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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century France

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Mid twentieth century citizens of France may have chanced upon the Kent Rubber Company of Anglet-Blancpignon if they bought a "Dream" or a "Comet" rubber hot water bottle to get them through the cold, dark nights of the French winter I still remember vividly from my "year abroad" studying French and teaching English in an Auvergne secondary school back in the late 1960s.

    According to the June 1964 document at COUR DE CASSATION, Chambre sociale, du 10 juin 1964, Publié au bulletin | Legifrance, Kent Rubber's other products included bathing caps and balloons. At some stage, the company adopted the name "Kent Adour Caoutchouc", which identified the manufacturer with rubber products, as "caoutchouc" is French for "rubber".

    Our focus here, however, is on the Kent range of basic diving gear. My principal source is the 1967 edition of an "Equipment List" I have in my possession, published by Calypso Sports Ltd of Poole in the UK. A summary follows of the Kent products Calypso Sports imported from France for the British market.

    Face Masks
    • Kent Junior (Black). £1 3s 0d.
    • Kent Senior (Black). £1 5s 6d.
    • Kent Biarritz (Blue). 13s 9d.
    • Kent Compensator Beryx (Black). £1 9s 6d.
    • Kent Compensator with Drain Valve (Black). £1 17s 2d.
    • Kent Rubber (Black) 10s 9d.
    • Kent Senior Champion Goggles (Blue). 8s 0d.
    Swim Fins
    • Kent Tiki Standard, Adjustable (Black) £2 10s 8d.
    • Kent Tiki Large (Black) £2 10s 8d.
    jale and АлександрД like this.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    In a French-language diving equipment directory somewhere, I found the following entry for the Kent Rubber Company:

    Kent Adour Caoutchouc. Sarl., 39, avenue d’Espagne, 64600 Anglet. Tél. (59) 03.84.01. Télex : 578002. « Kent », « Submarine », palmes, masques, tubas et tous articles de plongée et de chasse sous-marine.

    English translation: Kent Adour Rubber Company Ltd. 39, avenue d'Espagne, 64600 Anglet. Tel. (59) 03.94.01. Telex: 578002. Brands: "Kent", "Submarine". Products: fins, masks, snorkels, all diving and underwater hunting equipment.

    Kent Submarine diving mask
    This model seems to be a plain, compensator-less, oval diving mask with a rubber skirt and a metal clamp with a top screw. It may be the "Kent Senior" mask listed in the Calypso Sports list mentioned in the previous post.
  3. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Final posting for today. Kent Rubber also manufactured a snorkel-mask.

    Kent Submarine snorkel-mask
    Once again an image from the excellent online diving museum at Actualités. So a single snorkel mask, displayed without the valve at the end of the swan's neck tube. The body of the mask comes with a feather edge skirt and with gold-coloured metalwork around the lens and the base of the snorkel. No details of face coverage, but this looks like a mask designed to accommodate the eyes and the nose only.

    I'll finish there for today. In a few days' time I'll be back with information about Kent Rubber fins. And perhaps a little more about our "man of mystery" Mr Wilen.
  4. clercinlemousy

    clercinlemousy Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 25 - 49
    Location: québec Canada
    David, bon matin

    mes messages pour toi me reviennent, j,essaye de savoir pourquoi

    Louis de Corlieu ne fut pas le seul a vouloir déplacer l'homme par un moyen de propulsion aux pieds, Au moyen age on a émit l'idée de mettre des palmes aux soldats pour traverser des rivières et attaquer l'ennemie . il n'y a pas eu d'invention mais l'idée avait germée. les tous premiers brevets de palmes furent déposés en 1837. De cette année à 1943, 106 inventeurs on eu la même idée, propulser l'homme par un moyen mécanique ou autres par des objets aux pieds. Parmis ces brevets quelques uns se rapprochaient de la palme d'aujourd'hui, moins de 5 ont été exploitées à petites échelles et presque tous ces brevets étaient pensés à des fins militaires. les guerres de toutes époques ont contribuées a ne pas apparaitre et de ce fait même oubliés des hommes.

