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Help with early Undersee Products Equipment Research

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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My historical diving equipment research focus has shifted for the moment to the early days of the Australian spearfishing gear manufacturer Undersee Products, which started up in the late 1940s at Bondi as "Undersee Novelties":
PacificIslandsMonthlyOctober1951_Detail.jpg

and changed its name in the early 1950s to "Undersee Products":
ASSD_1953_09.jpg

From https://www.diversworld.com.au/product-category/brands/undersee/, I gleaned the "fun fact" that "Undersee Products were founded by Captain Don Linklater in 1947 at Bondi Beach. The original name came from the simple use of a bucket with the bottom cut out and replaced with some clear plastic or glass and the rubber from a tyre tube around the top to seal on your face. This is why their name is spelled Undersee which refers to seeing your catch in the water. Once Don concurred the idea of seeing his catch he then developed the power retained speargun. The original Undersee speargun’s mechanism started simply from the old aluminum window latches from the bus, trams and trains." I'm guessing that the "aquascope" in the above ad traces its origins to that "bucket with the bottom cut out and replaced with some clear plastic or glass and the rubber from a tyre tube around the top to seal on your face."

At https://usfa.org.au/historical-spea...-of-skis-favoured-by-queenslanders/thumbnails, I found the following:
Lois-Linklater.jpg

The caption reads: "Lois Linklater, the wife of "Undersee" founder Don Linklater, was one of Australia's first female spearfishers and Scuba divers. lois was involved with the early cave diving explorations in the Jenolan Caves and was Australia's first female cave diver. Lois is wearing an Undersee Vacseal mask and Sealskin Wetsuit and holding a loxin speargun."

At https://thejohnharding3.wordpress.com/2006/04/29/hans-lotte-hass-australia-leads-the-world-1953/, I found: "Veteran spearman and author, **Hans Hass**, passing rapidly through Sydney, en route to the Barrier (Reef) paused just long enough to have a club badge pinned on his chest by **Dick Charles**. Dick got around to pinning a badge on the (chest of) photogenic Mrs (Lotte) Hass at the December (1952) Sunday outing. The Dr (of zoology not medicine) commented that he had believed France to lead the world in spear fishing technique and development, but is convinced that Australia leads both France and America. The reasons given for Australia leading the world in 1953 were: a helmet with attached face mask, the large shoulder-type spear guns of Wally Gibbins design, flippers incorporated into gloves, and a wrap-around rubber sheet – the forerunner to wet suits." Quite a compliment for Australian spearfishing in general and for Undersee Products in particular, which made the "wrap-around rubber sheet – the forerunner to wet suits" and the "helmet with attached face mask". The latter appeared in a late 1953 ad, while the US Divers version made its début in 1954:
USDivers_1953c.jpg


I'm particularly interested in Undersee Products' early basic gear. I now know they manufactured two mask models, the Commando and the Vacseal, the former round, the latter oval. I know they made five different snorkel models, three "double-bend" and two "single-bend" models. I also know that they manufactured their "Frogman" helmet and their "Sealskin" wraparound sheet-rubber swimsuit that preceded the birth of the wetsuit. I am aware too, however, that I've been unable to find any details of Undersee Products fins, although they are mentioned in the "Undersee Novelties" ad at the top, which also mentions diving knives and weight belts. Were these made by the firm, or bought in to expand the range? Does anybody have any further information about the fortunes of Undersee Products from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, maybe even an early price list or catalogue? Anything really would help with my research into this pioneering Australian underwater equipment company. :)
 
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popgun pete

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The spearfisherman in the advert is holding a "Loxin" speargun which was Undersee's first speargun. The name derives from the fact that the spear is locked in, at least by the standards of the day. Here are some photos of one. The gun that made Undersee's reputation was still in the future, it using the cam lock trigger mechanism designed by Denny Wells which was later used by Jay Riffe in his own spearguns.
Undersee Loxin.jpg
Undersee Loxin muzzle.jpg

LOXIN MECH.jpg

The trigger is basically a leveraged single piece trigger where the trigger you pull with your finger pries the trigger located behind it, an unusual design to lower trigger pull.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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How many people died using that stuff? :nailbiting:
I wonder whether 70 years from now underwater hunters will be saying exactly the same thing about gear that was state-of-the-art back in 2020? :) I expect present-day scientists and technologists securing our current progress will generally have looked back into the past with an open mind for inspiration and direction before facing forward with a view to navigating a course into what would otherwise be a totally unknown future.

