1943 Hildbrandt ad. This one, in my opinion, is just brilliant. So much packed into this small ad: text that sells, humor, and a very lively illustration.

In today’s tale we’ll take a brief look at a few vintage Hildebrandt Spinner ads. I came across these while searching for a completely different old-time spinner – the Buel Spinner – and was immediately attracted to the artistry and the text of these ads. Like a lot of images that catch my fancy, sometimes I’ll just capture the image and move on, thinking this is just something cool to keep in the image library. Ultimately I ended up unintentionally collecting a half dozen or so Hildebrandt images but didn’t record the provenance of several of them. I believe some were originally published in outdoor magazines, while I know that two were published in old newspapers, the details of which I did save when it dawned on me that these would make a fun piece for Bass Fishing Archives.

The first ad that caught my eye is the featured image that opens this article, from around 1943. In a former life I was a working artist and I enjoyed the cartoon art of comics and old illustrations, so you can see why this little ad tickled me. It’s beautifully composed and balanced, and has that wonderful comic illustration of an angler with his long fly rod half encircling the text. This is very much the style of drawing popular in the pre-WWII era, with a lot of dynamic motion. And that text! “Drop a line to – Ask for your copy of Hildebrandt’s Hints…tells about spinners and flies and how to use ‘em for all kinds of fishing. Good advice from folks who know. Not a dry line in it. Your copy FREE.” Then the address. It’s casual, to the point, and even has a humorous pun near the end. It catches your eye and your attention. This is a great little ad!

Next up, an ad from 27 years earlier, 1916. This one is similar in format to the 1943 ad and is, I’m guessing about the same size. There’s a drawing of a straining, leaping fish on the left, with the text on the right. The copy gets right to the point with “The object of a fishing trip is to catch fish,” before it tells you that you will do exactly that with Hildebrandt’s multitudinous combinations of spinners and flies. Send for the catalog, it only costs a 2¢ stamp.

1916 Hildebrandt Baits advertisement. Features the Hildebrandt slogan "Hook & Land 'Em."

Next, a vertical vintage Hildebrandt spinner ad from 1930, and this one is geared towards bass fishermen specifically. A crudely cropped picture of an angler holding a pole of nine bass cements the declaration that you will indeed catch bass using Hildebrandt Spinners. Again, write in for the Hildebrandt Hints brochure. This time it won’t even cost you 2¢, it’s free. This one uses the “not a dry line in it” pun too. Hildebrandt must have used that line repeatedly in their ads over the years. To erase any doubt about the lure, there’s an equally crude picture of a spinner in the lower right to balance the ad.

1930 Hildebrandt ad targeting the bass angler. Can't say that the quality of the photo really impresses.

In the 1930s Hildebrandt used a number of ads featuring similar hand-drawn cartoon illustrations as in the 1943 ad that opens this article. I assume the same artist did the drawings for all of these ads, as the style looks very much the same. In my opinion, these cartoons add a richness, warmth and humor to the message and sales pitch, and make the ads much more appealing than the ones using cropped photos. Check out the three wonderful ads below.

1935 Hildebrandt magazine ad (Hunting & Fishing).
1935 Hildebrandt magazine ad (National Sportsman).
1936 Hildebrandt magazine ad (Sports Afield).

1949 showed a post-WWII ad featuring Hiram Hildebrandt, one of John J. Hildebrandt’s three children and the manager of the family business from 1912 until his death in 1954. This image of Hiram is the same image that graces the covers of the famous Hildebrandt Hints catalogs of the time. In some of the Hildebrandt’s Hints catalogs of the era, famed angler Cal Johnson was featured on the back cover, touting the effectiveness of Hildebrandt Spinners. This ad also uses the Hildebrandt slogan, “baits that hook and land ‘em.”

A rather staid Hildebrandt advertisement from 1949, featuring Hiram Hildebrandt in a picture that would grace several editions of Hildebrandt's Hints catalogs.
Back cover of a vintage Hildebrandt's Hints catalog and tips booklet, featuring famed outdoorsman Cal Johnson. I've included this photo simply because it's a fantastic image.

The final two ads were newspaper ads that were run after Hiram’s death, when his sons John Jr. and Alan ran the company. In these ads we see that John Jr’s creation, the Snagless Sally, is marketed to bass anglers, and specifically to “lunker bass” anglers. The ad from 1958 shows a stringer of four bass said to weigh 36 lbs, 10 ozs, all allegedly caught on the Snagless Sally. Interestingly, above the ad are two smaller ads for different retail stores piggybacking on the Hildebrandt Snagless Sally ad, one of which declares “bass murder.” You can’t get much more direct than that!

The second Snagless Sally ad is from 1961 and follows the same format as the previous ad. The only difference is the picture. Instead of a stringer of bass the image shows an angler holding an 8 lb. largemouth in one hand and a 4.5 pounder in the other. He declares, “I truly believe Snagless Sally is by far the best bait for taking bass.” And above the Hildebrandt ad are again two small ads from hardware stores that carry the Snagless Sally.

1958 Hildebrandt Snagless Sally newspaper ad, geared towards "lunker bass" anglers. Do those 4 bass really weigh more than 36 pounds? Source: The Montgomery Advertiser, AL 4/5/1958.
1961 Hildebrandt Snagless Sally newspaper ad, again targeting lunker bass anglers. The photo in this one is more believable, as Thomas Breland offers a convincing testimonial to the effectiveness of the Snagless Sally. Source: The Troy Messenger, AL 3/10/1961.

Eventually, John’s sons Tim and Greg, and their cousin Mark, ran the John J. Hildebrandt company until they sold it to the Yakima Bait Company in 2006. By this time the old ads with their colorful language, artful illustrations and badly cropped photographs were a thing of the past. But that final team of founder John J. Hildebrandt’s great-grandsons made for four generations of the Hildebrandt family and over a hundred years in business. That’s quite a record.