    Au fil du temps les palmes de natation de sauvetages avaient le nom de: natatoire, palette nautiques, patins nageoires, socques nautiques, soulier de natation, pales de natation, pattes de canard, propulseur, palmes de sauvetages.

    nous allons faire un bond en 1941 année des premières palmes contrefaites, un plus tard je vous reviendrais avec le fabricant français Édouad Godel qui faisait affaire avec de Corlieu.
    JMBL likes this.
  5. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    I'll begin today with a translation of Yves' message:
    Louis de Corlieu was not the only person who wanted to get people moving using propulsion to the feet. In the Middle Ages there was a suggestion that soldiers should don fins when crossing rivers to attack the enemy. There was no invention but the idea had germinated. The very first fin patents were filed in 1837. From then to 1943, 106 inventors had the same idea about propelling people by mechanical means or by placing objects on their feet. Some of these patents were close to today's fins, fewer than five were implemented on a small scale and almost all these patents were designed for military purposes.

    Over time lifesaving swim fins have been known as swimming fins, nautical paddles, fin skates, nautical cleats, swimming shoes, swimming blades, duck feet, thrusters, rescue flippers.

    We will make a jump in 1941 year of the first counterfeit fins, one later I will come back to you with the French manufacturer Édouard Godel who was doing business with Corlieu.
    JMBL likes this.
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    I mentioned earlier in this thread that I would come to Louis de Corlieu and his successor Edouard Godel at a later stage. Yves has raised some interesting points about the origin of fins and the motivation of their inventors over the centuries. From my own reading of the historical sources, I know only too well how the road from the invention of fins, masks and snorkels to the marketing of these diving products was one of fierce rivalry where business greed often beat inventiveness and ingenuity.

    In the meantime, I'll continue with the Kent Rubber diving gear narrative. As promised, we'll focus on the company's fins. Let's start with the French patent the firm was granted in July 1960. The patent drawing:
    You may have a certain sense of déjà vu on seeing this. I certainly did. Do you recall this image earlier in the thread:
    The above is from a 1959 Lillywhites catalogue and shows Match Super fins made exclusively for the London sports retailer. Is this perhaps evidence of a link between the mysterious "Match-Jopen" company and the Kent Rubber company?

    A patent will just lapse and stand as a heroic failure to its applicant if the invention it seeks to protect never makes it to market. In this case, Kent Rubber was successful:
    "Submarine" is one of Kent Rubber's brand names. Note the resemblance between the image above from the wonderful Skin Diving History website and the Lillywhites catalogue image. Here are a few more images of the Kent Rubber fins:
    The words "Attention. Ne pas marcher" on the sole is an injunction not to walk about in the fins, presumably because damage may ensue.

    And the story doesn't end there. I came across a pair of Greek-made Triton Aquatic Junior fins a while ago:
    The resemblance between the blade patterns may be coincidental, or perhaps Kent Rubber gave/sold their moulds to the Greek diving equipment manufacturer. Who knows? The mystery thickens...
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    I'm going to include a review of three more fins now, just on the strength of their product name alone.
    A decade or so ago I came across a French company called Botalo, which specialised in boat shoes but also sold "Palmes Kent", or "Kent fins". The latter came in three models, illustrated above. I've included a table with details of each. Kent Soft was the entry model, a symmetrical two-tone open-heel fin with a toe opeing and a fixed heel strap. Unusually, we have the hardness factor in Shores, 80 for the blade, 60 for the foot pocket. Wouldn't it be great if all fins were assessed for hardness!

    And here are some more images of Kent Soft fins:
    s-l16001c.jpg s-l16001d.jpg

    As for the Kent Plus "progression" fins, they floated and came with a 90 Shore blade and a 60 shore foot pocket. So a slightly stiffer blade but the same foot pocket stiffness as the Kent Soft.

    Finally, the Kent Shark "performance" fins are asymmetrical with the same blade hardness as the Kent PLus. Their pockets are softer than the Kent Soft and the Kent Plus.

    I have just the name "Kent" here to justify inclusion of these fins at this point. And that's my lot for today. I'm minded to explore "Squale" next in this thread.
    Sam Miller III likes this.
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Today's topic is the story of a man and his inventions. The man was Paul Dubois, who named the diving mask he invented "Squale" after the French word for "shark". We'll concentrate first on the man, whose biography can be found on a website dedicated to the history of Sanary-sur-mer (above) in South-East France at Histoire de la Ville de Sanary-sur-Mer » Paul DUBOIS, l’Homme au Masque… SQUALE. Here it is, roughly translated from the original:

    Paul DUBOIS, the Man with the Mask ... SQUALE. (By Gerard LORIDON)

    Paul DUBOIS, who was never predestined to become an inventor of originality and prestige, was born in Paris on June 16, 1899 and I still feel that he is with us in the port of Sanary.