The spearfisherman in the advert is holding a "Loxin" speargun which was Undersee's first speargun. The name derives from the fact that the spear is locked in, at least by the standards of the day. Here are some photos of one. The gun that made Undersee's reputation was still in the future, it using the cam lock trigger mechanism designed by Denny Wells which was later used by Jay Riffe in his own spearguns.
View attachment 56523 View attachment 56524
View attachment 56525
The trigger is basically a leveraged single piece trigger where the trigger you pull with your finger pries the trigger located behind it, an unusual design to lower trigger pull.
Thanks, Pete, I was wondering about the origin of the product name "Loxin". Am I right in thinking that Undersee just focused on spearguns after the 1950s and left production of fins, masks, snorkels, exposure suits etc to other Australian diving equipment manufacturers? The company's ads during the 1960s do appear to concentrate on guns:
ASM_1961_11-12.jpg

underseehis4.png
 
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Leander

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I wonder whether 70 years from now underwater hunters will be saying exactly the same thing about gear that was state-of-the-art back in 2020? :)
They will, and not just about our gear.

But I like those old tools. The home-engineering is beautiful! Sure they looks like death-traps, but in the alternative future we will again be making our own stuff from the scrap we find.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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They will, and not just about our gear.

But I like those old tools. The home-engineering is beautiful! Sure they looks like death-traps, but in the alternative future we will again be making our own stuff from the scrap we find.

Indeed. Compare the antique mahogany and brass balance with the electronic scales below:
s-l1600.jpg

balanza_de_sobremesa_de_precision.jpg

The second may be much more scientically accurate in its measurements, but the first is much more aesthetically appealing to look at, or at least in my opinion. Mind you, I'm old enough to have been at school when all the labs there were equipped with the antique balance as standard!
 

popgun pete

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Jul 30, 2008
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Undersee eventually concentrated on guns because other manufacturers supplied the market, such as Turnbull, Cavalero, Nemrod and Voit, for the rubber diving products. In the early days when nothing was available is when they supplied most of the gear and there were very few people diving, but that changes in the fifties as the sport expands around the world. During the war in the Pacific servicemen had seen how natives in the islands speared fish and that gave them the idea to do it themselves, but bringing modern technology to bear. In Europe this happened per-war as France had its island colonies in the Pacific and had also seen how the Japanese practised underwater fishing with spears. Australian spearfishermen had access to waters that had not been speared to the extent that had been done elsewhere and local reefs abounded with big fish that required guns with the necessary grunt, hence the rapid evolution of powerful guns that at a pinch could also see off sharks.
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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1599229896143.png
Monogoggle.jpg

I have posted above an old photograph of an early-1950s Australian spearfisherman wearing what I believe to be an Undersee "Monogoggle" alongside an image of the mask from an Undersee Products advertisement. The "Monogoggle" has a conventional oval lens, while the straps attaching the mask to the head seem unique to this model. It is claimed that the unusual harness adds comfort and security for mask wearers operating in heavy surf, enhances adjustability to different facial dimensions and enables the mask to be used by more than one family member.

I'll leave it to Pete to identify the speargun this underwater hunter is carrying.

