Deconstructing Old Ads by William "Bill" Sonnett, Volume I.

Historical book reviews are a staple here at the Bass Fishing Archives. For the most part, we look at out-of-print books that have had significant impact on the sport.  We also look at old pamphlets and mini books published by the manufacturers of the day.  Each and every one of the reviews sheds light into the past history of our sport and gives a timeline of events as they happened.  Today’s post, Deconstructing Old Ads – A Book Review, looks at a series of books published by BFA supporter and contributor, William “Bill” Sonnett.  Bill used to write a column of the same title for the Fishing for History website run by Dr. Todd Larson.

For 10 years, Bill wrote his column where he would analyze an old tackle ad and then write about the company and the significance of the ad to the sport.  It was a great column, but around 2014, Bill decided he wanted a little more freedom and retired the column.  That’s when Dr. Larson and Bill decided to print a series of books based on the column.

With over 200 articles to choose from, Bill handpicked the best and most informative to fill the three-volume series.  Volume One was published in 2014 and features ads from as far back as 1894.  In the book you’ll find well-known names such as Heddon, Shakespeare, and Arbogast as well as some not-so-familiar names like Moonlight and Millsite.  This volume is 112 pages long and filled with great old ads as well as Bill’s great writing and sense of humor.

Deconstructing Old Ads by William "Bill" Sonnett, Volume II.
Deconstructing Old Ads by William "Bill" Sonnett, Volume III.

The second volume of the series was published in 2015 starts off where Volume I stopped.  This issue was full of lesser-known companies like the Bonafide Manufacturing Company, C. E. Markham, and Jacob Mick.  As with Volume I, this volume is over 100 pages in length, has amazing ads and the historical relevance each has with respect to our sport.

Volume III of the trilogy was released in 2016 and again, over 100 pages of great ads, great writing, and a taste of humor.  Bill’s gift with all of this is his ability to convey the importance of the ads as well as the companies and their contribution, or not, to the history of bass fishing.

When we started this website initially, I’d never thought of the importance of ads to tell the story of the sport.  As I got deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, it became glaringly obvious.  At the time (2011) I wasn’t aware of Dr. Larson’s website and was just posting ads as I came across what I felt was an important and interesting piece of the history.  And that is how I came to meet Bill.

Back in early 2013, I posted something on an early spinnerbait and he commented on the post.  From that initial comment, I’ve listened to Bill and have looked up to him as a mentor.  The way he conducts research through ads has become one of the methods I try to use here to keep the history alive.

If you’re a true bass fishing history buff or bass nerd, you owe it to yourself to check out Bill’s books.  In them you’ll find a ton of information you’d never get from anywhere else.  You’ll discover tackle companies that have been long and gone for a hundred years but their marks are still left on the industry.  You’ll find old baits that are “new” today.  And, probably the biggest thing you’ll learn is that bait companies back in the early 20th Century were just as tuned in to media hype as they are today.  Remember, the snake oil salesman was invented in the 1800s maybe even before that.

To find Bill’s books, check out Whitefish Press.  Whitefish is an independent publishing house that is dedicated to the preservation of the sport and has an amazing collection of historical books on the subject.  It’s run by Dr. Larson, who also runs the Fishing for History blog as well as the Fin & Flame website, both great resources.