This early four-color Charles F. Orvis trade card from the 1880s is one of the rarest examples of American fly fishing advertising from before the turn of the century. The Orvis Company was one of the first to sell rods, reels, and flies via a printed catalog, giving birth to the fly fishing mail order industry from its offices in Manchester, Vermont.
The trade card is the only four-color example known and sold for over $2,000 in the Spring 2009 Langs Auction. The card is 4.5 inches by 2.75 inches in size and features a gut-eyed fly. It was printed by Milton Bradley & Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts.
The graphic appeal and quality of the lithograph printing underline the importance that good design and merchandising played in retailing the first fly fishing tackle to a growing national clientele. This card may have been used as a dealer promotion as well.
Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.