Spring & Lever Hooks

First advert for the eagle claw hook

The first advert for the Eagle Claw Hook

At the last Phillips auction, I was surprised to see the appearance of a spring and lever hook. This particular one was Swedish, and I first came across this hook in the early 1970s when I was doing my arctic warfare training in Norway. The idea was to bait the hook with a small baitfish, lower it into an ice hole and wait for a large pike to take the offering. Thus providing a meal was the theory.
During the last year or so, I have come across other spring-loaded hooks and decided to dig to find what was available to the researcher. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing. No one has written a book specifically on the subject, the closest to it being Identification Guide to Hooks & Harnesses by Thomas Minarik and Thomas Minarik Jr. This was printed in 1993 and is now out of print.
Consequently, I have put together all I have available in this article, hoping that someone will come forward to complete the picture.
The lack of information may be because many anglers think these items are unsporting. Therefore, rather than being classed as a sporting collectable should move to a commercial fishing collectable. Many writers of the day endorsed this view. For example, John Harrington Keene said they “belonged in the category ‘objectionable’ from a true sportsman’s point of view unless one is intent on getting one of the voracious pike from the trout stream.”

The sprng snap hook as shown in the 1760 edition of Walton's Complete Angler

The “Spring-snap hook” as shown in the 1760 edition of Izaak Walton’s Complete Angler.

I should have read his comments and noted them before I started to try and work out how the hooks and traps worked. He called them infernal machines of torture, having no equal, and the way to find out was to get one in your hand.
This is what I did on a few occasions, the worst being one Sunday night at my local pub when a friend insisted he knew how they worked, only to succeed in getting three substantial iron prongs into his hand, followed by a trip to the doctors the next day for a tetanus injection!
As I had said before, most people who fished in the 19th century did so for the table.
I have an open mind and would remind the detractors that the first “spring-snap” hook appears in the 1760 edition of Isaak Walton’s Complete Angler.
This hook was available for many years in England. I remember seeing it in a tackle catalogue issued around the turn of the 19th century.
The first patent for a spring-loaded hook was issued in 1846 to Theodore Engelbrecht and George Skiff of New York. It consisted of a hook fitted with a spring-loaded lever curved and sharpened at one end.
One year later, another patent was granted to Stanton Pendleton from New Haven, Connecticut, for his improvement to the Engelbrecht-Skiff patent by offering the chance to change the hook.
In 1847, Job Johnson of Brooklyn, New York, invented the most famous spring hooks of spring hooks. At the time of his patent application, he was an Englishman applying for American citizenship.
He reported his occupation as a hook maker. He could have originated from Redditch, a fact I am in the process of checking.

Provisional drawing for Gedges patent hook.

The provisional drawings for Gedge’s patent hook. The stationary hook was inserted into a cast and machined block.

The difference between the two hooks was that Johnson had fitted a spring coil instead of the loaded lever.
This is a very important tackle item as it is possibly the oldest patented piece of tackle available to the collector today. Unfortunately, in Britain, we have to wait until 1856 for Kenton’s patent reel to appear, and I know no one who owns this.
The hook was known as the Yankee Doodle or the Sockdolager, which means “something outstanding or exceptional.”
The Sockdolager had a very long production run and was advertised in the Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue in 1900. Once the patent had expired, a few other companies started to make it. I have seen one or two variations on the original hook.
The first patent for a British device of this type was granted in January 1867 and is called “Gedge’s Patent Two branch or Double-hooked Fish-hook”.
This device has no springs fitted but does work on a lever principle. The biggest surprise is that a Frenchman invented it, and Gedge was a Patent Agent working on his behalf. The inventor was Francois Angilard Jr of 39 Faubourg St. Martin Paris. Has anyone ever heard of him?

The final submitted drawings for Gedge’s patent hook showing the two options available in fig1 & 3

There are two sets of drawings with the patent, and it looks like there was some thinking on the hoof due to the number of changes made in the specification and the drawings.
In the provisional drawings, we have two hooks, one of which is fitted in the body of a block, the top of which is bent and drilled so the line can pass through it.
The idea is that when the fish takes the bait with the stationary hook, it causes traction on the line forcing the lever hook into the fish’s body.
Angilard claimed the wounded fish would rapidly lose its strength, making extracting it from the water easier.
By the time Angilard had submitted the final drawings, there was another significant change to the hook design. The stationary hook was now one piece, with the line coming through a pierced hole and another drilled hole in the hook’s shank.
Now was Mr Angilard aware that further improvements were possible? Or did he have yet to determine if his original design would work?

Gedges Patent drawing with the hook closed.

Fig 2 shows the hook in the closed position.

In fig. 3, we see another version of the hook. The hole where the line enters has formed like a regular hook eyelet. In addition, Angilard had replaced the hole in the hook shank, and the movable hook changed to a much longer one.
Has anyone ever seen one of these hooks?
I recently came across what I at first identified as a Sockdolager; however, on closer inspection, it did not quite follow the original design.
The original item has two hooks and a spring attached to a bar. In the second, the bar was now combined into a hook.
This modified Sockdolager came from Northern Europe, where spring hooks and traps were common.
The second most famous hook is the Eagle Claw. I have never held one in my hand, and from the pictures, I would have some trepidation in doing so. On page 2 is a copy of the advert launched in 1877. I note that one was available to trap bears. WOW!
Over the last few months, I have seen many variations on the spring hook, and I will show some during the following year.
This is another spring hook that I have never seen, but speaking to an enthusiast, he tells me that he has a similar one. In September 1892, The patent was issued to two Germans. Theodor Hildebrand of Gartow, described as a Prazier, and Ernst Merrem of 168 Friedrich Strasse Berlin a Merchant. Does anyone know what a Prazier is?
Merrem was a retailer of tackle who sold mainly other people’s items.
The hook was designed for use when using frogs as bait, particularly when fishing weedy water. The line is fixed through the hook at (h), the trigger mechanism.
The hooks are cocked by holding the handle (d) and lifting them onto the retaining bars (b). The frog would be mounted on the hook in the cocked position, as shown in fig. 2 and 3.
Once the pike takes the bait, the retaining bars (b) move towards the line through the torsion action of the springs releasing the hooks, which spring outwards and thus catch the fish.
If the fish’s pull is not enough to catch it, they suggest that the angler strikes harder. Umm, would it work? I doubt it. I suspect many fish were lost as the hook was pulled out of the fish’s mouth.
The reason that this is a very rare item of tackle was it was a failure and consequently sold very few.

Sockdolager spring hook in its original form

The Sockdolager in its original form.