Nothing has grown so fast and furious in the hobby of Archery Collecting anywhere near the growth that collecting Bear Archery memorabilia has. It doesn't seem to matter what the item is, be it broadhead, bow, catalog, or even LP record albums of Fred telling hunting stories, if it says Bear Archery on it, someone wants it bad!
In this article, I will present an overview of Bear Archery, and give you just a taste of the different items which you should be looking for. Then in later columns, we can get into the details of particular items. But for now, sit back and enjoy our time capsule of the most famous archery company of all time.
A Brief History of the Bear Archery Company
Begun in 1933 in a small shop in Detroit, the company was first known by the name Bear Products Company. Archery consumed only a small corner of this new business whose main line was silk-screening and other advertising work for the major automotive makers. Although Fred made bows for himself and friends, it wasn't until 1938 when Fred hired a very skilled woodworker from Detroit by the name of Nels Grumley that the Bear Products Company line expanded to include bows.
By 1940 the archery line had grown to the point where Fred decided to sell out his part of the advertising business to his partner and continue to pursue his hobby/business as the Bear Archery Company. Times were tough, but Fred was a very good business man, and the business continued to grow until the move from Detroit to a brand new plant which Fred had completed in Grayling in 1947.
Fred sold the company in 1968 to Victor Comptometer so that he could raise the needed capitol to grow the company even more. Even though he was not the owner any longer, Fred stayed on as President of Bear Archery Company under Victor. The Bear Archery Company thrived in Grayling until 1978 when a strike at the plant forced the owners to move operations to Gainesville, Florida where the company remains today. Fred stayed active with the company that bears his name until his death in 1988 at the age of 86.
Now that we know a little about the Companies roots, let's take a look at some of the more popular products which have been produced by Bear over the last 65 years.
The Bows of Bear Archery
Without a doubt, Bear Archery Company has produced more traditional bows than all the other traditional bow companies combined. In fact, in one year alone (1975), Bear Archery made over 360,000 bows. Why then, if there are so many Bear bows out there, are they so valuable? Wouldn't it make sense that other bow companies who made fewer bows would be rarer, and thus command more value? Well, remember that we are talking about bowhunters here, ever worse than that we are talking about bowhunters who collect. Enough said?
Seriously, Bear bows were the best marketed bows in the world for over 50 years. Most all of us who grew up in the days before compounds saw Bear ads and promotions everywhere we turned. And as a result, many of us grew up with Bear bows in our hands for a good part of our lives.
The Pre-Grayling Era Bows of Bear Archery
Freds first bowyer back in 1938 when the fledgling Bear Products Company first began commercially producing bows was a remarkable man by the name of Nels Grumley. Nels was a fantastic craftsman, and his skills show in each and every one of his bows. The pride in his craftsmanship is demonstrated in that each and every bow which Nels made is either stamped or signed with his name, along with the words "Bear Products by Grumley" or "Bear Archery by Grumley".
Beginning in 1938, Grumley bows bore the stamped mark of the maker, sometime in the early 1940s, the stamp was broken and all bows after that date bore the written mark of their famous maker.
Why the different means of signing the bows? Well, when Nels first began making bows for Fred in 1938, he used a sort of branding iron to stamp into the wood his mark "Bear Products by Grumley". Then somewhere in the early 1940s, the brand was dropped and broken and instead of buying a new one Nels simply began writing his name on the bows.
Note: Remember that the company was known as Bear Products until 1940, so the "Bear Products by Grumley" bows were obviously made before those marked "Bear Archery by Grumley".
Nels left Bear in 1948 when Fred made the decision to begin mass production of bows at the new factory in Grayling. Nels felt strongly that bows should be individually crafted, and not made by machine. So Nels left, even though Fred tried to convince him to stay with some handsome financial offers, and struck out on his own to make bows. However, his private venture into the bow making business lasted only two years before he took a job in an appliance manufacturer as a model maker. These "Grumley by Grumley" bows are marked with a simple stamped signature "Grumley" either on the limb or on the riser, and are very scarce and excellent collector items.
