Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bogdan Status

I am not a fly fisherman. I know nothing about fly fishing outside what you see in SUV commercials and A River Runs Through It. But I do know that Stanley Bogdan made the finest fly fishing reels the world has ever seen. I know this because he lived in Nashua, New Hampshire where I work ever day. Stanley died this year in March at 92 and his passing was marked by such luminary enterprises as Forbes Magazine and the New York Times. A bevy of billionaires, prices, and captains of industry spoke fondly of their Bogdan reels and the man himself.

Interestingly, about a decade ago when Stanley's waiting list was about three years long and his new reels were sold instantly on the open market, second hand, for three times what he was charging for them, he doubled his prices. He thought that the increase would calm demand and end the secondary market price gouging. It did nothing of the sort. The secondary market prices, shortly thereafter, doubled as well. It seems that when your market is the very top of the economic ladder (according to local legend one of Chase Manhattan's presidents, apparently, flew his charter jet to Nashua so he could personally receive his Bogdan reel and met the legend) pricing is not an issue.

The stories of Bogdan reels are stuff of legends. They were handmade by his son, Stephen, and himself. Stanley would go fishing regularly, even at 92. And the company of people that sought a place by his side in the river reads like a who's who: Paul Volcker, the Chase Manhattan president, Price Philip, Ted Williams, Bing Crosby and many more. The reels are beautiful, even to someone that does not know how they work. Take a gander:

And this got me thinking. What gear that I own will take its place among the absolute best of the best in 10, 20, or even 30 years?

That is a tough question, one I can't readily answer. I think that if you are fortunate enough to own a Loveless knife, you have a sure thing in term of long term greatness. Here is an especially beautiful example of his sub hilt fighter, probably his most expensive and complex design:

I am not so convinced that the show knives, art knives, or collector's knives that are out there right now being marketed as such are going to actually be these things down the line. When your dealing with tools, only the useful and great seem to stick around. The pretty don't last. Look at the market for Stanley Sweetheart planes from the 1880-1930s. They weren't the prettiest of their kind, just the most useful and well designed. This is why I think the Loveless knives will stand the test of time. I think that Randall knives will too, but to a lesser degree. They are much closer to production knives than the customs that Loveless produced. They are also in continuous production. Randall, though still family made, is more of a brand, while Loveless was a guy. With the guy passing away, the knives aren't made any more. That is sure to impact their ability to reach that stratosphere of collectibility and utility--which is what the Bogdan reels represent; they are the intersection of limited availability and unmatched, timeless performance.

The iPhone, as masterfully designed as it and its UI are, cannot reach Bogdan status. It is too replaceable, too much an item of planned obsolescence, and too dependent on technology. Bogdan status is about the sweet spot between collector's piece and fine machine, it is the space where performance and availability are inversely related. Bodgan status is when an item has reached that echelon occupied in the automotive world by the Shelby Cobra.

One other thing that I think could approach this rarified air is a McGizmo light. Lights are technology based tools and so they do tend to get outdated, unlike a knife or a plane or a fly reel, but the joy of finally owning one tells me that there is something about them that sets them apart. They are both high tech and high design. Personally I think that the Haiku's aesthetics are matched only by those of the Lunasol (especially the smaller Lunasol, the Lunasol 20), but these two, for me, are in their own class. Here is a shot of the beautiful Lunasol 20:

Here is my Haiku on a piece of slate:


Both are superb lights, beautiful in their simplicity. I am, of course, biased, but I think they are bit nicer looking than the Spy series lights, especially the triclops looking Tri V.

I am sure there are other EDC items out there that will reach Bogdan status. Busse knives, especially given their limited runs, seem to be there. Some older or higher end production knives that are sprint runs (like the Ti ATR Spyderco or the Kershaw Tilt) might be there. It is hard to tell. But it is fun to try to predict.