I have reason to believe, however, that the asymmetrical fixed open-heel fins our anonymous Australian spearfisherman is wearing were manufactured by Turnbull and not by Undersee Products. Such fins were generally worn with the longer blade side and the "pointy" blade tip on the outside. They are probably the "Turnbull Swim Flippers" model below imported by Lillywhites of London in 1954. Note the instruction embossed on the top of the foot pockets to ensure correct wear:
1599231504870.png

Pete mentioned Turnbull alongside American (Voit) and European (Cavalero, Nemrod) when he listed the main diving equipment manufacturers supplying "rubber goods" such as masks, fins and snorkels to the Australian recreational water sports market in the aftermath of World War II. By way of contrast, Turnbull was a domestic manufacturer of underwater swimming gear founded and operating in Sydney, Australia's most populous city, the capital of the state of New South Wales and the location of the world-famous Bondi Beach. After exhaustive online searches recently, I have managed at last to find out more about the founder of the M. D. Turnbull company and his contribution to the early adoption of "beach flippers" for water sports off Australian shores.

Watch this space. :)
 

popgun pete

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Judging by the bayonet on the muzzle and the line release on top of the handle the gun is a "Loxin".
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
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Judging by the bayonet on the muzzle and the line release on top of the handle the gun is a "Loxin".
Thanks, Pete. So Undersee Products or its predecessor, Undersee Novelties, manufactured this spearfisherman's mask and gun.
 

popgun pete

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The fin blades may not be asymmetrical, just being distorted on the diver’s right hand side by standing on a rock.
 

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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The fin blades may not be asymmetrical, just being distorted on the diver’s right hand side by standing on a rock.
Thanks for the input, Pete. I'm beginning to have second thoughts now about the provenance of these fins, not least because I can't see the two centre ribs on the blades. I suppose they could be these open-heel Cavalero Champions from the late 1940s:
1599235849871.jpeg

Or perhaps Voit Churchills:
1599236109691.jpeg

Or perhaps they too were made or supplied by Undersee... The mystery thickens. I think I'll start a new thread when I report on what I recently found online about the early days of M. D. Turnbull.
 

popgun pete

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Manufacturers often subcontract out items to specialist manufacturers. Undersee products such as the early guns had cast parts, being sand castings in aluminium for the handles and in some cases the entire gun! Rubber items such as fins may have been sourced elsewhere. Now I don't know how far back they go, but there was an Aussie company name Duncan Rubber that made swim fins and in the seventies made Mares Sea King flippers under license and before that made fins with their own name. Owen Churchill acquired the rights to rubber fins from De Corlieu who had patented a fin made from various grades of rubber, a successor to his metal blade fins covered with crepe rubber. However once people saw the idea of a fin they began copying it and making fins with longer blades, many having fixed strap heels as they were easier to make and requiring relatively simple dies using compression and vulcanising of strategically placed blocks of rubber in the mould. When large scale manufacturers began making fins smaller operations would have gone out of business.
 
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popgun pete

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Thanks for the input, Pete. I'm beginning to have second thoughts now about the provenance of these fins, not least because I can't see the two centre ribs on the blades. I suppose they could be these open-heel Cavalero Champions from the late 1940s:
View attachment 56567
Or perhaps Voit Churchills:
View attachment 56568
Or perhaps they too were made or supplied by Undersee... The mystery thickens. I think I'll start a new thread when I report on what I recently found online about the early days of M. D. Turnbull.
Any relation? Seemed appropriate!
Wilson Swim Fins.jpg
 

DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
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Any relation? Seemed appropriate!
View attachment 56570
No genealogical link, I can assure you, Pete, but an extra twist to the contorted tale of early swim fin development that you have already outlined. I presume that this particular "Wilson" is the one also engaged in the tennis equipment business if the brand logo font is anything to go by:
20-0944_Q3_Wcom_Homepage_Creative_R1_EMEA_TE_Trade_In_FRH_FNL.jpg

Interesting connection between A. Wilson & Co. and Churchill fins. Just to sow even further confusion, here's an early pair of fins branded "Willson" with two "Ls":
1599284353225.jpeg

1599284374624.jpeg


Slazenger appears to have manufactured Voit fins, masks and snorkels under licence for distribution within Australia during the early 1960s:
1599283501631.png
 