Not all Bear bows made in these early years were made by Nels. There were dozens of other bowyers who made Bear wooden bows, mostly the lower line lemonwood models such as the Ranger. These bows were simply marked "Bear Archery" in a written form. However, in late 1948 Bear began using what later became known as the small "Running Bear" decal, and thus some bows built beginning in 1948 may have this decal instead of the written brand.
Models of Grumley bows
Nels made 4 basic styles of bows:
These bows were available primarily in one piece design , but a few were made in 2 piece take-apart and some in 2 piece hinged models. The later Grumleys also can be found in laminated woods as well as self-wood models. Additionally you will find Grumleys backed with sinew, rawhide, and various types of wood. A characteristic of Grumley bows is the trapezoidal limb cross section. By this I mean that the face of the limb is wider and tapers down towards the back of the limb giving a cross-sectional view which appears as a trapezoid.
Remember also that Bear would take special orders for bows during this time period, and the above models are only the "stock" models. Many one-of-a-kind Grumleys exist in collections that represent the buyers wishes expressed by Nels Grumleys hands.
But whatever the model,and whatever the wood or backing, the quality of the craftsmanship was simply unparalleled. Of the bows which I have seen over the years, the only bowyer who I would put in the same class as Grumley would be James D. Easton of California.
The Grumley bow on the left is a Bush Bow, while the bow on the right is the Deerslayer model. Notice the different length of the brush nocks.
The Grayling Era bows of Bear Archery
Beginning in 1947, Bear Archery moved into a new plant in Grayling, Michigan. Bow sales were now beginning to soar as new archers and bowhunters entered the sport in record numbers due in large part to the successful promotions of Fred Bear.
Fred realized that he could not meet the demand which would come from these new recruits by making bows one at a time like Bear had been doing since it's inception almost 15 years earlier. So he came up with a new method of mass producing bows, finally allowing his company to meet this demand. But Nels Grumley would not accept that quality bows could be made by any other manner than one-at-a-time, so Nels left the company to go out on his own.
Upon Nels departure, Fred moved another employee by the name of Bob Meeker over to supervise the manufacturing of the new bow lines. Even though bows were then largely the result of machine work, Bob came to be considered a fine bowyer in his own right.
The Aluminum Laminated Bows
The first new bow model which was introduced in 1949 after Nels departure was the Grizzly. The Polar and Kodiak were introduced in the following year, 1950.
These bows of 1949, 1950 and early 1951 can be recognized by the lamination of aluminum in the limbs. This aluminum was scrapped from B-17 bomber airplanes of WWII, the purchase of which was arranged from the government by Glen St. Charles. The aluminum lamination on the Kodiak and Grizzly is found only in the inner lamination, surrounded by layers of maple and glass. However, on the Polar, the aluminum is found both under a layer of maple and glass, and on the outside lamination.
In 1949 and 1950 Bear was using a bi-directional glass on their bows which looks somewhat like a basket weave pattern. Then in 1951 Bear began using a new Uni-Directional glass in which the glass fibers all ran lengthwise to the bow limbs. This is a good way to tell the difference between the 1949/50 and the 1951 models. The 1951 Grizzly also began production with the aluminum lamination, but very early in 1951 the aluminum was dropped due to the high reported breakage problems of these aluminum bows.
The Kodiak was introduced in 1950 with the bi-directional glass and the aluminum lamination. Then in early 1951, just as with the Grizzly, the new uni-directional glass was introduced but the aluminum lamination was still present. This glass change apparently occurred around serial number 5000. Then in mid-1951, the aluminum lamination was dropped. So for 1951 you will find Kodiaks with aluminum and bi-directional glass, aluminum with uni-directional glass, and no-aluminum with uni-directional glass.
This aluminum laminated caused two problems. First, the bows had quite a bit of handshock when shot, and as a result were not comfortable to shoot. Secondly, the large amount of shock contributed to a large number of bows delaminating. This warranty problem caused a substantial strain on the companies finances, but Fred insisted that all bows be replaced if returned broken.