    First of all, chief accountant at the Baltar covered market, he became in the 1930s a SUCHARD chocolate representative. Back then, he has distinguished himself by inventing a certain bar of this delicious product. He meets his wife Jeanine, who will occupy a big place in his adventures. They fall in love and marry on November 9, 1934.

    They could have been so happy, in this world, distributing a famous exotic product ... Even though Paul, whose dynamism was not the least of his faults, was already thinking of other, more auspicious horizons. According to his wife Jeanine, he was a good salesman and was thinking of getting his managers to make him a representative for the whole French Riviera.

    It is the war in 1939 that will determine his future.

    In the military in 1940, in a COAA (Army centre where files are organised) In Melun, he obtains the mission to go and take care of important files in Marseille. He is given a van, gas vouchers and he takes three soldiers, a journalist, a printer and ... his wife, the charming Jeanine. He feels that the return will be difficult and probably impossible. And above all, he is getting closer to the Mediterranean ... He is demobilized on the spot and settles in Sanary (Var) in a villa rented from the stationmaster, on Lazare Fournier street, called "Villa Sam" Suffit " (it still exists). My note: the villa's name is an in-joke: "ça me suffit" = "it's enough for me"

    But what can be done in 1940, a period of defeat when restrictions begin.

    In the mind of Paul Dubois, and as he confided to his wife, one must always be ready to provide what was needed and which was most needed.

    So, he invents a soap after reading a few books and consulting a chemist friend.

    He invests all household savings in the purchase of a ton of fuller's earth from Morocco.

    He will make a toiletry product in a bag called "SAVAR Powder", which his wife will sell on the markets where she goes by horse cart. Perfecting its production, he will make soap called "SAVOR Soap".

    We are far from diving, we will get there.

    During the war, Frédéric Dumas, the famous pioneer of the underwater world, a companion of Cousteau and Tailliez, whom he has just met, commits himself to the joys of underwater fishing, for food purposes, in these times of scarcity.
    Jeanine DUBOIS, who often goes to the beach, notices this handsome diver and talks to her husband.

    Always looking for new product ideas, Paul Dubois, meets Frédéric Dumas and gets him to show him his equipment. Among the various pieces of it, he notices his mask.

    This is a mask enclosing the nose and eyes, very similar to those currently used. Frédéric DUMAS, very skilful with his own hands, built it himself using a truck's inner tube and attached a round window and hoop to it, both manufactured by him. This mask is visible at the Diving Museum in Sanary, a museum dedicated to Frédéric DUMAS.

    Paul DUBOIS will create and develop a famous diving mask, which he will call the SQUALE mask and which he will have patented at the Office Blétry, Paris on December 19, 1944, 14 H 05 Mn. (see said patent).
    Paul will start manufacturing this mask, in a workshop next to his villa, in the Sanary railway station district. He will produce several models that he will improve (see photos attached) to arrive at the current type.

    Becoming an authority in this area, he will exhibit his equipment at the Salon Nautique where you can see him next to a minister.

    He will not stop at the Squale mask, he will also develop and manufacture underwater guns, fins, goggles, snorkels with ping pong balsl.

    To broadcast and to manufacture his different products Paul Dubois will create 12 January 1950, the Sarl. "SEESSA" whose purpose is especially "the sale and manufacture of articles for underwater exploration and for all water sports ..."
    He is a friend of Cousteau, DUMAS, Tailliez.

    Commander COUSTEAU quotes in the "World of Silence" editions of 1954, page 39: "During the summer, my friend DUBOIS goes from beach to beach, with his van, giving the firstcomers scuba diving lessons ... »

    Indeed, Paul's fertile mind will continue to produce Inventions, and what inventions they are.

    He begins by trying to perfect the SQUALE mask, which does not need it, and tries to develop a curved window mask, which made us squint and gaves us heaves, worthy of the best seasickness underwater. He then made us try a mask with a gilded lens, which gave us a rosy view of life and was priceless. Fins arrived, the most beautiful example being the Supermarines, with a perfect finish, they were among the first to be left- and right-footed.

    He had also produced, at the outset, a Cygne (Swan) mask so called, because it came with a graceful snorkel that ... disaster ... was connected to the mask (photo attached). Even with the classic ping pong ball, you were sure to have your eyes gouged out after 2 metres. He filed the patent on March 12, 1962, again at the office Blétry, with the title "improvement to periscopic breathing masks"

    He will develop underwater guns, Flash models, with stainless steel and wooden stocks. As forerunners of female equality, we will find "Miss Flash and Lady Flash" models.

