Antique Fishing Reels: A Basic Price and Brand Guide

Updated March 18, 2021
Antique Fishing Reels

Antique fishing reels speak to the history of a popular sport and recreation activity that allowed people to enjoy the outdoors and fortify their pantries and coolers simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, as fishing has remained a popular American pastime so it has remained popular among antiques collectors. Take a look at these somewhat overlooked historic artifacts and see if your grandparents or great-grandparents happen to have one that's worth a pretty penny. An antique fishing reels price guide can help you get started.

Antique Fishing Reels as Historic Technology

It's all too easy to overlook how revolutionary some technologies were to historic people when those technologies are considered commonplace today. The fishing reel is one such invention; first devised by the Ancient Chinese, prototypes of the conventional reels that are used today - which wind the reel into a circular cannister - were first used in the late-18th century. Special reels for different types of water conditions and fish species began developing in the middle of the 19th century. According to the Fishing Museum, the earliest known successful reel design is considered to be the Nottingham, examples of which are incredibly collectible today. Yet, it was the switch to metal reels to prevent the wet wood from warping that cemented reels as a technology that was here to stay.

Old Fishing Reel Brands and Types

Due to the specialization of reel types during the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are many, many different brands and styles of antique reels that are possible for you to collect. However, these specializations are each visually distinctive and share their own unique characteristics that contribute to their collectability.

Fly Reels

Fly reels developed in the mid-19th century as narrow, single action reels (one full revolution of the handle equals one full rotation of the reel) which helped steady the line in place. These reels weren't designed to catch large game and came in side-reel and below the rod formats. Some significant manufacturers of the reels include:

  • Heddon
  • Shakespeare
  • Hercules
  • Pflueger
  • Orvis
  • Hardy
Fly reels

Casting Reels

Casting reels developed around the same time as fly reels and were meant to rapidly retrieve the line. Most of these reels have a 60-100 yard capacity, and the most famous of these reels, the Kentucky, is distinctive for its click-and-drag buttons on the headplate. Here are some of the popular manufacturers of antique casting reels:

  • Bradley
  • W. De Forest
  • Hardy Bros.
  • Meek
  • Waltonian
  • Chamberlin Cartridge Co.
Casting Reels

Saltwater Reels

Antique saltwater reels are much bigger in size than the other reels are, due in large part to the size increase in the game being hunted, and they include specific types of reels like trolling reels, surf-casting reels, and big game reels. In terms of collectability, the larger the reel, the more valuable it is. Some of the historic makers of these desirable reels include:

  • Hardy Bros.
  • Imperial Montague
  • Lee's
  • B.F. Meek & Sons
  • Ohio Tool Co.
  • Shakespeare
  • Thompson
Saltwater Reels

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are incredibly collectible because of their unique rudder-like design that differs from the other antique reels available. These fixed-spool reels come in two specific classifications - open face and closed face. However, these reels fall into the vintage category rather than the antique since they were first developed in the early to mid-20th century. Either way, if you're interested in collecting reels, you're going to find some stiff competition in the spinning reels market. Here are a few popular manufacturers of these vintage spinning reels:

  • Hardy Bros.
  • Chippendale
  • Fin-Nor
  • Leighton
  • Seamaster
  • Taggart
Spinning Reels

Antique Fishing Reels Price Guide

Antique fishing reel values are highly dependent on their age, condition, rarity, and type. For instance, spinning reels are seen as more collectible than casting reels. Similarly, some collectors are quite committed to particular brands, so keep in mind that branded reels have the ability to exceed their estimated values. Condition is superior to age in terms of collectability, though if you have the ability to browse through old trade catalogs to try and date your reels, it won't hurt their potential values.

Antique Fishing Reel Values

Collect Antique Fishing Reels

As with any sports memorabilia, in some cases antique fishing reels can be worth a few thousand dollars. On average, most of these collectibles are worth between $300-$500. However, some special reels can exceed these amounts. For instance, an 1890s walnut sea fishing reel is listed for about $950 in one auction, while an early vintage Hardy fly fishing reel is listed for a little over $1,000 in another. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available to help you start collecting these items, and auction sites and private sellers have an abundance of these reels listed.

Throw Out a Line

While not everyone is made for the fishing arts, antique fishing reels make wonderful gifts for those who are. High quality ones can even be used in fishing today; so, if you're at a loss for what to get your father for his upcoming birthday, maybe take a look at what antique fishing reels are out there and see if any strike your fancy.

Antique Fishing Reels: A Basic Price and Brand Guide