Antique fishing reels are up for discussion in this piece. These items which have helped preserve the long standing fishing hobby of several Americans while showcasing cutting-edge craftsmanship have always been way ahead of their time.
An archetype of the first patented fishing reel of American origin, built by William Billinghurst, sold at a Lang’s auction in 2008 for a whopping $40,320, making it one of the most expensive fishing reels to ever be sold.
Walk with us as we skillfully guide you through the life and times of Antique fishing reels and discover the most valuable and collectible ones.
A Timeline of Antique Fishing Reels
Fishing reels were born from the artistic genius of Ancient Chinese engineers; this tool completely changed the fishing world and made the activity a favorite amongst several folks.
By the year 1874, Charles F. Orvis created a reel and fly design, and this went on to become the first ever modern fly reel in history. Following this, the 19th century saw the emergence of special reels for use on specific types of water conditions, fish species, localities, and topography.
The first ever multiplier fishing reel in which a turn of the handle causes four turns of the reel spool emerged in 1820; they came from the stables of Kentucky watchmaker George Snyder who also doubles as a silversmith.
The reels were marked with G.S. on the sides and, till this day, have remained the pride of good old Kentucky.
Another Kentucky watchmaker partnered with J.F. and B.F. Meeks to make the renowned ‘Kentucky reels’ used to qualify a precisely crafted mechanism of excellent artistry, but the partnership fell out in 1880 due to B.F. Meek’s exit.
The Kentucky reels were the first to embody the spiral-cut internal gears and entry holes that have helped make lubrication seamless. The reels bore B.F Meek labels and shortly had ‘Blue Grass Reel Works’ inscribed on them for two years only.
Fast forward to 1860, a father & son duo – Friedrich Vom Hofe and his son Julius established a factory on Fulton Street where they produced reels made from solid nickel, brass, silver, and the very rare hard rubber.
Unlike Kentucky reels, Vom Hofes models wore a clean finish with little to no traces of construction.
Thomas Chubb from Vermont started making its reels in 1869, and the baitcasting reels had a thumb lever quite pronounced, which remains their selling point till today. Makers also named some fishing reels after the popular fishing author Dr. J.A. Henshall.
The very rare James Dealy reels, which briefly went out of production from 1895-1902, are also quite collectible due to their heavily mechanized cylinders made from nickel silver.
Another very rare antique fishing reel are the ones William Carter and Jack Welch’s reel designed for the Heddon company in the 1920s, especially the No. 30.
After WWI, William Shakespeare manufactured the Hercules reel. This heavy-duty nickel-plated Beetzel reel is designed to release the line on a spool at the rod’s cast with zero manual effort.
This model was an instant success, but it was nothing compared to the Wondereel of 1939, which has remained the best seller for Shakespeare till today. Then the Pflueger emerged in 1916 and broke out for its accuracy and reliability during use.
The threadline reel entered the scene, promoting fishing by ranks and making the process even easier so that non-experts could easily cast their reels in the water. Soon, the threadline reel evolved and embodied touches of modern spinning and baitcasting reels.
But the real development came when the fishing reel industry took a 360 turn and explored the idea of incorporating metal reels to stop the wet wood from warping. The idea clicked and fully solidified the place of fishing reels in the industry.
To fully grasp the meaning of antique fishing reels and what they represent, we must first examine the various fishing reels and the brands that produced them.
Old fishing reels made between the 19th and 20th centuries are very peculiar, with set specifications and different styles. Their different features have contributed to their highly collectible status. check them out below.
Watch this video on the history of fishing reels.
Types of Antique Fishing Reels
Below are the different types of antique fishing reels you may come across on your search. Some of them have transitioned into contemporary models.
- Fly Reels
- Casting Reels
- Spincast Reels
- Trolling Wheels
- Centerpin Reels
- Saltwater Reels
1. Fly Reels
Fly reels are the oldest and widely acclaimed best fishing reels; they were developed in the early 19th century and featured narrow and single-action reels that helped keep the line steady and in place during fishing.
The Birmingham reel is a unique model and one of the most collectibles from years back and even to this day. The Perfect reel is one of the first reels to launch an adjustable drag system- a factor that makes it highly sought after.
They were primarily designed to catch small fishes, so they came inside reels, and you can also find them below rod formats. An A.B.F. Meek & Sons No. 44 fly fishing reel sold for $3,200 at a Soulis Auction in 2021.
The popular brands that designed fly reels back in the day are below
2. Casting Reels
Casting reels came as a solution to the speed issue plaguing the fly reel, which was also invented in the 19th century to help retrieve the line.
They can cover about 60-100 yards at launch; in fact, the Kentucky brand is one of the most famous, especially for its head plate’s click and drag buttons.
check below for makers of casting reels
- Chamberlain Cartridge Company.
3. Spincast Reels
Shortly after the second world war, Denison-Johnson Reel Co. and ZEBCO jointly rolled out the first ever commercial spin cast fishing reel available for mass production. The setup of the spin cast reel simplified fishing for anyone with zero to no experience.
