Post by DavidRitchieWilson on May 15, 2020 7:31:45 GMT -8
A few weeks ago I decided to give Etsy a try as a source of vintage gear. I had my eye on a colourful pair of fins, made in France for the Canadian market:
The pictures are the Etsy originals. The fins, which arrived today, are in excellent condition, considering they are likely to be pre-1980, and they appear to be unused "new old stock". I'm quite excited about them because they were made in France by the Watersports company of Nice on the Mediterranean. This company was started by Raymond Pulvénis, who in the early 1940s authored the first spearfishing book to be written in French. It seems to have been a French post-war custom for underwater gear manufacturers to give their companies English names, e.g. Hurricane, United Service Agency, Douglas, Watersports.
I had no idea that Watersports exported their products to Canada, or more specifically to "Guarantee Fit Inc." of Montreal, Quebec. The bag the fins came in also caught my eye for its period graphics and fonts. I was wondering whether JB or anybody else might have an opinion on the date of the graphics that would help me pin down the chronology? The Watersports company probably goes all the way back to the late 1940s, but I haven't been able to determine when it went out of business.
Update: I've just bought a couple of "Guarantee Fit Inc." catalogues from the 1960s on eBay with pictures of underwater gear on the front, so that's when they were around, but again I haven't been able to determine how long they were in business either.
Any information welcome! In the meantime, I'll just have to patiently "follow the evidence" as they say on CSI!
DRW, way, way cool! Judging by the art on the bag I'd say those are early 1970's to maybe mid-70's: but my guess is '71-'72... Just a bit of art history that type of psychedelic-style originated, if I remember correctly, from the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco in the mid-1960's, but California for sure! They were trying to emulate the the graphic works of the true masters of line like Alphonse Mucha:
Did you know that that is NOT a fish in the fins? It's actually a dolphin--no really! That's the way first the Greeks, then the Romans represented them. Here is the USN "Dolphin" insignia for submariners:
Again, congrats buuuuddy!
EDIT: I say 1972 because it took quite a while for advertisers to catch up to the youth of the time, and also, people were trying to be more groovy with the ecology movement and lets not forget...
Last Edit: May 15, 2020 9:25:28 GMT -8 by nikeajax
Post by DavidRitchieWilson on May 15, 2020 9:54:30 GMT -8
Thank you so much, guys. I knew you would be able to come up with a range of years for these fins, JB, with your knowledge and expertise in the field of graphic design. It's wonderful that there is a connection with the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the psychedelic movement. I've been to San Francisco two or three times in the closing decades of the last century and I made a point when I was there of visiting Haight-Ashbury as well as the Golden Gate Park. It's a lovely coincidence too that the Nice premises of Watersports are at 268 avenue de la Californie, translating to "268 California avenue"!
As for the dolphin figure on the fins, that's fascinating. I have access to a couple of adverts in the French diving magazine L'aventure sous-marine which show black Watersports fins of a similar design though closed-toed, named "Dauphin", which is of course French for "dolphin":
There is the fin at the bottom right. The French Watersports company must have been fond of dolphins because they named wetsuits, masks and spearguns as well as fins after them.
So grateful to you for the background information. It helps me place my new find in its historical and cultural context.
...I've been to San Francisco two or three times in the closing decades of the last century and I made a point when I was there of visiting Haight-Ashbury as well as the Golden Gate Park. It's a lovely coincidence too that the Nice premises of Watersports are at 268 avenue de la Californie, translating to "268 California avenue"!
DRW The Haight is a crazy place To see my wife you'd never know that while living and working there she was held up at gun point more than half a dozen times at various jobs... In 1985 she was going through a hippy-period and a bus load of Japanese tourists got out to take her picture... While managing a furniture store on the corner of Haight and Ashbury on Easter Sunday two German tourist in matching track-suits came running in followed by two exceptionally angry African-American men wanting to kill them because they used the N-word on the the bus, "You have to protect us!" they begged pathetically.
