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Questions about Antique Reels: Brands and Companies

Q1: Many of the questions received about older reels concern American level winding baitcasting reels mass-produced from the 1930s to the 1960s.

A: The vast majority of the mass-produced baitcasting reels (and fly reels, too, for that matter) made by the major tackle companies from the 1930s to the 1960s can still be found easily at flea markets and yard sales. Therefore, only a small fraction of these reels have significant collector value. The reels listed below are rarely listed beyond the range of $5-$50, and the value is highly dependent on condition. In general, only the highest quality reels (for example, a few made with nickel silver) or reels in mint condition command prices in the higher end of that range. Most are more valuable for fishing than as collectibles. Sometimes, a mint reel with its box and papers may attract higher prices.

The major tackle companies frequently made certain models for two decades or more. The precise dating of such models is often difficult without knowledge of various structural details. Listed below are some of the baitcasters found most commonly by collectors. The older models usually were made with nickel-plated brass, but after World War II, aluminum quickly became more widely used. Pflueger and Shakespeare reels are generally more popular with collectors than the other mass-produced reels, but most of their products remain in the category discussed here.

Many level wind reels from that period bear no brand names or are marked with names unfamiliar to most fishermen and collectors. Some of these reels are trade reels made by the major companies like Bronson, Shakespeare, or South Bend, but are marked with the brands of the retailers that ordered them. Comparison with reels of known makers usually identifies the manufacturer.

A. Bronson Green Hornet, Biltwell, Mercury, Altoona, Lashless, Fleetwing, Belmont
The Bronson Reel Co., organized in Bronson, Mich., in 1922, specialized in low- to mid-priced reels, and most of their products retain little value. Major exceptions include their line of Coxe-Bronson reels (See Question 10.), the Reel-O-Mine, and the Invader.

B. J.C. Higgins
Higgins reels were sold by Sears, and they were made by various companies over the years.

C. Horrocks-Ibbotson Horrocks-Ibbotson Co., Utica, N.Y., made a lot of tackle for a long time, most of it in the low- to mid-priced range. Although a few of their very early automatic fly reels are sought by collectors, their baitcasters have little value.

D. Kalamazoo Tackle Co.
The company was established by Shakespeare to supply reels to the trade.

E. Langley Streamlite, Lurecast, Lakecast
Langley Corp., San Diego, Cal., began making reels after World War II. Their reels were characterized by their light weight and featured perforated "anti-inertia" spools.

F. Ocean City
Ocean City specialized in making salt-water reels in Philadelphia, Pa., from 1923 to 1968. During its history, the company absorbed, in 1935, Montague City Rod & Reel Co., Montague City, Mass., and, in 1939, the Edward vom Hofe Co., New York City, which made some of the finest reels on the planet for many years. During its later years, Ocean City produced many baitcasting reels, but none has significant value. The company was bought by the makers of True Temper tackle.

G. Pflueger Akron, Summit, Nobby, Skilkast, Supreme
The Pflueger reels were the top line made by Enterprise Mfg. Co., Akron, Ohio, whose lower-priced tackle bore "Four Brothers" and "Portage" brands. One major indicator of age among the above models is the use of slotted, rather than Reed and Prince, screws to hold the foot to the frame. Reed and Prince screws have crossed slots similar to those on Phillips-head screws. Unless the reel is old enough (pre-mid-1930s) to use slotted screws, it falls into the category discussed here. However, mint Pflueger reels with their boxes probably earn proportionately higher premiums than those of other companies.

H. Ranger Gold Medal, Blue Ribbon, First Award, Trophy
Ranger, Inc., Rockford, Mich., was another company that made reels after World War II.

I. Shakespeare Criterion, Wondereel, Ideal, Sportcast, Tru-Axis, Marhoff, Direct Drive, President, True Blue, Deuce, Service
The Shakespeare Co., Kalamazoo, Mich., probably had more influence in popularizing the level-wind casting reel than any other company. Its first reel featured the overly complex level wind patented by William Shakespeare, Jr., in 1897 (See Photo Gallery 1 on this site for an example). Later, however, the company acquired the rights to the 1907 level wind patented by Walter Marhoff, which was simpler and which eventually inspired most of the level-winding designs used by most of the other major manufacturers.