The Compass Kodiaks
Another popular bow for collectors of Grayling manufactured bows is the Kodiak II of 1954. Also known as the Compass Kodiak because of the small, round compass embedded into the riser section, this bow was another good idea which almost caused the company to go under. The compass required a significant amount of wood to be removed from the riser in order to be inlaid, and as a result caused the riser sections on many of these bows to fail. Again, Fred insisted that the warranty on these bows be honored and all returns were replaced with another bow.
The Kodiak IIs of 1954 were made using two different woods for the riser, maple and walnut. If the riser section of your K-II is very dark, then you have a walnut model. Conversely, if the riser of your K-II is a light colored wood, then you have a maple model. The walnut bows were made only for the first 2-3 months of 1954, before being replaced by maple in mid-year.
There were also many different lengths available in each of the different kinds of wood. But all K-IIs are very collectible and highly sought after bows. don't shoot a Compass Kodiak! The structural strength of this design was the main reason for it's discontinuance, and many years later the bows that survive are too valuable as collectors items to risk breaking another.
The Bear Take-Down
Fred had been tinkering with take-apart and take-down bows of different styles for 30 years when in the mid-1960s he began working on a new design that would require no tools for assembling/disassembling the limb and riser sections. Finally, in August 1969 the famous Bear Take-Down recurve went into production.
Note - Although introduced in August 1969, the Take Down model bow did not appear in the Bear catalogs until 1970.
This new model bow was manufactured in 3 different riser lengths, which were known as the "A", "B", and "C" risers. The "A" riser was the shortest, and the "C" the longest, with the "B" being in the middle. In this manner, the archer could mix and match riser styles with various length limbs to allow the bowhunter to pick the bow which best fit his or her desires.
Note - Although officially discontinued in 1972, several parts for these bows remained on the shelves at Bear, and a few "A" and "B" models were assembled in 1973 and 1974. These later assemblies can be recognized by their white serial numbers.
How many Bear Take-Downs were actually made? In the three years of production, there were 400 "A" models made, 800 "B" models made, and only 300 "C" models. Then why is the "C" the least valuable of the lot even though it is actually the rarest of the Take-Downs? Apparently this is because it is thought of as a target bow rather than a hunting bow by collectors.
Some collectors place significance on the year of the manufacture of the take-down relative to the value of the bow. Actually, more than year, the collector should be referring to Type. The first models made in 1969/1970, up through serial number 2000, are referred to as Type Is. Models made in 1971 and later are correctly referred to as Type IIs, due to a change in the riser style.
Note - The serial numbers of all the Take-Downs begin with a letter which designates the riser style. For example, and "A" handle will have a serial number which begins with an "A", a "B" handle will have a serial number which begins with a "B", etc.
There is some greater value attached to the Type I bows by some collectors because these "improvements" of the Type II models actually caused some weaknesses in the bow risers strength.
Note - An option from the factory on the Bear Take-Down was the Bear Premier Hunting sight, only listed in the catalog for the "B" handles, and for the second and third years of production. This sight was factory installed in the sight window of the bow.
The Bear Take-Down could be ordered in one of three different limb lengths. Known as Limb Style Number 1, Style Number 2, and Style Number 3. The #1 limbs were known as the Short Limbs, the #2 as the Medium Limbs, and the #3 as the Long Limbs. Matching these various limbs with the different risers allowed the buyer to choose a bow length all the way from 56" to 70". These limbs can be found with both a white overlay in the limb tip, and with a red overlay. The white overlays were made before the change to the red overlays.
How To Date Bear Bows
A very common question from beginning Bear bow collectors is how to determine the age of a bow. There are many features and changes applied by Bear over the years which will help you in determining your bows model year.
Note - A great deal of the credit for the following information is due to Mr. Al Reader of North Haledon, New Jersey. Al has studied Bear Archery for many, many years and is considered by everyone as the King of Information regarding Bear Archery collecting.