"No, I really don't..." she pushed everyone out the door and locked it but not before trying to send them off in two different directions. Like Carnaby Street in London, people are always doing the stupidest thing imaginable because they think they need to
I went to so many concerts in the Haight. When I was in High School, a friend and I would cut school and go to Speedway Meadows to hear Janice and Big Brother, as well as GD, Jefferson Airplane, and Country Joe and the Fish. SF has always been a scene for music. Then, in the 80s I'd go to Mabuhay Gardens for some after hours punk sets with Black Flag, The Feederz, Dead Kennedys and the like.
Seems like a million years ago. Where did I get the energy? Those were the days, my friend.
Post by DavidRitchieWilson on May 16, 2020 7:43:08 GMT -8
I landed in San Francisco on my first ever trip States-side, at the end of the 1970s. I was there to join my brother on a Greyhound Bus tour of four US states: California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. My brother was already in the city, having completed his postdoctoral work in Scotland and secured employment with an American IT company. I was on my Christmas and New Year break from schoolteaching in North East England. We explored the city on foot, I insistent that we saw all the sights displayed at the start of "The Streets of San Francisco" TV police drama series, including the giant red lobster sign at Fisherman's Wharf. It was on a much later trip, when I was on my own, that I ventured to the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, where plenty of people were hanging out, sadly none of them hippies.
I spent the latter half of the 1960s getting myself a languages degree with the intention of teaching French and German to secondary school students. University life was pretty traditional back then but I remember taking part in a one-day strike because universities had raised fees for students from abroad. During my course, I spent a semester at a German university and a year teaching English in a French secondary school, which helped improve my fluency in foreign languages. I don't remember much in the way of hippie culture on this side of the Atlantic. We knew about it because we had seen TV images of what was happening in the USA. I and many others had also been to see "Hair", and not just for a view of the cast in their "birthday suits"! It was a time of youthful idealism and exuberance, but I became a little cynical when I discovered that all our student leaders had landed plum jobs in stockbroking and merchant banking after preaching to us about the evils of capitalism.
Returning to my recent Etsy acquisition, I'm in two minds about swimming with my new "safety-yellow" fins, John. They are rare artefacts, particularly so because they are in such perfect condition with soft comfortable foot pockets and no evidence of perishing whatsoever after decades of storage. I don't think they've ever been used. Some of the new fins in my collection have hardened or perished over the years after I snorkelled with them, while duplicate models I haven't chosen to dive with remain in good condition after the same period of time. My take on this is that there's always a risk of deterioration when trying out pristine vintage gear in the pool or in the sea, so I may err on the side of caution. In any case, public pools are all closed here at the moment and when they do open, the lifeguards often ban snorkelling gear, even just fins, on the principle that they might injure other pool users. And we're not encouraged to drive to the seaside either.
So the fins will remain an "artefact" of mid-twentieth-century life for me to study, and not to swim with, at least for the time being. What I have already noticed about them is that they are wider-fitting than most and have much stiffer, and shorter, blades than today's all-rubber fins. By coincidence in my collection I have a Watersports full-face snorkel-mask with the product name "Méduse", which combines in French the meanings of the monster "Medusa" with the snakes in her hair resembling the snorkel emerging from the top of the mask, and "jellyfish", which must have been an occupational hazard in Mediterranean spearfishing. The jellyfish is clearly visible on the mask below.
DRW, thanks for sharing your story! I really loved the bit about The Streets of San Francisco
As for the old fins, I'm of the thought to use what I have but be careful. I have those Cressi Rondines that I plan to restore their suppleness with some oil of wintergreen and use them for special dives: there's a real romance, as I'm sure you know, about using real authentic gear.
Post by DavidRitchieWilson on Jun 11, 2020 5:28:04 GMT -8
I thought I might update you all about matters arising from my Etsy purchase of a pair of French-made Watersports fins originally exported to Canada for resale by a Quebec mail-order company called Guarantee Fit. Coincidentally, a couple of Guarantee Fit catalogues appeared around the same time on eBay and I bought them both, hoping they would help with my research into the Watersports Dauphin fins and more generally into the Watersports company founded by Roger Pulvénis in the southern French city of Nice.
