The Wood Canoe Identification Guide is being updated - the latest version will be found here: Dragonfly Canoe Works Wood Canoe Identification Guide. As companies are moved to the new version, they will dissapear from this version.
The first things most new owners of a wood & canvas canoe want to know is "who made my canoe?" and "how old is it?" In the best of worlds, there will still be a decal, brass plate, or other means of identifying the maker present on one of the canoe's decks. However, this is the real world, and often a canoe is acquired in some state of disrepair or deterioration, or the maker's mark was obliterated by time or previous refinishing.
An experienced eye can usually pick out the manufacturer of most canoes at a glance, using a combination of distinctive features and the general "gestalt" of the canoe. To the novice, it may simply appear as a bunch of wood that looks like a canoe.
The purpose of these pages is to provide an assemblage of characteristics, backed up with photos of real canoes, that will provide a starting point for identifying the canoe. It won't be exhaustive; that would be impossible. However, we will try to hit on all the key features that should make it possible to identify your canoe. Keep in mind that it may not be ultimately possible to identify the canoe - there were many small operations building wood canoes over the last hundred years, and many of their names have faded with time. The good news is the majority of canoes were built by major manufacturers, and these we can usually figure out.
The window to the left is a listing of manufacturers known to have built wood canoes. The page associated with that builder describes features unique to that builder, a brief history of the company, and other useful information, such as how to date the canoe.
The following a list of some major features to look for that may help you get started with your indentification:
- Serial Number: Many canoe companies stamped a serial number on the canoe. Usually, but not always, the number is stamped on the inboard upper face of the stem. Serial number records survive for some companies (Old Town, Carleton Canoe Co., Kennebec; others used serial numbers for which some information can be gleaned directly (Penn Yan, Peterborough Canoe Co.). If you find a serial number, post it on the WCHA's Serial Number Forum.
- Screws: Presence of square-drive (Robertson) screws usually indicate a canoe of Canadian origin.
- Bolts: Diamond head bolts attaching seats and thwarts are usually indicitive of Old Town or Carleton canoes built after ca. 1920.
- Stem: Most canoes have stems about 7/8" square. If the canoe has "splayed" stems that approach 3" wide at their inboard end, it is probably a Morris, though there is a chance it is a Rhinelander.
- Planking: If the planking appears to run parallel to the keelline when the canoe is viewed from the side, it is probably a Thompson, or Shell Lake. If the planking is full length and tapered, it is probably a Richardson.
A Brief CommercialThose who try to identify many canoes, or who are interested in the history of a particular company, may find one of the CDROMs of canoe catalogs published by Dragonfly Canoe Works useful. Currently 4 are available: one for Old Town® Canoe Co., one for Thompson Bros. Boat. Mfg. Co., one that is comprised of at least 26 different U.S. manufacturers, and one comprised of Canadian manufacturers. See the CDROM Page for more details.
This is a work in progress. I encourage anyone who can to contribute to the site. Suggestions as to further features unique to a manufacturer are welcome. Additional photos would be a great help as well, if they key in on some unique feature. If you are scanner-empowered, email me with a description of your proposed image, and I will send along details of my preferred graphics format. You may also mail photos (please include a SASE if you would like the photos returned). Any photos or contributions that make it to the site will be acknowledged with the contributors name.