Most Shakespeare reels can be dated easily. Reels made after 1931 were marked with a two-letter date code, e.g, "Model HK," and it is those coded reels that fall into the category discussed here. Some of the top-line reels, such as the President, or some nicely decorated nickel-silver reels may attract somewhat higher prices at times, but most of the reels listed fall into lower price ranges.

J. South Bend 30, 35, 40, 45, 55, 65, 100, 125, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, 550, 600, 650, 750, 775, 800, 850, 900, 1000, 1250, etc.
South Bend Bait Co., South Bend, Ind., began its reelmaking by acquiring the rights to an antibacklash wire bail, which was used on many of their reels into the 1960s. Over the years, the company made what seems like an infinite variety of reels, but only the very earliest models have significant collector value.

Q2: I have a small, copper-colored reel marked HENDRYX, pat. Mar 21, 1876, and pat. July 10, 1888. Can you give me any information on it?

A: The Andrew B. Hendryx Co., New Haven, Ct., had been manufacturing bird cages and other wire products for over a decade by the time it first advertised its fishing reels in 1887. From then until 1919, when its tackle division was acquired by Winchester Repeating Arms Co., it mass-produced a remarkable number of reels in an equally remarkable range of styles and construction qualities.

Hendryx reels were made from stamped sheet brass, brass castings, nickel-plated brass, German silver, aluminum, and combinations of hard rubber with brass or German silver. Their least expensive products were single-action (fly) reels that were riveted, rather than screwed, together, and the smallest of these were advertised as "boys' reels." Their more expensive machines included salmon reels and heavy multiplying reels suitable for light saltwater use.

The company's founder was a prolific inventor, and many of the Hendryx reels were marked with the dates of his patents, sometimes incorrectly. The date of March 21, 1876, refers to his patent of a U-shaped rivet that had been designed as a fastener for bird cages but eventually was used to attach the feet to the bottom pillars of most of the company's reels. Hendryx also invented a method of constructing reel spools (the 1888 patent), spool bearings, gear supports, other fastening devices, the first commercially available automatic clutch for freeing a reel spool, and a number of other improvements.

Because so many Hendryx reels were produced, dating them is difficult and requires careful attention to the markings, including the line-capacity stampings on the bottoms of the reels. A thin line beneath the line-capacity mark indicates that the reel was manufactured after the takeover by Winchester, which continued to use the Hendryx brand.

Hendryx reels remain attractive to collectors for a number of reasons. They are old, and they were among the first truly mass-produced fishing reels in the U.S. Because so many were produced, they are still relatively inexpensive, and their seemingly infinite variety virtually guarantees that a collector will never run out of Hendryx reels to track down.

I can't tell which particular model your reel is without pictures, but the odds are that it's a small, single-action reel made of thin, stamped brass. Cheaper versions of such were fastened together without screws. Slightly better versions employed screws and somewhat thicker brass. If the reel is one of those, it's probably worth from $10-$40, depending on condition and style. Reels of that style are auctioned frequently on ebay. If the reel is something else, send me a complete description and/or pictures, and I'll try to identify it.

Q3: We have a reel that was handed down through four generations and would like information on it. The imprinted words on the reel are Samson Union Hardware Company Torrington, Conn. Made in USA. I don't know if that holds any significance but those are the only markings/wording found on the reel. It also holds 60-80 yds of line. It is made of solid brass. There are no dents, bends or major scratches to this reel. [Pictures attached.]

A: Union Hardware made at least two versions of the Samson. The other had a hinge at the bottom of the front plate so you could open the reel by swinging it down away from the spool. The design was patented in 1906. I don't know if they produced both styles at the same time or one model is earlier than the other.

Q4: My father recently purchased a bunch of old reels at an auction, and one was unusual looking. It looks like a flat wheel with "y" looking fingers coming out to hold the line and a small handle. It is marked with Benson-Reel and Pat. # 2409098 on the top half. And Kaufman Mfg. Co. Manitowoc, Wis. on the bottom half. Can you give me any information?