First, if your bow is all wood, meaning that there is no laminations of any kind, then your bow had to be made before the mass production beginning in 1949. If your all wood bow has a stamp which says "Bear Products" in some form, then it had to be before the early-mid forties. If your all-wood bow says "Bear Archery", then it had to be manufactured after the early-mid forties and before 1949. Wooden bows with a small "Running Bear" decal can be dated to 1948.
Another way is to look for a leather grip. All Bear bows had leather grips from those first Grumleys in the late 30s until 1959. In 1959, the Kodiak Special dropped the leather grip, and in 1961 the Kodiak followed suit. The Grizzly kept the leather grip until 1964.
Yet another way to help determine the age of your bow is to look for a coin type medallion in the riser. Beginning in 1959, all Bear bows had a coin medallion of one type or another. The coin was copper in 1959, then changed to Aluminum in 1960-61, and Pewter in 1962. Brass coins were used in 1963-1970, and nickel-silver in 1971-72. The coins were all flush with the wood until 1972. Then in late 1972 it was raised above the surface of the bow. These raised medallions came in both gold and chrome covered plastic and are still used in todays Bear bows.
Note - Using the medallions for dating bows is not an absolute rule with Bear bows, as sometimes the plant would just throw medallions in a bin and the bow maker would reach in and grab medallions which may have been from a year or two earlier.
Place of Manufacture
In 1978, a strike at the Bear plant in Grayling, MI forced a move of all manufacturing and offices to Gainesville, Florida. If your bow says Gainesville on it, then you know that it was made after this move.
The 1953 Patent Date
All Bear bows from 1953 until 1972 have the "1953 Canadian Patent" date on them. This patent covered the working recurve limb. This is the date of the patent only, and does nothing to date the bow itself.
The 1953 Patent date which appears on all Bear bows from 1953 until 1972 is simply the date of the patent for a working recurve limb and has nothing to do with the actual model year.
The Decals and Silkscreening
The small Running Bear decal was first used in 1948, and was replaced by the large Standing Bear decal in mid-1953. The large Standing Bear decal also had the words "Glass Powered" under the Standing Bear.
The large Standing Bear decal was used until 1955 when it was replaced with the improved methods of silk-screening the identification on the bows. The silk-screening appeared on all bows by the 1956 model year.
The small Running Bear decal on the left was used by Bear from 1948 until 1953, with the larger Standing Bear decal replacing it in mid-1953 and lasting until the 1955-56 model years. Beginning in 1955-56 Bear began using the silk-screened logo shown on the far right.
How About Serial Numbers for Dating?
According to research done by Al Reader of New Jersey, who by the way is considered by most to be the most knowledgeable Bear collector alive, serial numbers work very well for dating Bear bows, but only for the years 1965-1969 when the first digit of the serial number is the year of manufacture. For example, a serial number of 6Z3884 would be a 1966 bow. Prior to 1965, the serial numbers for all Bear bows were started over every month, making these bows almost impossible to date by serial number alone. The "K" series of serial numbers (for example KZ9399) were started in 1970.
Even looking at the catalogs is not a sure way of dating a Bear bow, as sometimes the pictures were used for more than one year, even though there might have been changes in the woods used, or the colors available.
Remember also that Bear had to take the next yearns catalog to the printer in late fall of the prior year. This means that bows for that catalog or model year had to be available to take pictures of in the fall before the catalog was printed. For this reason, you will find bows of a particular year with features of the previous year. A good example would be the few known examples of the 1954 Kodiak II (Compass Kodiaks) with the small "Running Bear" decal which was actually discontinued in late1953. Most 1954 Kodiak IIs will be found with the large Standing Bear decal which replaced the small Running Bear decal in 1954. Another example would be the few known 1959 Kodiaks which don't have a coin medallion which were supposed to be on all Kodiaks beginning in model year 1959. Obviously these bows were made in late 1958 before the medallions became available to the factory.
Sometimes showing the bow to a knowledgeable collector is the only sure way to get an accurate date of manufacture.