Pulvénis is considered to be the father of French spearfishing. He began underwater hunting with his brothers as early as 1930 and published the first French-language book on the subject, La Chasse aux Poissons, in 1940, coining the term "tuba", which remains the French word for "snorkel" to this day. He qualified as a medical practitioner during the early 1930s, submitting an experimental study of rabbit syphilis as his research thesis. When he chose to turn his spearfishing hobby into a career during and after World War II, he proved equally adept at designing, patenting, manufacturing and marketing underwater hunting gear including spearguns.
Thus much I have gleaned from the very sparse literature online and in print about the man, Roger Pulvénis, and his company, Watersports, based on the avenue de la Californie in Nice. The 1964 and 1967 Canadian Guarantee Fit catalogues eventually arrived and I have scanned and posted them for everybody's benefit at drive.google.com/drive/folders/130KjCPrn-d7Oe3cSQZ6Jx-FQFaDHI-UY. The underwater gear pages confirmed that Guarantee Fit sold my Watersports fins in the mid-1960s:
But documentary evidence confirming hypotheses often draws other beliefs into question. The "Caravelle" mask on the same page is also attributed to Watersports:
So far so good, but then I found an almost identical Jopen Match branded "Caravelle" compensator mask in my image collection:
Jopen Match was a completely different French underwater gear company, based this time in Marseille. How could this be? Then I inspected my Watersports Meduse, which had the word "Watersports" on the top of the mask:
and the word "Jopen" on the ball cage at the top of the snorkel:
So my Watersports snorkel-mask appears to be a hybrid product of Watersports of Nice and Jopen-Match of Marseille. So now I have two clues linking the two companies together. The mystery thickens...
PS. Just noticed that the respective shapes of the two Caravelle masks, the Watersports roundish, the Jopen-Match ovalish. Food for thought...
DRW, very fun and informative--thank you for sharing!
On a parallel line, one of the types of fishing gear I collect is a brand called Airex. The were the very first spinning-reel made in the U.S. The interesting thing is they were originally a brand called Luxor imported from France by an American sportsman named Bache Brown around 1946-ish, then they were acquired by the very famous Lionel toy trains company. Spinning, as opposed to American invented casting reels, were first developed in England in the early 1930's: immediately after WWII the fishing world exploded with this new type of reel and they have been the go to reel for most fishermen ever since. As an aside for accuracy and sheer brute force you can't beat the casting reel as they are the type used to bring in the the very largest of deep sea fish.
Post by DavidRitchieWilson on Jun 19, 2020 1:41:09 GMT -8
Time for another update.
I'm still on my Watersports catalogue project, hoping to recreate a comprehensive list of the French company's products and to find out what I can about the people associated with the company, in this case the Pulvénis brothers. At the moment I'm focusing on biographical matters.
A week or two back, I chanced upon an article about Roger Pulvénis on the excellent Musée Frédéric Dumas website. I translated it roughly into English as follows.
PORTRAIT OF ROGER PULVÉNIS, “FATHER” OF UNDERWATER HUNTING. Patrick Mouton (1987).
An unforgettable mask ...: invented by Roger Pulvénis for his first underwater hunting expeditions
Memory is a difficult art. Who can recall the day when a man dived naked for the first time using a long wooden spear to catch a fish? Supporters of an unusual medieval tournament, the Polynesians and the Orientals perpetuated this beautiful and difficult step well before the outset of the century. Frenchman Beuchat, Austrian Hass and American Gilpatric followed in the wake of these different, forever anonymous knights. How well known, on the other hand, the first underwater hunter is! The name of the person who launched the first dart from a distance using a propelling device was Roger Pulvénis, now 81 years old, his eyes alert and his recollections precise. It was in Nice, in the depths of the Baie des Anges that underwater hunting was born.
