In the world of antique fishing gear collectors, the wooden reel is perhaps one of the least attractive collectibles because many made were of such poor quality. Few fishing reel collectors focus on the antique wooden fishing reel niche because they are not considered a high-end item.
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The first wooden reels were made in Europe and the United States in the early 1800s, and continued to be produced in small quantities through about 1920, according to antique reel expert Tom Greene. Most wooden reels kept the design originally made in Nottingham, UK, and were generically called Nottingham reels. They were simple centre-pin reels designed for use primarily in rivers.
Antique wooden reels were anywhere from 1 1/2 to 9 inches in diameter, and were made from various hard woods, including mahogany. The reels did not have a "drag"--a way to increase tension--and were extremely simple in design. A fisherman would toss in the lure and allow the line on the spool to play out, reeling in the line when a fish was on. The reels were not designed for casting, but rather as a method of fishing line collection. The best wooden reels had a quick disconnect feature, according to Greene, which allowed the reel to be easily removed from the rod.
Good Luck Reels
In the United States, only one company manufactured the reels in any great quantity: Good Luck. The reels made by the Good Luck company had a horseshoe logo engraved on them. Good Luck reels were manufactured between 1890 and 1919, though the earliest reels, called the Expert, have an 1889 patent date printed on them. Known as "cod reels," these reels were typically used for bottom fishing in salt water.
Even though wooden reels are fairly rare, they are not considered a desirable addition to a collection, according to Greene. This is because the reels themselves were cheaply made, broke easily, and were not highly regarded even at the time of manufacture. They sold for about £1.90 and competed against high-end, all-metal reels designed by watch-makers and gunsmiths. Those wooden reels not made by the Good Luck company were made in small shops from whatever wood was available.
Antique wooden reels, as compared to their metal counterparts, have little value. In 2010, a high-quality rare Snyder reel could fetch as much as £26,000, while the best antique wooden reel might bring in £260 on a good day, Greene says. Much of their value is in aesthetics, more than monetary value. They are an attractive addition to a collection, even if they are not considered valuable.
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