Yearly Production Chart For The Most Popular Grayling-Made Bear Bows (Researched by and reprinted with the permission of Al Reader, North Haledon, NJ)
Wood Handle Take-Down 1969-1972
Wood C-Riser Victor Custom 1973-1975
Magnesium Handle Take-Down A-B-C 1971-1978
Kodiak Static Recurve 1950-1953
Kodiak Recurve 1954-1966
Super Kodiak 1967-1976
Grizzly Static Recurve 1949-1957
Grizzly Recurve 1958-1978
Super Magnum 48 1966-1976
Kodiak Magnum 52" 1961-1977
Kodiak Hunter 58" and 60" 1967-1977
Tamerlane HC-30 1965-1967
Tamerlane HC-300 1968-1972
Kodiak Special 1955-1967
Victor Patriot 1973-1977
Polar (recurve) 1957-1970
Alaskan (leather grip semi-recurve) 1959-1961
Alaskan (recurve) 1966-1970
Black Bear 1972-1978
Little Bear 1965-1978
Broadheads - The Bear Razorhead
If there were some way to measure the most successful broadhead of all time, I would put my money on the Bear Razorhead, with the Zwickey a very close second.
Fred Bear was always the inventor, the tinkerer. In the 1930s, Fred was making his personal broadheads from flat steel, in the style of tie-on heads modeled after the trade points of the wild west days. But these were very tedious to make and to attach correctly to the arrow. And certainly there was no way to mass-market such a head to the public.
Fred was very good at recognizing a market need, and soon started slotting Zwickey broadheads and adding removable bleeder blades in an attempt to discover a better broadhead which could be mass produced and marketed to the growing ranks of bowhunters of the day. The bleeders which were used in these slotted Zwickeys were very large compared to the bleeders that we see in todays broadheads, but the idea worked and encouraged Fred to continue with his experiments.
There were at least 2 different styles of "Airplane-Wing" bleeders used in the slotted Zwickeys of the days prior to the Razorhead.
In 1952 Fred began tinkering with a glue-on ferrule design for broadheads. These first heads were one of a kinds, but he was nearing completion of a design that would be both good for hunting and mass marketing.
By 1955, Fred was confident enough of his design that he made 300 prototypes of a new "Razorhead" design broadhead, and sent out samples to many of his bowhunting colleagues across the country asking them to try out this new head. If reports were positive, he planned to begin mass-production of them within the next year for the general public.
This prototype model Razorhead became known as the "Pinned Bear" due to the appearance of a "Pin-like" depression at the end of the ferrule. Actually, this was not a true pin, but rather a punch impression which held the blade to the ferrule better. Of the 300 prototypes which were originally made, only a very few survived to be in collections today. Apparently Freds bowhunting friends took him to his word and went out and shot them as he had asked, eventually loosing them in the swamps and forests across the country.
Note: Be on the lookout for these pinned models, and if you find one you have found a gold-mine as broadheads go.
Here is a picture of the various styles of Razorheads over the years. From left, the Pinned Ferrule, the 1956 Bubble-Head, the 1959. The photo on the right is another 1959, the 1960, the 1964. Notice the difference in the ferrule ends, and the vents among the different years.
In 1956, Bear Archery formally introduced the Razorhead to the public. Known today as the "Bubble-Head" by many collectors because of the rounded ferrule tip, this broadhead was an instant success. Good quality steel, easily sharpened and aligned to the arrow, the Razorhead was on it's way to becoming the largest selling broadhead of all time.
But Fred found a small problem with this original design. The "Bubble" on the tip of the ferrule was affecting penetration. So in 1959, Bear began flattening the ferrule tip to improve this situation. However, the vents on the 1959 Razorhead remained large as with the original 1956 model.
In 1960, a new die was made, with the vents made smaller and the ferrule tip even flatter. Lastly, in 1964, the vents were changed again, looking much like a die-cut parabolic feather shape now.
The Super Razorhead was introduced in 1978, and the era of the old lime-green Razorhead came to a close. However, these new Super Razorheads did not have a reputation for holding up under use and lost favor with the masses of bowhunters in time. However, Bear Archerys ability to market better than anyone else kept this broadhead in tackle boxes.