Roger Pulvénis was born in 1906 in Mauritius, where he spent his childhood. While he was in his teens, he returned to France with his family, moving to Fontenay-sous-Bois, but for him and his three brothers, the climate “shock” of the Parisian suburbs was too great, after spending several years on the Indian Ocean. The Pulvénis family also emigrated to Nice where they found a home on the Avenue de la Lanterne.
Back then, the term underwater hunting did not exist in France. Three brothers, Raymond, Paul and Edmond, followed their destiny and settled almost everywhere in the country, while Roger stayed in Nice.
In 1930, at the height of the Provence summer, he went for a cruise with friends on the family boat. In Port Cros, he met up with another boat, whose owner’s equipment included a pair of orbital goggles intended for welding and which looked reasonably watertight. For fun, Roger put them on and dived into the water. Beneath his feet, a school of sargo fish seemed to be playing outside a hole, a few metres from the surface. The fish expressed superb indifference when he approached.
Back in Nice, he had only one thing on his mind: rediscovering the same thrill that he had so suddenly experienced in Port-Cros. He tinkered with a pair of goggles and went into the water at Lieu-Dit La Californie. There were mullet and bass wandering about which came and touched him, intrigued by this strange, awkward animal. For Roger, one question, just the one: how am I going to catch one of these fish? Can I launch a projectile underwater? A dart, for example? Why not, but made from what material? When he approached a neighbour, who was an “Arts et Métiers” engineering graduate, the latter eruditely replied, “Impossible, my dear friend, water is incompressible, which is why no jet-propelled weapon can be effective in it."
Dissatisfied with this verdict, young Pulvénis found the beginning of a solution. He bought a Eureka spring-action pistol and fitted the dart with a metal point. Determined to go after the mullet of La Californie, he got back in the water, saw the fish, stretched out his arm, fired ... only to discover that the little wooden dart immediately headed upwards without disturbing the mullet. End of experiment! He then discarded the pistol in favour of a bicycle pump fitted with a spring and a steel dart. At the first shot, however, the spring was so powerful that the front part of the pump ripped off. The fish were in for the beginnings of a fright. Roger persevered, tinkering with another pump, strengthening its head. After a few shots, a miracle happened: a ten-centimetre mullet found itself pinned on the dart. “It was opposite the Hotel Provençal,” said Roger, who did not know at the time that he had taken the first step to be an underwater hunter 57 years ago.
One of the very first underwater guns in the hand of its inventor.
Having now contracted the bug, Roger spent the months ahead designing and manufacturing a spring-action gun made from a long copper tube, without a handgrip but fitted with a clever trigger mechanism. A stainless-steel coil spring propelled the 90-cm dart. Remarkable progress: securing the dart was a 15-metre cord, wound around a reel fixed to the rear of the weapon. In the process, he built three more identical guns for his brothers. In the summer, the four boys left by boat for the Lérins islands, Saint-Raphaël and Port-Cros. Underwater hunting grounds, vast and virgin, were there for the taking. In the evening, they anchored the boat in a creek and pitched their camp on a beach amid the aroma of overheated petrol and around a wood fire already crackling away and about to receive the catch they had just emptied out. At that time, the Pulvénis brothers only had the barest equipment. In addition to the gun and the goggles, they used a curved piece of garden hose to breathe through, attaching it to the goggles with string. Strong espadrilles complemented this paraphernalia, enabling them to gain a foothold and place each catch in the rocks, as fish holders did not yet exist. Roger and his brothers had also heard about the fins invented by de Corlieu. This technical advance did not immediately appeal to them, however. On Roger’s instructions, Raymond would write the very first book devoted to underwater hunting, informing readers on page 34, “…Also available commercially are special shoes comprising a large quadrangular palm. Personally, I think they are of very limited interest and anyway they will certainly be cumbersome to drag into the rocks."
