B. James & Son 'Avocet'. Ultra-rare 1st model 11' 3-piece rod.
The Holy Grail for Avocet connoisseurs. A Daily Mirror Prize Rod issued by Bernard Venables in 1952.
In my careful opinion this is as rare an Avocet as you will come across. It pre-dates the ones with bi-colour ‘Jasper’ whipping silks. In my thirty four years in the tackle trade I have paid close attention to B. James Avocets because I’ve always had a penchant for them and this one is the earliest, most unusual and interesting I’ve seen.
In 1952, the Daily Mirror started to award prize rods to winners of a competition organised by Bernard Venables. These rods were Avocets supplied by B. James & Son. This is surely one of the first of these rods. Later ones were more closely whipped and the maker’s details engraved on the butt cap were simplified.
In their brochure B. James & Son had this to say:
‘Avocet. This superbly finished Avon-type rod, selected by Bernard Venables as a “Daily Mirror” prize rod, is built with an easy action. It is the angler’s nearest approach to a general purpose rod- light enough to hold all day, yet strong enough to battle with almost any fish.
Specification. Three piece 11 ft, tonkin whole cane butt, built cane middle and top, closely whipped. Agate butt and end rings, “Bells Life” intermediate rings. Cork handle with sliding winch fittings. Serrated suction ferrules with brass inserts. Rubber button. Partitioned bag.’
This rod is 100% complete with all original components.
It retains its three perfect gold transfers with their black script:
Avocet, B. JAMES LONDON BUILT TO ENDURE and B. James & Son.
The upper side of the butt cap is engraved: B. JAMES & SON 186 NORTHFIELD AVENUE LONDON. W.13. On the underside it is engraved DAILY MIRROR PRIZE ROD. Such engraving on Avocets is incredibly uncommon. This is the only one I’ve ever seen with the maker’s full address engraved on it.
The silk whippings are a similar shade of Burgundy red (perhaps a Clos des Mouches from Joseph Drouhin) as the best Allcock Wizards of the period. It’s clear that Jim Bruce Snr (aka B. James) intended to make a Wizard type of rod, but with more power and a higher level of finish. His catalogue description and the rod itself bear this out.
The rings are also typical of the period. Very hard, high carbon steel ‘Bell’s Life’ bridge rings, bronzed finish. The butt ring, the first ring on the middle section and the tip ring are nickel sliver with genuine brick red agate centres. Exquisite!
The spacing of the intermediate whippings is graduated but they are a little broader than those found on later extra close whipped versions of this model. I suspect they were tied at the B. James & Son workshop and were sealed with cellulose lacquer prior to the final finish of Copal varnish. Later rods were sent out to be whipped by the wife of well known London angler, bait supplier and tackle dealer Frank Murgett (she used shellac ‘Button Polish’ to seal her whippings).
The elegantly shaped handle is 24″ long. The alloy collar, butt cap and sliding bands were made by W.R. Products Ltd of Shepherds Bush, London W12. The original black rubber button is in place.
The ferrules are very nicely formed and of a subtly different pattern to any others I’ve encountered on Avocets. They retain a superb fit. Very unusually, they have their original hand-turned acorn-shaped walnut stoppers which have their own brass male ferrules (instead of the usual cork). Again, I have not previously encountered such nice stoppers with an Avocet, or any other B. James rod for that matter.
The hand planed flame-tempered split cane middle and tip are the work of Bob Southwell of Croydon. The pressed knots are staggered 2 x 2 on the tip and 3 x 3 on the middle -typically they are small and neat, and the cane is darkly flamed and straight grained. Both sections are as straight and as full of vigour as the day they left Bob Southwell’s workshop. The whole Tonkin cane butt was the work of the B James himself. Pictures taken at the time show a workshop full of canes and it was quite usual for such firms to do their own whole cane work while buying in split cane by the foot from Southwell.
The rod has its original green cotton drill bag which is in very good condition for its age. A skilled seamstress has extended it at some point, which was sensible as they were terribly prone to shrinking.
It should come as no surprise that this rod has a superb action. The tip is fine and sensitive, yet strong. The middle has the power that so many Wizards lacked and the butt has that unique spring and reserve power that only whole cane can give. It’s also surprisingly light in the hand and well balanced. The feel is lovely and not tip heavy or ‘clubby’.
Although it’s almost seventy years old and phenomenally rare, this is an eminently fishable rod. For this reason alone, we have re-finished it –we enjoy the opportunity to challenge ourselves with this sort of work. When it came to us, the original septuagenarian silks and varnish, while intact, were inevitably well past their best due to the ageing effects of sunlight, oxidation and honest use. It would’ve been a shame to spoil this lovely rod by getting caught out with it in a cloud burst.
When we come across exceptionally fine vintage rods, we carry out the most sensitive and sympathetic restorations possible, using the correct materials and methods. This ensures their future and enhances their utility and value.
The work carried out.
We reconditioned the cork handle and cleaned the butt cap, sliding reel bands and conical collar.
The rings were removed and cleaned prior to re-whipping.
The ferrules were cleaned, re-blued and lacquered before re-fitting. The stoppers were re-varnished.
The old varnish was removed without employing any abrasives whatsoever.
The rod was re-whipped with the correct size and shade of silk. The ring and ferrule whippings were vanish-impregnated for our usual translucent finish and the intermediate whippings were shellac finished.
The rod was then brush varnished (my usual method) with four coats of the finest traditional yacht varnish. Each coat was rubbed down prior to over-coating, resulting in a perfect finish.
My pictures really don’t do this rod justice. It is simply beautiful and just as it was described in the maker’s catalogue. If you love classic rods please make an appointment to view this definitive Avocet.