A: The first Benson reel, one of the better-known "Indiana" reels, was patented in 1920 (#1,351,549) by Lawrence Benson, Kokomo, Ind. (The Indiana reel shown in the Glossary of my web site is a Benson.) The first version of this style had been patented in 1908 by Charles Rider; that reel had only four "arms." The Benson reel originally was manufactured by the Benson-Vaile Co., Kokomo. So much for the "father" of your reel.

The patent marked on your reel was granted in 1946 to John M. Benson, of Milwaukee, Wisc. I don't know if he was related to Lawrence Benson. Your combination rod/reel features an Indiana-style spool mounted on a rod and having a thumb-operated brake. By the way, the spool, made of a single sheet of metal with the arms formed by twisting, also was based on a much earlier patented design for a spool with only seven arms. (That reel, too, had been manufactured by at least two different companies.)

Q5: I recently found an old reel. It is in perfect condition(m10) and is made by JULIUS VOM HOFE. Its patent number is: PAT Nov.17, 1885, and its manufacturing date is Oct.08. 1889, which would make it 111 years old. I would appreciate if you could give me some information on this reel.

A: Vom Hofe was a prolific reelmaker and inventor, and he built a wide range of reels in a wide variety of styles and qualities. The 1885 date refers to his patent for the design of the rubber plates, which were cut with recesses to form gear housings. The other date also refers to a patent, this one for the adjustable bearing on the tailplate that employs a spring washer to prevent screw rotation.

Both patented designs were incorporated into a variety of reels, some rather cheaply made, others that represent the best work Vom Hofe did. I can't estimate the value of yours without seeing some pictures of it, but it could be worth three figures, depending on style and condition.

Q6: I have recently acquired three fly reels which I would like to have dated: 1) Hardy Super Silex 3 3/4" 2)J W Young ' BEAUEX' 3 1/4" 3) J W Young ' RAPIDEX' These Young reels are in the original boxes, but there's nothing on the boxes to indicate approximate vintage.

A: The Super Silex was made from 1928-1953, and I suspect the Beaudex and Rapidex were made for periods at least as long as that. You will need to find a specialist in English reels to date them with any precision, someone who knows the hardware better than I do.

Q7: I'm not a collector, but as I run a tackle shop, I come in contact with lots of vintage tackle. I have a few serious collectors who haunt my shop, and I have a few reels that I keep, mostly because they have lots of character. I don't know anything about the reel in the attached picture. There are no markings, inside or out. It stands 1 3/4" high, outside plate diameter is 1 5/8", the reel foot is 2 11/16" long. I've been careful to avoid over-cleaning the reel, just knocked off the really loose gunk. As a reel mechanic, I'm pretty careful with reels, 'specially ones like this. I'll try to attach a couple other pix I have to this email. I'd appreciate any info you can provide.

A: Silas Terry, the clockmaking son of Eli Terry, patented a fishing reel in 1871. The major features included a gearbox made by soldering a circular flange to the inside of the headplate and a one-piece foot. The foot appears on a lot of reels, usually with the patent date stamped on it.

Terry died in 1876, and his company went bankrupt. When a group bought the company, it acquired, among other things, a huge inventory of reel parts. The new company continued to make clocks and reels until its discontinuance in 1893. In 1884, its Chicago office advertised reels that the company manufactured in Massachusetts. It's probably safe to assume that most of the Terry reels we run across were sold after Terry's death.

Anyway, your reel is an early Terry, one of only three I've ever seen that were made using the patented gearbox. The foot on yours is a typical Terry foot, but obviously it lacks the patent date.

Q8: Attached are two photos of a reel I am seeking information on. Can you help? It is marked with the number 16. [The reel shown was a Kovalovsky.]

A: Arthur Kovalovsky made approximately 750 high-quality reels from 1928 to the mid-1950s, and he was granted several patents during that period. Your reel seems to be one of his earlier models, as the only patent marked on it was issued in 1934, the major feature being the drag. Although it's possible that yours is his 16th reel, it's more likely that it's the 16th example of a particular model.

It is difficult to date the reels precisely without detailed knowledge of how each is constructed and operated. The reels evolved during the 1930s, and some of the changes were internal. Therefore, it is necessary to both see and operate a reel to date it more precisely.