Finally, in 1981, the Stainless steel version of the Razorhead came out, but it is the old lime-green Razorheads that remain popular with bowhunters today both as collectors, and as shooters.
The auxiliary bleeder blade on the pinned ferrule Razorheads had the impression of a bear head in the vents, complete with ears and all as seen in this picture. The bleeder on the first production Razorhead in 1956 had the small pin hole in it, as shown. The bleeders soon changed to look like the bleeder on the right for all production after that. Be on the look out for these different bleeder blades!!
Note- Among the rarest of all broadheads is the Bear "Giant". Made in 1959 as an experimental head, Fred used these heads on his trip to Alaska that year. However, problems with the inch-and-a-half main blade caused poor arrow flight which kept these heads from ever going into production and today only 2 are known to exist in collections across the world.
Books by Fred Bear
From left to right: The Archers Bible (1968), Fred Bears Field Notes (1976), and Fred Bears World of Archery (1979).
Fred wrote or played a major role in three books during his lifetime. The first was The Archers Bible in 1968. Many thousands of copies of this book were sold for many years after it's introduction. This book can still be found in used book stores and from book search services fairly easily. The value of this book has remained fairly constant at the $8-10 range.
The next book which credits Fred as the author would be the classic "Fred Bears Field Notes", first published in 1976. Page for page, this book has my money for being one of the best adventure books of all time. This book can still be found in first edition in used book stores and Internet book services to this day, although prices are starting to climb quickly. An average price for a good first edition of this book would range from $35-50 with a good dust jacket.
Note: In the past year, I have bought 3 autographed copies of Field Notes from the internet for no more than $35 each!!! What a bargain. Keep your eyes open. Go back and read my earlier column on Book Collecting for tips on how to find used books on the Internet. But Remember, if I don't have it, I saw it first!!!
The last book for which Fred can be listed as the author was "Fred Bears World of Archery", published in 1979. Intended to be an all-around information book about the sport which consumed his entire adult life, the first edition of this book can still be found on the shelves of used book dealers, and later editions can still be found in new retail stores. A good first edition would average around $25-35 on the used market.
Bear Archery Company Catalogs
In the Beginning
The first Bear Archery Catalogs were no more than folded pamphlets advertising the leather goods which Fred had begun making in a shop in downtown Detroit. These first brochures were apparently produced in 1935. I say this because an add was found in the March 9, 1935 issue of Archery Review which announces that the Bear Products Company has a brochure available which can be obtained by writing the company on Tireman Avenue in Detroit. Although I have not actually seen a copy of this brochure, and I know of no one who has one in their collection, there were surely no bows in this catalog since Bear was making only accessories at this point in time.
The next piece of ephemera from Bear came in 1938 with the issue of a true catalog which details all their leather products and other accessories, but again no bows. Finally, in 1939, a 24 page catalog was issued from Bear Products which listed the first Bear bows.
These catalogs and brochures with the name Bear Products Company on them are very, very scarce.
Note - The Bear Archery catalogs of 1975 were unique in that they were printed in 4 different language versions - French, German, Japanese, and English.
The early Bear Archery catalogs were not dated, but numbered. From left to right are the #23, 24, 24A, and 25. I am missing the #20.
The Rarest of the Bear Catalogs?
The title of rarest Bear Archery Company catalog (not counting the early Bear Products brochures) would belong to the 1957, followed fairly closely by the Catalog #20. Why 1957? Something happened at the printer that year which destroyed the catalogs before many had been delivered to Bear. In an effort to get catalogs into the hands of their customers, Bear actually glued covers from 1957 onto catalogs of 1956!!!.
The 1955 catalog is shown on the left, with the rare 1957 pictured on the right in this photo.
Note Be on the lookout for 1957 catalogs which are actually 1956 catalogs with the 1957 cover glued on!! This happened in the Bear factory due to the loss of most all of the true 1957 catalogs. The true 1957 is the one that you are after, although neither is common by any stretch!!
