Serial Number Enigma


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have a a Robinson Old Town Canoe (I think) Serial #1635 and am trying to find out more information as to where it was made and where it was sent. I have contacted Old Town for the build sheet, but they couldn't find anything on this number. I was told that some records were destroyed in a fire in the early days. The reason I believe it is an early Robinson Old Town is because it has the early old town deck shape. Any information that you can provide (serial number, etc) would be greatly appreciated.
You may mean "Robertson" as opposed to "Robinson", and you may have a canoe made by the J.R. Robertson company as opposed to Old Town. Robertson and Old Town did have an apparently short-lived business intersection, but Robertson was quite active in his own shop and livery in Auburndale, MA. If you could post or email some photos of canoe details, such as decks, thwarts, serial number style, shape of stems, any features of planking pattern, etc., these would go a long way to identifying your canoe.

By the way, Old Town numbers surely go down into the thousands (as opposed to the tens or hundreds of thousands), but I have yet to see any Charles River-area canoe with other than a 3- or 4-digit serial number. As an example, I am currently restoring a #1218- this is Robertson or some other Charles River-area builder; it surely ain't an Old Town.

I have never heard of a Robinson and Old Town Canoe Company and suspect that you mean a Robertson and Old Town canoe as Michael mentioned. Does your canoe have a decal, stamp, invoice, or other physical evidence (other than the deck shape) to document the manufacturer? The Old Town Canoe Company records have a large gap between numbers 1617 and 2097 so there is no serial number record to confirm the manufacturer of your canoe. Their repair records and the Carleton records also lack any reference to this serial number.

Old Town Canoe has had many fires over the years but I am not aware of one that ever destroyed any records. None of the current records (or their wooden boxes) have any signs of smoke damage, scorching, or burn marks. This fire story is commonly used by Old Town employees who have grown tired of difficult history questions that can't be easily answered.

It is not known if the Indian Old Town or the Robertson and Old Town Canoe companies that preceeded the current Old Town Canoe Company numbered their canoes or if they restarted the sequence of serial numbers when the name of the company changed. It is also not clear how many canoe manufacturers used the early Old Town deck shape.

Can you tell us anything more about your canoe?

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"Bignambadaddy" sent some photos of what is a very interesting canoe. If he sees this, maybe he can post some of them. Otherwise, I will email him and ask if it is okay to post photos. Bottom line- the canoe certainly has some Old Town-like features, but also has some features that are interestingly different from most Old Towns (like many of us, I presume, I have seen few very early Old Town canoes, so it's hard to know their diagnistic features).

This canoe has very wide sheer planks and very wide deck ends, but (though wide) an Old Town-style deck cutout. Ribs are tapered which, in my experience, is unlike most Charles River-area canoes. This is a closed gunwale canoe and the inwales extend beyond the stems. The planking pattern seems much more Old Town-like than Charles River area-like. The only completely odd thing that I could see were the thwarts. They are traditional thwarts (not wide as in courting canoes), but they don't have a smooth curve on the edges- the curve of the edge meets the top flat at a sharp angle. Do any of these features ring a bell?

You might find the article "The World's Fastest Canoe" of interest for the history of Robertson Canoe and Old Town. See Issue 109, February 2002 -- the article is available on-line At the Wooden Canoe Journal part of the WCHA site.
Photos of canoe

Here are a few photos that I'm posting for "bignambadaddy". Note the deck cutout shape, wide sheer planking, and (maybe) Charles River-area builder type junction of stem/wales/planking. Other than Old Town, Wickett's Penobscot Canoe Co. comes to mind, but I am unaware if he made closed gunwale canoes, and the only Pecaco decks I've seen were just like Old Town. Thoughts?


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The Penobscot Canoe Company offered canoes with closed gunwales as shown in the attachment below from their 1917 catalog. They had a very distinctive deck as described at so it would be worth looking under the deck or rail caps to see where the inside gunwales end.

The deck image that has been posted previously appears to show the Pecaco style. The enlargement attached below may show an inside rail that ends just past the rail cap nail in the top of this image.



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Yes, Pecaco decks are unique, similar only to St. Louis Meramec with deck-wale scarfs in opposite directions (St. Louis also founded, later, by Wickett). But those Pecaco and St. Louis catalogs can be confusing. In the 1917 and 1920 Pecaco catalogs (see, all the photos of canoes on the water show courting canoes. This was always confusing. I wondered if Pecaco simply added pretty pictures to their catalog regardless of whether the canoes were theirs. This is likely true- one of the same photos from these catalogs turns up in the 1925 St. Louis Meramec catalog (see attached). Apparently these fine people were lazily enjoying the Meramec River- which flows out of the Missouri Ozarks toward St. Louis and the Mississippi- long before Wickett ever moved to Missouri! To be fair, Pecaco did offer long decks (see page 19 from the 1917 catalog below), so perhaps they made some courting canoes.

No matter what, the features of the canoe in question together with the on-water catalog photos suggest that there may have been some connection between Wickett and the Boston market (maybe via Robertson?). Perhaps Wicket was "courting" the Charles River market, but that alone cannot explain details like the planking being let into the gunwales and stems- no one would ever see such a detail. On the other side of the coin re this particular canoe, note one feature more typical of Maine than Boston- tapered ribs. Most of the Charles River-area canoe makers (Robertson, Waltham, Nutting, Arnold, for example) did not taper ribs, but rather left them full width to the gunwale.

Re open vs. closed gunwales: cuts of decks showing the Pecaco arrowhead always show open gunwale, so I naively assumed that they only made open gunwales (and the ones I have seen were open gunwale). But...reading on... the catalog in several places makes reference to open gunwales costing extra (see page 11 from the 1917 catalog below) except in the Notacrack model which was open gunwale only. This was around that transition time when other builders were offering open gunwales at higher prices.


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Robertson details.


After looking over this thread, I went back and looked the Robertson I'm working on over.

The Robertson does have some wide sheer planks, (also some narrower ones - the bow is planked slightly differently than the stern). The Robertson ribs are tapered. The Robertson stem meets the underside of the inwales like Old Town.

My gut feeling was the thwarts on the mystery canoe looked more like an old Old Town courting canoe that I have - the ribs are also not tapered on my old Old Town.

There are more pictures of the Robertson here.

Also it looked to me like the mystery canoe is question has a lot of space between ribs.

Neat canoe. Thanks for Posting!


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