story begins with Charles H. Demarest. Charles was born in 1880 and was the
youngest of three sons. Upon reaching adulthood he found there wasn't a
place for him on the family dairy farm in New Jersey and so went to work for
the Daniel Shaw Company in New York. The Shaw Company was involved in the
importation of a variety of natural goods - Rattans, Mother of Pearl shells,
Buffalo Horns for buttons, Palm Leaf Fans, Bamboo, Ginger and some Spices,
and it was here that he learned the import business.
Charles acquired the company in 1911 and the company records
indicate that at the time he was supplying both 'Tonkin' and Calcutta cane
to a veritable who's-who of the rodbuilding trade: William Mills (a buyer
for Leonard Rod Company), Montague, South Bend, Devine, et al. At this time
Tonkin cane was known as 'Chinese' bamboo and quickly became the favored
species for rodbuilding.
Charles incorporated his business
in 1922 and expanded his operations to include the importation of a number
of natural items that were commonly used in products of his day. These
included rattan to be used in furniture making, cane webbing for chair
seats, natural broom and brush fibers, woven matting and hat bodies, varnish
gums, and horns for umbrella handles.
In 1934 Charles made his first
Far East trip to meet his suppliers. Traveling by ship and land he visited
India, Hong Kong, Canton and West Africa. He didn't have the opportunity to
go upcountry to see the Tonkin growing in its natural state, but he did get
to meet with his suppliers at the facilities for sorting the cane at Canton.
These long-term relationships with the people who grow, process and
distribute cane were cemented and strengthened at this time.
Charles' son, Harold,
joined the family business in 1934 and recounted how upon graduation from
college "on a Friday, started working with his dad on Monday!" During the
time leading up to World War II, Harold traveled all over eastern US
personally meeting with the company's customers-a tradition that continues
to this day.
During WWII Harold served
his country in the Navy while his father continued running the business. The
war years were lean ones for the company as the men were away fighting and
domestic efforts were focused on wartime concerns. But the postwar years saw
an explosion in the Tonkin cane business. Men returning from the war were
anxious to resume fishing and the tackle trade flourished. Rodbuilding
companies at this time had a policy of carrying a 4 year supply of Tonkin in
inventory and began rebuilding their stocks. In 1950 Harold took his first
trip to China and completed what turned out to be his last Tonkin
transaction prior to the embargo.
All was not well for the cane
rodbuilding companies however. On the horizon was the coming of the first
synthetic rods as well as the 1950 embargo on trade with China including
Tonkin cane. Many manufacturers could not make the transition to synthetic
materials and one by one closed their operations. As they folded, the
Demarest Company would often buy back stocks of cane to help keep cane
available to those in need. Charles continued to work three days a week at
the company until he died in 1957, when Harold took the helm.
After the embargo ended in 1971, new
challenges arose. The growing and distribution of Tonkin cane was taken over
by the Chinese government and new relationships had to be forged. The
synthetics were rapidly replacing cane as the material of choice. In 1962
Harold met his bride-to-be Eileen while on (what else?) a business trip. He
credits her organizational and business acuity to the continued success of
the company. In 1976 they built a 30,000 square foot warehouse in New Jersey
to accommodate their operation.
As the demand for cane ebbed with
the switch to synthetics, the market for cane became quite small and mainly
limited to home craftsman and the few remaining commercial firms that
continued to build cane rods. The publication of the Garrison/Carmichael
book in 1977 as well as the Cattanach book in 1992 helped to spawn a
reawakening in the craft and renewed appreciation for the bamboo and the
cane rodbuilding craft. Throughout it all-from the good times of the Golden
Age to the lean years-the Demarest Company has been there to meet the needs
of cane rodbuilders.
Today, the Demarests continue their
active roles in providing the highest quality cane to rodbuilders worldwide.
In the last five years they have visited China three times; tirelessly
searching to improve the quality and service synonymous with their
reputation and good name. They are also
well known and respected visitors at the many rodbuilding gatherings
throughout the United States and Canada where they give informative lectures
about Tonkin cane. For those interested in trying their hand at the craft
they offer small (three culm) quantities of cane, as well as 20 culm bundles
for professionals and serious hobbyists. While the days of shipping railroad
cars full of cane to production facilities are gone, they continue to
preserve and endure as they have since 1880!
~J.D. Wagner~ ©2000, J.D. Wagner, Inc.