Do people actually collect the catalogs? With a fever pitch do they collect them!! The catalogs prior to the 1970s are becoming very hard to find, and the early 60s and the dated ones from the 50s could even be considered scarce. The numbered ones might go so far as to be labeled rare in some collectors opinions. As for value, I don't dare risk putting my opinion here, cause sure as I did I would be proven wrong the next time someone sold one. It truly is a sellers market in Bear catalogs.
Catalogs of the Bear Products Company
1935 Tireman Avenue, Detroit, Michigan. Leather Products and Accessories only.
1938 4700 Burlingame, Detroit, again only accessories are listed
1939 4700 Burlingame, Detroit, with bows appearing for the first time in a Bear catalog, 24 pages
1940 Catalog #40A, 2611 W. Philladelphia St., Detroit
1940? Fold Out flyer #HP1 4-40 Accessories only 2611 W. Philadelphia, Detroit.
Catalogs of the Bear Archery Company
1942 Catalog #10-42 Leather products only. 2611 W. Philadelphia, Detroit.
1942 Catalog #11-42 Bows and other products . 2611 W. Philadelphia, Detroit
1944 Catalog #10-44 Leather products only. 2611 W. Philadelphia, Detroit
1947 Catalog #20 Complete catalog Grayling, Michigan
1949-50 Catalog #23
1951-52 Catalog #24 Complete catalog Grayling, Michigan
1953 Catalog #24A Complete catalog Grayling, Michigan
1954 Catalog #25 Complete catalog Grayling, Michigan
1955 - Present are all dated
Note - In 1967, there was a 1967 ½ catalog published to announce the new "Super Kodiak" and the Kodiak Hunter model bows.
Other Items of Interest From Bear Archery Knife, Stone, and File Set
Although not listed in the Bear catalog until 1957 for the first time, the Knife, Stone, and File set was being made as early as 1951 according to Al Reader. Officially called the Bowhunters Kit, there were 25 units made and given to friends by Bear in those years before they were first found in the catalog.
A simple Western knife, with a sharpening stone and file all in one leather sheath and selling for only $9.95, this popular item remained in the catalog all the way until 1978. Then why are they so hard to find? Good question, but I would venture a guess that most were lost to time in the bottom of a bowhunters tackle box, and may still be there waiting to be discovered. Get out your old Bear catalogs from 1957 through 1978 and find the picture of this scarce item, then you will know what to look for. I am sure that they are out there in the flea markets waiting for you to find them. And if you find two, call me!
Note - To tell if the knife in a set is the right knife, look at the model number found on either the tang or the finger guard. The model number should be #648. If it is not a #648, then the knife is not original.
The scabbards on the first 25 sets which were produced beginning in 1951 probably did not have a logo or brand mark on them at all, while the scabbard had the small Running Bear logo from the first sets in 1957 until somewhere in the mid-1960s. Then in this mid 1960s time frame, the logo was dropped in favor of the Bear script lettering which remained until the item was discontinued in 1978.
The early Bowhunter Kits had a Western knife with real bone handle, and the. Somewhere around the time of the logo change on the scabbard, the knife handle also changed over to a synthetic handle called Derylin.
Note - I have seen these items sell for as much as $250 each. Can this be a realistic price for an item which was made for over 25 years? Not in my humble opinion. I would bet that if the collector would get creative about where to look for this item, it could be found for a much more reasonable price.
St. Charles Quiver
Glen St. Charles was the West Coast distributor for Bear Archery almost since the beginning. It was Glen who set up the famous Little Delta hunts in Alaska during the late 1950s, and it was Glen who designed the famous St. Charles quiver. First found in the 1961 Bear Catalog, the first model St. Charles quiver was available only in a suede leather at a cost of $12.50. These first model quivers in suede are very scarce.
Note - There were actually two different variations of the first model suede St. Charles quiver. The first variation from 1961 until 1963 had no chest strap, with the chest strap being added for the 1964 year and for all models thereafter.
The second model St. Charles quiver was available in "antique elk hide" (a smooth leather) beginning in 1965, and the last model was available in vinyl beginning in 1971.
The St. Charles quiver was discontinued after the 1974 catalog.