They were very affordable reels, especially from 1950 to the late 1960s, and have remained popular till this day for catfishing, but have declined in popularity outside that sphere and in value due to the huge amount produced in the past has made them very common.
4. Trolling Reels
The modern trolling reels are large baitcaster reels attached behind slow-moving boats. It works by making the angler release lines from the reel while keeping the bait still in the strike zone as the vessel advances.
The Nottingham reel is especially popular and highly collectible among people today due to its impeccable woodwork and fine brass construction.
5. Centrepin Reels
They closely resemble fly fishing reels, except that, in their case, the reels have a latch attached to them to enable the spool to release the line quickly.
The centrepin reel shows an advanced technology over the Nottingham reel, which swells up when the wooden component comes in contact with water, making it useless. The Allcock Aerial was the most popular centrepin reel at the time.
6. Saltwater Reels
The saltwater reels are larger compared to the first two we examined. This is partly because most waters in the world are salt water and have large-sized games. Further examples of saltwater reels include surf-casting reels, trolling reels, and big game reels.
Some companies were particularly famous for making these types of reels. See below.
- Hardy Bros
7. Spinning Reels
Spinning reels are very popular due to their uncommon rudder-looking outline, which is quite different from the common antique reels we see around. The fixed spool reels come in two distinct specs- open and close face.
They were developed in the 20th century and have amassed a healthy amount of competition from collectors due to their attractive status. Below are some companies that produced these spinning reels back in the day.
We’ve extended the list of makers of Antique fishing reels below
- Bernard, J.
- Dreiser, J.
- Garey, George
8. Baitcaster Reels
These reels have been on the scene since the middle of the 17th century but have been anglers’ preferred option since 1870, they are some of the most collectible reels on the market, and in 1920, they became the first to add the level-wind mechanism.
Some common and most valuable vintage baitcaster fishing reels brands are listed below.
- Andrew B. Hendryx Co.
- Ocean City
How to Identify Antique Fishing Reels
The following points will help you easily recognize antique fly reels when you see them. Correct identification is an important criterion in the antique world if you’re a collector who knows their onions.
Appraise Your Reels
Meet with qualified experts with the technical know-how to help you correctly identify your antique fishing reel from their brand names, materials, and types. If you do it on your own, likely, you won’t get as many facts as you need to move forward.
Three is Never a Crowd
In the antique collection world, you must find a group or a forum of collectors like yourself to get familiar with your item and know what makes them valuable or highly collectible. You’d be shocked how much of a large and closely knitted community exists for antique reel collectors.
Here’s a video of the Old Reel Collectors Association Conference.
Examine the Material
Most antique fishing reels are made from wood as this was the only available material before engineers discovered they could use metal and copper. Identifying the material accurately and early makes all the work easier.
Get Familiar With Old Brands
If the brand name on your reel is uncommon, chances are very high that they made very few unique pieces that are not commonly found in the market, which means they’re rare.
For the common names, they’ll be littered around the market and are not as highly sought after as the rare ones. Another advantage of knowing the brand is to let you do your research and get familiar with their products, so you don’t pick an imitation.
To identify an authentic vintage fly reel, we advise that you gather other reels you can find and compare the one you have with these pieces and note the similarities/differences and technical setup of each item.
Study Books on Antique Fishing Reels
Locate a bookstore near you or simply go online to fetch yourself a copy or a couple of identification guides. We will leave the links below. Reading about items is one of the fastest ways to get facts and easily identify them.
Here’s a video for you on collecting antique fishing reels.
Factors that Determine the Value of an Antique Fishing Reel?
Your journey through this article is grossly incomplete if we fail to provide the right answers to this pressing question. We know that the fishing reels market is all-inclusive, affordable enough for an average spender, and luxurious enough for collectors with deep pockets.
So many factors contribute to the collectability of a fishing reel- rarity, size, material, age, and condition are at the top of our list.
The name of a brand precedes the product, and this somewhat has an effect on the value in the market. Reels with popular brand names have the power to exceed their estimated price and pull an incredible amount of demand and attention from buyers.
Size of Your Fishing Reel
The larger your reel, the more collectible it is and the higher the monetary value. Big fishing reels catch big fish, and big fishes rake in the most money. You can tell from this simple analysis that our emphasis on size is not entirely farfetched.
There are designated fishing stores scattered around whose sole aim is exhibiting antique fishing reels and every fishing tool. You’re sure to find one that tickles your fancy, from the simplest hook and line to the most complicated reel.
The Age of the Fishing Reel
The older your reel is, especially those made pre-1942, the higher the chances of it having more value as collectibles. This is because old reels are mostly handmade with intricate details and similar features. Handmade items are more expensive due to their production techniques.
However, it can be pretty tough to find these old reels in good condition, but if you happen to come across one, you have struck gold.
Antique fishing reels are usually rare because, at that time, they were not produced in large quantities. Therefore, supply will be limited. If the company made a reel during a limited time, chances are high that only a meager number of them will be available for purchase and collection.