    He will also be the first to produce underwater postcards at Aris in Sanary. The underwater views, very beautiful, even even now, had been made by Robert DIOT, another pioneer, in photography.

    He will leave his studio and construct a building he will call the SQUALE building, where he will install his workshops and offices, because the production of its products increases in a good way. The Squale mask equips the entire planet, the Navy. We will keep the memory of the following anecdote for a long time. Paul DUBOIS was a colorful character and when he received an important check from the USA, the fruit of his sales, we could meet him, during the evening in the port of Sanary in the bars, where he entered waving the check in dollars and shouting, in his tenor voice:

    - "Drinks all round"

    Paul was a generous soul, he often met me, in the early sixties, when, with two other divers, we had just set up an underwater construction company. Our customers were few, and sometimes we were in a hungry situation. Then Paul, who was aware of it, without being told, slipped a note of 100 Fr with which we rushed to Mimile's house at La Chaumière to order a bowl of spaghetti.

    He did better, or worse for the remainder of his business:

    Four strong fellows had left St-Malo in July 1954, to go around the world of fishing underwater, aboard the ten-metre sailboat "MOANA"

    Let's move on to the adventures of these picaresque characters that ended three years later when they returned to St. Tropez. They produced a film and wrote a two-volume book. What would become of Moana? They no longer had the means to keep up, their adventures did not transform them into millionaires.

    Paul DUBOIS buys the Moana and makes him come on a trailer to Sanary, jubilant during a party he organizes. It saves this mythical boat, which is currently in very good condition in a port of the Côte d'Azur.

    But, cruelly, the business world evolves, there was no room for Paul who wanted to share his joy of life and success, because too much was shared ...

    The SQUALE mask has continued to live, it is still in production.

    Paul DUBOIS died on March 19, 1971. He rests in the cemetery of Sanary, where we can see, on his grave, his photo alongside his dog.

    That's your lot for today, apart from a picture of the man who invented the Squale mask: Paul Dubois:
    We'll take a closer look at Squale diving masks when I return in a few days' time.
  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    I'll start today with a quotation from Jean-Michel Cousteau's biography of his father Mon père le commandant (available as a Google book):

    Savez-vous que j’ai bien connu un ami de votre père, il produisait des Squale… Pour les jeunes lecteurs, je précise que « Squale » est la première entreprise qui fabriqua en série des masques et lunettes de plongée. Les masques étaient faits à partir de moules dans lesquels on coulait du caoutchouc chaud qu’il convenait de laisser refroidir avant de le démouler. On glissait ensuite un morceau de verre protecteur dans cette armature. L’inconvénient du verre est sa fragilité : il pouvait éclater facilement, au moindre choc, sous la moindre pression. Avec les progrès de la technique, il fut remplacé par du verre Sécurit.

    Rough translation: "Are you aware that I knew a friend of your father's, he manufactured Squale (masks) ..." For my younger readers, I want to make clear that "Squale" is the first company that mass-produced diving masks and goggles. The masks were made by filling moulds with hot rubber, which would then be allowed to cool before being removed from the mould. A piece of protective glass was then slipped into this frame. The disadvantage of glass is its fragility: it could burst easily, at the slightest shock, under the slightest pressure. With the progress of the technique, it was replaced by safety glass.

    So much for early diving mask manufacturing technology. The "Squale" mask appears to have caused something of a sensation when it was launched. Here's an excerpt from a Lillywhites catalogue:
    Untitled.png image013.jpg
    So Squale masks became the diving mask of choice of Naval professionals everywhere. Let's see some close-ups of the mask itself:
    200811.JPG 40752526_2169617966652867_3848383971020767232_n.jpg mask-1.jpg
    According to masque squale accessoires équipement plongée sauveteurs pompiers armée mayenne, the mask is still available new but with a silicone skirt. The mask specifications can be downloaded as a 4-page PDF from http://www.squale.fr/upload/accessoire-masque-squale.pdf.
    JMBL and АлександрД like this.
  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Apart from the generic Squale mask, there were two models named "Squale Flash" and "Squale Supervision", which I presume were later models.

    Squale Flash diving mask
    1391487350_a.jpg 1391487350_b.jpg 1391487350_c.jpg

    Squale Supervision diving mask

    Note first the wide feather edge skirts and the pride the men of the French Riviera took in their home towns where they manufactured their products, in this case Sanary-sur Mer.

    I'll leave it there for today. Next time I'll review the Squale snorkel-mask, known as the "Cygne" (swan) because its snorkel looked like a swan's neck, and then fins.
    АлександрД likes this.

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