The Special Collections Department maintains one of the largest collections of angling literature in the United States. In the 1960s, Helena & Douglas Milne donated their collection of fishing books, periodicals, artwork and ephemera to the University of New Hampshire. Books and periodicals purchased from an endowment established by Mrs. Milne have doubled this original gift.
The collection, which now numbers over 3,500 volumes, is particularly rich in materials relating to fly fishing for trout and Atlantic salmon with special emphasis on fishing in New England and eastern Canada. Beyond containing the classics of angling literature – such as numerous editions of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler – the collection boasts a vast array of books on fly tying, rod making, and stream tactics.
Over 3,000 volumes of the Milne Collection are cataloged and appear in the UNH Library online catalog. These books and periodicals may be searched by author, title, subject, and keyword.
Highlights from the Milne Angling Collections
The Milne Angling Collection includes a large number of volumes that represent the very beginnings of angling literature. Dame Juliana Berners’ A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle (1496) is considered the first book on the subject printed in England. Although some question her authorship, Berners, who was prioress of the Benedictine abbey of Sopwell, occupies a similar place in angling literature to that accorded Chaucer in English literature. The Milne Collection contains several editions of Berners’ work dating from the 1827 William Pickering edition to modern versions, such as the one published in John McDonald’s Quill Gordon (1972).
If Berners is the Chaucer of angling literature, then Izaak Walton must be its Shakespeare. And as with Shakespeare, critics have accused Walton of shameless “borrowing” (one writer referred to him as the “miserable old plagiarist”). Yes, in producing The Compleat Angler, Walton borrowed and added wisely from the good work of others, but the sum of the parts is a treasure trove of early angling literature. The classic status of Walton’s opus is evidenced in the more than 460 editions published since 1653. The Milne Collection includes about one-fifth of that total, the earliest being a bound copy of Charles Cotton’s chapter from the fifth edition (1676), which is entitled: Being Instructions How to Angle for a Trout or Grayling in a Clear Stream.
Although it contains many books on angling’s British roots, the Milne Angling Collection is particularly rich in the angling literature of the United States. It is to the pulpit of a Kingston, N.H. parson, Joseph Seccombe, that American angling literature can trace its in origins. In 1739, Seccombe went against established religious teachings and spoke in defense of fishing on the sabbath. Appropriately enough, Seccombe gave his sermon at a meeting house adjacent to Amoskeag Falls, where he and some of his better-heeled parishioners fished for salmon, herring, alewives, and eels. His sermon, published as Business and Diversion inoffensive to God (Boston, 1743) is considered to be the rarest and most valuable of American angling books. The Milne Collection contains a first edition, an 1892 reprint, and two 1971 limited edition reprints of Seccombe’s sermon.
Among other notable classics in the collection are John J. Brown’s American Angler’s Guide (1845), the first book-length guide for angling published in the United States; Rev. George Washington Bethune’s edition of The Complete Angler (1847), the first edition of Walton’s classic edited, published, and printed outside of Great Britain; Frank Forester’s Fish and Fishing (1849), which was written by Henry William Herbert, the English-born author who as “Frank Forester” became widely regarded as the father of sport fiction; and Thaddeus Norris’ The American Angler’s Book (1864), which many consider the greatest of the 19th century American angling books. Other 19th century classics include the works of Englishmen G. P. R. Pulman, Frederic M. Halford, and Francis Francis, as well as those of the American angling man of letters, Henry Van Dyke.
The 20th century is well-represented with some of the modern “classics” of angling, both British and American. Overshadowed by many of the hefty and richly illustrated angling works is Emlyn Gill’s modest Practical Dry Fly Fishing (1912), the first book on dry fly fishing published in the United States. The Milne Collection also features the works of Eugene Connett, both as author and as founder and publisher of the original Derrydale Press imprint. Other modern notables include, but are certainly not limited to: John Atherton’s The Fly and the Fish (1951); Ray Bergman’s Trout (1938); Charles K. Fox’s Rising Trout (1963); Arnold Gingrich’s The Joys of Trout (1973) and The Fishing in Print (1974); Vincent Marinaro’s A Modern Dry Fly Fishing Code (1950); McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia (1965) by A. J. McClane; John McDonald’s The Complete Fly Fisherman: The Notes and Letters of Theodore Gordon (1947); Lee Wulff’s The Atlantic Salmon (1958); Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It (1976); and just about anything written by Roderick Haig-Brown.
Besides these classics of angling literature, the Milne Collection boasts a vast array of modern books on fly tying, rod making, and stream tactics. So, whether you are trying to find a salmon fly pattern from one of Joe Bates’ sumptious volumes or simply want to read the latest mutterings and musings of John Gierach, there is certainly something for you in the Milne Angling Collection.