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DRW

Vintage snorkeller
Jan 5, 2007
262
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Thank you so much for this article, Mel. I take it you are the author? It is so helpful to me because it tells me so many things I didn't know about Undersee Products' range of underwater equipment. I have some information about the Vacseal, Monogoggle and Commando masks, but nothing about the Merman mask, while the product timeline is like gold dust to me. Tantalisingly, the article mentions swim fins in the Undersee range and I would love to know definitively whether these were bought in from, say, Turnbull, which introduced them around 1949, or a foreign manufacturer, or whether Undersee Novelties/Products manufactured their own fins at all. By the way, the article appears to stop abruptly in mid-sentence. Is there more text to read? And is the source a book or a magazine? I'd love to read the rest. I have just obtained a copy of Tom Byron's History of Spearfishing and Scuba Diving in Australia: The first 80 years from 1917 to 1997 (below), which is also a mine of information about late-1940s and early-1950s Australian spearfishing, but it doesn't include the excellent article you posted.
51JK6JHQRDL._AC_SY400_.jpg

Thanks again!:)
 
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sharkey

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Nov 22, 2013
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Thank you so much for this article, Mel. I take it you are the author? It is so helpful to me because it tells me so many things I didn't know about Undersee Products' range of underwater equipment. I have some information about the Vacseal, Monogoggle and Commando masks, but nothing about the Merman mask, while the product timeline is like gold dust to me. Tantalisingly, the article mentions swim fins in the Undersee range and I would love to know definitively whether these were bought in from, say, Turnbull, which introduced them around 1949, or a foreign manufacturer, or whether Undersee Novelties/Products manufactured their own fins at all. By the way, the article appears to stop abruptly in mid-sentence. Is there more text to read? And is the source a book or a magazine? I'd love to read the rest. I have just obtained a copy of Tom Byron's History of Spearfishing and Scuba Diving in Australia: The first 80 years from 1917 to 1997 (below), which is also a mine of information about late-1940s and early-1950s Australian spearfishing, but it doesn't include the excellent article you posted.
51JK6JHQRDL._AC_SY400_.jpg

Thanks again!:)
Mel is the official historian for the USFA & we like everyone here now are so fortunate to have him.
Great to see you on here Mel!
 
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Mel Brown

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Mel is the official historian for the USFA & we like everyone here now are so fortunate to have him.
Great to see you on here Mel!
Thank you for your response DRW. The Undersee history I've posted is 2 pages and it was first published in "Classic Diver" (the journal of the Historical Diving Society Australia/Pacific in issue No 43 Spring 2007 and again in International Spearfishing & Freediving News Jan/March 2008.
It was compiled from research I've conducted over many years.
I've attached several Advs. that may be of interest. Unfortunately, I haven't dated the Merman Ad. I suspect it was renamed shortly after. The Ultraplane flippers would have been made elsewhere to Undersee's design. I've never seen these and don't know if any are still in existence.
 

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  • Undersee Merman Facemask.jpg
    Undersee Merman Facemask.jpg
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  • Undersee Adv. Jan 1955.jpg
    Undersee Adv. Jan 1955.jpg
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  • Undersee Ultraplane Nav 1956.jpg
    Undersee Ultraplane Nav 1956.jpg
    1.6 MB · Views: 11
  • Undersee Ultraplane April 1957 Adv..jpg
    Undersee Ultraplane April 1957 Adv..jpg
    1.8 MB · Views: 10
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popgun pete

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Stylistically the Aquaplane fins look like the Turnbull fins as the main feature is the angled blade on an adjustable heel strap fin. Turnbull full foot fins had the same angled blade and this was continued on the later Giant Continental fins. While many early fins had short blades for a rapid kick cycle, longer fins such as Duck Feet had flat blades. Cressi had angled blades on their Rondine full foot fins as they realised a diver lying flat in the water has slightly downward pointed feet and angling the blades moves them more to the horizontal, although obviously not completely. Trailing edge of fin blades tends to be a stylistic differentiator and here the similarity is to Turnbull.
 
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