The Full Jeweled Tournament (FJT) models with sapphire details and bearings are among the rarest fishing reels in circulation.
Older reels are not mass produced, meaning that only one or two craftsmen made them, which translates to an equal quality (in terms of materials and design). Little wonder everyone wants to procure a piece of antique reels.
Hand-crafted reels are usually custom built, adding a stint of uniqueness to each piece, making them special, uncommon, and have excellent craftsmanship. In some cases, modern reels that show good craft can be more collectible than the mass-produced reels that dominated the market after WWII.
Broken reel, rusty metal, bent rod, warped wood, faded marks. The mediocre condition does more harm than good to the market value of your antique fishing reel.
You can run at a serious loss if you fail to ensure that your reel stays in a clean and chaste state. An added advantage is if you find your old reel in its original box.
A reel may fit into all criteria of collectability and even be of very high quality. Still, buyers and collectors are swayed by what they see at first encounter and may lose all interest. This emphasizes our earlier claim that you should always keep your reels in good condition.
When evaluating your reels based on condition, there are two categories to consider;
- Mechanical grades.
The Functionality of the Fishing Reel
The more purpose your reel serves, the pricier it is. Some wheels are highly rated on the market because of their function, so ensure you correctly identify what your reels are really for to discover the true value.
According to some sources and collectors, spinning reels are more collectible than casting reels due to their setup and function. You can consult identification catalogs, picture books, official websites, or publications on antique fishing reels.
Most Collectible Vintage Fishing Reels
Here, we’ll list some gems in the fishing reel world. These vintage fishing reels are hot on the list of collectors and are constantly in demand by all and sundry.
Hardy Perfect MKII Salmon Reel
Oak and Brass Antique Fishing Reel
Lees Barred Spool Reel
S Allcock & Co Duplex Reel
Hardy Fishing Reel “The Viscount 130”
5. Hardy Fishing Reel “The Viscount 130.”
Release Date: 1970
The vintage Hardy Viscount 130 reel is hot on the list of collectors and is very suitable for use with short fly rods for stalking on rivers and chalk streams.
4. S Allcock & Co Duplex Reel
Release Date: 1932
The duplex reel spinning had black and gold details, a half handle with a round black grasp, a small size, and a round body that turns 180 degrees for retrieval on the left and right. It also has a small spring-loaded double line pickup, making a clicker during retrieval.
3. Lees Barred Spool Reel
Release Date: 1920
The 1920 barred spool timber side cast reel is made by the Lees company and has a silky oak pivot ball and a ventilated spool (patent line dryer). Earlier reels than this model had cedar backs and aluminum reels, although the latter is rare and has never been sited.
2. Oak and Brass Antique Fishing Reel
Release Date: 1900
This 1900 antique fishing reel is made from turned oak and brass. It originates in England and has a diameter of 10cm and 5.5cm thick. The turned oak and brass fishing reels are one of the earliest models to break into the market and are on sale for $623.47.
1. Hardy Perfect MKII Salmon Reel
Release Date: 1930-1939
The Hardy Perfect salmon reel has the MKII check mechanism, adorned with an ebonite handle, a ribbed brass foot, a rim tension screw with a right-hand wind, and a line. It’s made from pure aluminum with a height of 1.97 inches and a diameter of 10 centimeters.
Where to Get Fishing Reels
Now that you know about fishing reels, you might want to get a piece or even more. Well, that isn’t a task at all, as we’ve helped you come up with a detailed list of places you can get them.
There’s a high chance you’d find a couple of fishing reels in flea markets since they’re a common tool. However, items sold at flea markets have obvious signs of wear and aging, but this shouldn’t get in the way of your purchase as long as the damage is not terrible.
Outlets like eBay, Etsy, Rubylane, and a host of others are no strangers when it comes to selling reels. A whole section is dedicated for interested buyers to scroll through and buy whatever type of fishing reel they need.
You’ll also get discounts, varying prices tailored to your pocket, swift response from the sellers, and have it delivered to your doorstep. Shopping for fishing reels online saves you time and energy in a physical store.
Year in, year out, people clear out their attic and may decide to sell some items off rather than dispose of them. Do well to locate the nearest yard sale in your community, and you might just get lucky to stumble on a few fishing reels.
You can get yourself a piece of a fishing reel at auctions set up around the city or even online from time to time. Auctions usually have limited editions and rare finds, so if that’s what you prefer, this is your cue.
Collectors always have their eyes set on antique fishing reels as they’re highly valuable and collectible. If you want a piece or two in your collection, here’re a few tips you need to keep in mind.
- When collecting Fishing reels, the condition comes first before age. Whether vintage, antique or even contemporary, your reel must always be in perfect condition.
- Ensure to properly identify the fishing reel you’re holding for easy valuation.
- The size and purpose of your antique fishing reel directly affect the perceived value- so to make more money, find the bigger reels.