newspaper archives are rapidly becoming more accessible, so it should be possible to confirm the date of the fire.
Dan, Following the purchase of our first Morris I started to do some research. Surprisingly there is almost no mention of the fire in any of the local papers - other than the meeting to offer a tax break if the factory was rebuilt as before. There were 75 people working there before the fire. That must have made the Morris factory a major [if not the major] employer in the town. The closest town to Veazie that had a newspaper is Bangor and according to the woman I communicated with, the above mentioned article is the only one she found.
As I said I'm going out to Maine in September and hope to do some research.
If anyone has any suggestions of what I should try to find and want to share them I would be happy to try to find the information.
Peace, Denis
Something I forgot to mention in my last post. If we can get all or most of the WCHA menbers to give somebody the information on their Morrises, we might be lucky and find someone else that has provable provance. All it take is co-operation and that seems to be a hallmark of WCHA members.
Denis :)
Here are some photos of the latest Morris find. This one has no serial number, and no evidence of a tag either on gunwale or stem (no holes where tag would have been attached, and canoe appears to be original and sat without use for at least the past 50 years). It does have a Morris decal, however. Interestingly, the keel is attached at every other rib. Top two planks are 5 1/2" wide or more; all other planking is 3 3/4". Stem band is riveted, and all else seems typical Morris.


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Michael-- Gorgeous pictures, gorgeous boat! A wonderful find. I put your pictures in our "historical archives". We need to talk more about our Morrises at Assembly.

I've purchased five canoes through eBay, and it's always interesting to discover exactly what it is I bought-- condition-wise, I mean. The surprises, for me, have been positive so far.

I'll be there- looking forward to meeting you. I'm going to Gravenhurst, ON first, so will be have a couple of Canadian all-wood canoes with me at the Assembly. There should be a number of Morris canoes at the Assembly. I'll bring photos of another Morris we have down here- an unusual one with some nice features I've never seen elsewhere.

Denis and I will be stopping at the Canadian Canoe Museum on our way to Assembly.

We'll be canoeless... our only fully restored boat has already seen the assembly, so she'll remain at home. But I'll bring pictures of the rest of the fleet. I'm thinking the 12 foot Morris we bought from Dave McDaniel might be unusual, simply because of its size.

Hi Michael,

How many cant ribs does your new Morris have?

I have one with the "key hole" decks that has only two cant ribs. The seats, twarts and decks are maple and I think this is an older Morris.

All other Morris canoes I've seen have three.

I crashed a computer and need to have the pics taken off the old hard drive, so pics may come later.

This also reminds me that I need to write an article about my Morris letters and such from the 1890's.

Happy Birthday USA,

Hi Paul,

I'm literally on the road to Ontario now, but the new Morris has 3 rib stations in each end exclusive of the rib where the stem ends in the floor. Two of these are cant ribs for sure, the one nearest the final one at the stem end is likely a full rib; I restored one like this many years ago and I believe that there were only two pairs of cant ribs.

I've got pics of your "keyhole" Morris somewhere, but not with me on this trip.

The article on the Morris letters would be much appreciated! Get to writing!



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Additional data

Kathryn & Denis (and anyone else following the saga!)
I looked at 2 Morris's today and took a few measurements & photos

Morris # 1 - No tag or stamped number - age unknown
Length - tip to tip 16'4"
Length - Stem to stem 17' (which means 4" curve to tip on each end)
Width - Est 33" (Has missing center thwart and broken rails, so I estimated the fair curve)
Depth - 12" top of rails to top of planking.

It had a full length bang plate. Stem band is riveted.

Description of Morris #2 in next post...


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Morris #2

This one has some background - and a nice restoration. All original except wales and seats.

Morris # 2 - tag number 14121 - EST Date 1926 (was given new to my friends father for his 16th birthday in 1926) Was sold at Abercromie & Fitch in NYC - Still has the tag. NOTE: Deck is not heart shaped, but supposed to be original. A&F model? Has original floor rack. Stem band is no longer riveted due to canvas replacement job.

Length - tip to tip 16'2"
Length - Stem to stem 17' (which means 5" curve to tip on each end) Notice the slight profile difference in these two boats.
Width - Est 32" at center thwart
Depth - 12-1/4" top of rails to top of planking.
Ribs 2-1/4 wide taper to 1" - spaced about 1-3/4"

Let me know if you need other measurements. Hope these help in your persuit of truth.


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EST Date 1926 (was given new to my friends father for his 16th birthday in 1926)

And therein lies an example of why oral histories need to be taken with a certain level of skepticism....

NOTE: Deck is not heart shaped, but supposed to be original. A&F model?

Yep, its original. It's not nearly as common as the heart-shaped deck, but seen regularly. It is shown on the Tuscarora model in the 1919 catalog, which leads some folks to think a canoe with this canoe is a Tuscarora. That is usually not the case. This style deck is also pictured as a replacement part in 1917 and 1919 catalogs (heart-shaped are not shown - could that be meaningful?).

There is a third deck style, which Paul has dubbed the "keyhole" style deck. Seen enough to be believed to also be original, but much more rare.
True - that why I said EST(imated) date of 1926. I have no doubt that the gentleman turned 16 in 1926, but whether the canoe was new from new stock or new, but holdover stock at AF at that time (possibly post fire?), or a used boat, we can't tell.

Sure is pretty though!
Hello from the road...

Thanks for the pictures and information, Mike. I'll file it when we get home... I needed to check the board, and figured the hotel computer would be available at this time of the night!

Re the deck on your restored Morris: This is another example of what we can learn/clarify if a lot of folks make information on their boats available. The Gerrish we just picked up has a deck similar to this non-heart Morris. I can't help wondering how many different styles he experimented with.

Anyway.... hello from a hotel in Peterborough!

Michael Grace: “Both of these canoes (2 canoes without serial numbers) have little stem recurve (stems are almost plumb [by which I think you mean flat]), and this shape has been attributed to earlier Morris canoes; canoes with more recurve in the stems are thought by some to be from later years.”

Well, I just acquired a Morris canoe in almost mint original condition. I have not determined what model it is, yet, but it has strongly recurved ends, closed gunwales (suggesting earlier manufacture I think), short decks with a simple curve (rounded cutout), and the serial number is 1424, which I think is low. If numbers were given to canoes in sequential order, i.e. the order they were finished, that should make this an early example... and it has strongly recurved gunwales.

I have never seen very many Morris canoes, but I saw a photo of a bunch of them, in profile on a beach at a WCHA meet, and the curve on my canoe is at least as strong as on any of those canoes, most of which were much flatter...

Could I have an early “Special Indian?”
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