This is a photo of the second variety of the St. Charles Quiver, with antique elk hide construction. Notice that the leather is smooth as compared to the first model which was offered in suede.
Both of the leather models command a lot of attention with todays collectors, while the vinyl model is only moderately desirable.
Fred Bears "Secrets of Hunting" Album and Cassette
This limited edition LP record album was first made available in 1968, but not officially listed in the catalog until 1969. Recorded with Curt Gowdy of Sportscaster fame, Fred relates many stories of his hunts and tips for success. Sold for $1.00 in the catalog, this item only lasted until 1970, when it was discontinued. During this time over 60,000 records were sold. Prices for this album have soared recently, as I have seen auctions bringing up to $30-50 each for a good copy.
Note - Is $50 realistic for an item with relatively large production runs? In my opinion, this item has gotten out of control and needs to come back to earth in value.
In 1983 Bear re-introduced the "Secrets of Hunting" as a cassette. This version lasted through 1986. I have not seen a cassette sell or trade on the secondary market lately, so value is really undetermined, but as I said before if it says Bear Archery on it be sure that someone, somewhere wants it bad.
Early Bow Quivers
Fred Bear patented the original bow quiver in 1946. This first model bow quiver has come to be known as the "Scabbard Quiver" due to it's all leather appearance, except for the base where the arrow clips are mounted. This original quiver, made of soft sheepskin, was available only in a 3 arrow model, was made from 1946 through 1956.
The famous "leather top" quiver, recognized by the brown metal frame and hood with leather cap, became available in 1956 in the screw-on and a tape-on variety.. The spring-arm variety was not available until 1963. These models were all 4 arrow design and were last listed in the catalog in 1971.
The 8-arrow quiver from Bear Archery was introduced in 1963.
From left to right, the first model Bear Quiver from 1946, the screw-on leather top quiver first introduced in 1956, and the spring arm leather top quiver not introduced until 1963.
Chronology of Events for Bear Archery Company
Bear Archery Plant Locations
I would like to close with a story of the last time that I got to spend time with Fred. It was 1986, I believe, at the Shot Show in New Orleans. I was a small time Bear dealer who got the honor of being invited to a gala party that Bear Archery was holding in a large open-air courtyard on Bourbon Street. I only received an invitation because of a close friendship with my Bear rep, and only learned that I would be going an hour before the party was to start as I was taking in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street with other dealer friends.
As it was, I was dressed in blue-jeans and a very casual shirt. Upon my entrance into the party I was astounded at the sight. Everyone, I mean everyone, was in suits and even tuxedos. There were flat-bottom boats filled with shrimp, craw-fish, and other appetizers. Free liquid refreshments were there for the asking in the back of the room. Feeling totally out of place, I found a corner in the back of the Courtyard and proceeded to earn back as much of the profit that I had given Bear that year as I could, eating my weight in seafood.
Then, out of nowhere came this large shadow over me. I looked up to see Fred wheeling an oxygen cart in one hand and a cold can of Budweiser in the other. His eyes were on me in the back corner by myself. As he approached with trademark smile of his, he chuckled as he said, "Boy I sure am glad that I am not paying for this stuff any more". For the next 15 minutes I had the most wonderful conversation with Fred, something that I will always remember. That was just like Fred I guess, singling me out in a room full of big-shots, most likely because of my blue-jeans and boots. This was his style, and the suits and ties were not. I walked out of that party with a brand new wristwatch, a Bear Archery Company watch given to me by Fred himself. Today this watch holds a place of honor in my collection unlike few other items I possess.
Just about two years later I learned that Fred had passed away. But the legacy that he left will never die, the people who collect Bear Archery items will see to that.
Much credit is due to the following people for the research which they have performed over the years, compiling boxes and boxes of information which allows people today to have a much easier time of researching the Bear Archery Company. Among those that I would like to single out for their help in this effort are Joe St. Charles of Northwest Archery in Seattle, WA, Matt Dickerson of Texas, Carl Ruddock of Marshall, MI, Floyd Eccleston of Mt. Pleasant, MI, and most significantly Al Reader of North Haledon, NJ.