As years went by, masks replaced goggles. In a magazine, Roger Pulvénis came across a photo showing Japanese pearl-diving women equipped with a kind of mask whose skirt was ... bamboo. Taking up the idea, he made his first mask from copper with a sealing bead on the edge. To overcome crushing caused by pressure, the skirt came with two unwieldy rubber bulbs attached. As for the garden hose, it came fitted with an anatomic mouthpiece to eliminate jaw cramps. One day, while watching a movie starring a young newcomer named Gary Cooper, the Pulvénis brothers took advantage of the intermission to chat about this “tube” with the unflattering name that might be called, say, “tuba”… and why not? This is exactly where this little word came from, familiar to all today’s hunters and divers.
The first breathing tube, which would enter the French language as “tuba”.
On the technical side, fish during this golden age were far from acquiring the distrust they show today. Did Raymond not write “...after travelling a few metres showing fear, (the fish) often seems to forget its pursuer, reverts to normal behaviour or even stops and quietly grabs some prey.” Very quickly, however, each species appeared to react when facing danger and the four hunters developed tactics based on their observations. One evening, when he persisted in chasing mullet that was clearly less timid than the first ones he had encountered, Roger seethed and, in a fit of rage, struck the surface of the water with the flat of his hand ... causing him to realise that the fish rushed over and became easy to catch. The technique of making a noise at the surface to “enrage” the fish would repeatedly prove successful and it remains in use to this very day. Sargo fish, bass, groupers ... each fishing expedition yielded spectacular results. The funniest part, Pulvénis exclaimed, was when people saw us coming out of the water with our fish. In an instant, we were at the centre of a crowd.
Now the Pulvénis brothers were no longer alone. Underwater hunting enthusiasts watched their ranks swelling visibly. In Nice, Russian Alec Kramarenko manufactured and marketed a gun modelled on Roger’s weapon. Alongside the Forjots and other Gilpatrics, other pioneers arrived, either known or unknown or not for ever linked to the saga of man under the sea: Beuchat, Cavalero, Cousteau, Dumas, Tailliez, Doukan, lssy Schwartz, etc.
In 1939, Roger Pulvénis founded the National Spearfishing Federation. The following year, he established the Watersport company, which manufactured masks, fins, snorkels and, of course, spring-action guns. From the very first months of the war, however, the Germans banned the manufacture of this gun, which they considered dangerous in enemy hands, not least because it was a silent weapon! When the war ended, Watersport resumed operations. As the main supplier of rubber for masks, Dunlop recovered all available rubber: black, red, green... Pulvénis had to make do with these raw materials in these days of shortages and, for some time, Watersport made a stunning range of very “patchwork” models. Roger then gradually abandoned hunting in favour of diving, before taking a well-earned retirement, while Watersport ceased operations in 1976.
It was precisely in order to ensure that this history, so near to us and already distancing from us, would never fall into oblivion that an association had just established in Nice with Roger Pulvénis himself as chairman and Henri Le Targat as secretary. This was AMPAM (Association of Friends of the Diving Museum in Alpes Maritimes). Its purpose was to bring together from the golden age of hunting and diving not only the maximum amount of equipment but also a genuine collective memory, thanks to the testimonies of people still alive. AMPAM wished to have a museum where all this material would be on display one day. An effective way to bring back memories.
So far so good, an interesting story about the beginnings of underwater hunting in France. The only problem is that Roger Pulvénis is hardly mentioned elsewhere online, where Raymond Pulvénis, Roger's doctor brother, gets all the accolades because his name is on the 1940 book La Chasse aux poissons (Fish Hunting) and his wife drew many of the illustrations. Hence Raymond is feted as the "father" of French spearfishing. Patrick Mouton's article suggests, however, that Roger did all the early development and experimentation work, not Raymond. I can't figure out from the article then why Roger got Raymond to write the book and also why Raymond's name comes first in the list when the brothers patented a snorkel mouthpiece and a speargun in Spain and France during World War II.
So I still have a little mystery to solve and to help me do so, I've ordered used copies of Patrick Mouton's book The Heirs of Neptune and Raymond Pulvénis's Fish Hunting. I'll let you know what I find out when they arrive. Any other suggestions welcome.