One of the true American fly fishing treasures is a finely engraved bamboo fly rod made by Samuel Philippe’s son, Solon Philippe. Solon’s father Samuel is considered by many to be the first maker of a complete split bamboo fly rod in the 1840s.
No complete rod by the father Samuel Philippe has ever been found after the only one known was lost in the infamous Fraunces Tavern terrorist bombing and fire at the famous Anglers’ Club in New York City in 1975.
The Solon Philippe presentation rod and reel now sit in the Museum of the State of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The rod was made in 1870 as an homage to his father. It includes a beautifully ornate carved grip and elaborate sterling silver engraved ferrules, rod seat, and butt. The outfit also features a finely machined silver fly reel with mother-of-pearl side plates.
The design of the side plates holds an interesting story. It appears that Solon Philippe was asked to crack the safe of a local bank when it was locked improperly by mistake. When Solon requested a significant fee for this specialized work, the bank initially refused.
After a few days of reflection, the bank manager returned to Philippe’s shop to offer him the sum he had asked for. It is said that Philippe then enshrined the pattern from the bank vault’s door on the side of the reel as a tribute to his skill in opening the safe.
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.