Stem - This is almost a dead giveaway. Morris canoes display a "splayed stem", 3" or so in width at the inboard end and made of cedar. The splayed end of the stem has a squared off appearance. The only other manufacturer to use a splayed stem is Rhinelander (whose stem would be of oak or ash and have a rounded, beavertail appearance).
Other features common to Morris canoes:
Serial Number Format - There is still some uncertainty about Morris serial numbers. To date the best theory is that they were sequentially numbered. The first digit or two digits loosely follow the year the canoe was built (e.g. 4567 was built about 1904 and 12345 was built about 1912). This falls apart somewhat towards the later years, since the last Morris canoes built and finished at the Old Town factory following the 1920 fire had serial numbers in the 17000s.
Gil Cramer has reported on the WCHA bulletin board that a canoe with the serial number 14XXX was marked in pencil on the hull that it was canvassed in 1915.
Dating Morris Canoes: (Adapted from a posting to the WCHA Bulletin Board by Gil Cramer) See above for dating if the canoe has a brass tag with the serial number. Dating a Morris without the tag can be difficult. The best method of dating is probably the amount of recurve in the stem. The Morris canoes with four digit serial numbers had stem profiles that were almost plumb.As the serial numbers increased,the amount of recurve did also. The Morris canoes with serial numbers in the upper teens looked almost like Old Town Molitors (This can be seen in the 1919 catalog as well - DJM). Some time ago I lined up three Morris profiles with ascending serial numbers and took a photo. It was obvious how the profiles had changed.
Since Morris sold a lot of closed gunwale canoes until his factory burned in 1920, open or closed gunwales don't really help much in dating your canoe. After the Morris factory burned, CJ Molitor from Detroit sold Old Town Molitors with pocketed ribs and closed gunnels made by Morris. As early as 1911, Mr. Molitor advertised that he was the sole retailer of Morris canoes in Detroit. Unless you examine the stem (7/8" square rather than splayed), the Molitors are exactly like Morris canoes.
Quite a few Kennebec Canoe and Boat Company Canoes turn up that have characteristics (especially the splayed stem) of Morris canoes. These canoes are believed to have been built by Morris and finished by Kennebec when Kennebec ran behind on filling orders. While these canoes are documented in the Kennebec records, no mention is made that the hulls were built by Morris. See the Kennebec page for information about Kennebec serial numbers.
After the Morris factory burned in 1920, 25 Morris canoes were apparently delivered to Old Town Canoe Company for completion and subsequent delivery. Benson Gray has summarized these findings in the Morris Database from Old Town.
There have been rumours as well that the Morris molds may have survived the fire. Supporting evidence for this theory is found in the Kennebec Boat and Canoe Company records, where a number (290 to be exact!) of Morris Model A and B canoes were recorded as having been built in 1924 and 1925. These will likely have Kennebec tags and/or decals and serial numbers ranging from 50000 to 50290.
The Wood & Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to Its History, Construction, Restoration and Maintenance. by Jerry Stelmock and Rollin Thurlow
Morris Canoes. Reprint of the ca. 1908 Catalog. Available from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.
Seven Morris catalogs can be found on our Historic Wood Canoe and Boat Company Catalog CDROM.