As Kovalovskys are highly desirable reels, it is worth pursuing the identification further. I will be happy to do what I can if you would send more pictures of the reel. They should include views of both sideplates and the bottom, at least; if it's possible to send closeups of all the markings, too, that would help.

Q9: I collect antique tools, mostly handplanes. I bought a box of tools and, lo and behold, there was a neat looking wee fishing reel wrapped in cloth in the box. I can't find out anything about this reel on the Internet which I suppose means either it's dead common or super rare (I presume the former!).

It's a single-action, half-crank brass reel. The handle is ivory. The brass is uncleaned and nicely (correctly) patinated. The ivory is intact but has some yellowing. Being a tool collector I don't mess with material finishes. Both the tail and headplate are 2 1/8 inch in diameter, and are separated by 1 1/8 inch. This appears to be a light, very simple reel in good condition with little wear. The brass foot is 2 1/2 inches long. The only identifying mark is a half-shield on the foot with 'HOGG' written inside.

A: I can't really be sure from the description alone, but the reel could very well be an old British product. I was able to find a listing of a Francis Hogg, who made reels in Edinburgh during the 19th century. (It seems that half the Scots made reels then, and the other half fished.) Presumably, the "correct" patination would be plaid.

Q10: I found this old reel washed up in the surf in Nantucket. Remarkably, the reel still functions for the most part: Spool Turns, Star Drag Functions. The clicker won't engage right now, and the anti-reverse lever swings but won't disengage. The black rubber side plate on one side is quite worn, the chrome plate is apx. 50% worn and or green pitted and the wooden handle knob is frozen in place with the finish worn off. I know that the collectors value on this piece would be POOR at best, but the conversational value to me is quite fun. Who knows how long the reel was rolling around in the surf out there? However, I am not familiar with the manufacturer, and any information you might have on this piece would be greatly appreciated. It would add a great deal to my story when I show the piece to my friends.

The only markings still visible are one the base of the reel foot and are as follows:
JALEOYE Reel Company
Bronson Michigan
Model No. 190, 250 Yds.
If you have any info on this piece, or even if you can steer me in the right direction, I would be very grateful.

A: That name is J.A. Coxe, who made very well known big-game trolling reels at his shop in L.A. for fifteen years until his company was bought by the Bronson Reel Co., of Bronson, Mich., in 1934. Coxe continued to manufacture or at least supervise the manufacture of trolling reels based on his designs and marked with his name. Coxe patented his "signature" star drag in 1924 and had a couple of later patents that were assigned to Bronson. Manufacturing of the largest reels was not resumed after World War II. The line of "Bronson-Coxe" reels eventually was expanded to include some nice baitcasters, as well as smaller saltwater reels such as the one you found. These were Bronson's top-of-the-line products; none of their other reels approached them in quality.

Q11: I have a Penn No. 49 Deep Sea Reel. Unknown age. I am interested in the value of this reel and the age. Would you know this? It is in excellent shape.

I found in my grandfather's and my great-grandfather's garages three reels. I have fixed one up but a few things aren't working as smoothly as I would like. The two I need help with are the Pflueger Summit No. 1993 and Penn Peer No. 109 Pat. D. If you could just help me find pictures or at least some parts to these reels, I would really appreciate it.

A: The Penn 49 and 109 were being built in the 1930s, and Penn still makes models with those numbers. In fact, many of their models have been manufactured for over sixty years. The company should be able to provide structural clues for dating their reels, and they stock parts for even their older reels.

As far as values go, most Penns are sold for fishing, rather than as collectibles. You'll find lots of them selling on ebay daily, so check there to see what kinds of prices they bring, while keeping your reel's condition in mind. I can't even guess at a value by the model number alone.

Summits also were made for decades, and a lot of tackle shops still have stocks of parts for Pflueger baitcasting reels. For both the Pflueger and Penn reels, you probably will be more successful calling local tackle shops that do reel repairs. You didn't describe what's wrong with either reel, but their restoration may not be difficult for an experienced reel technician.

Q12: I have recently come across a reel that belonged to my grandfather. It was made by B.F. Meek and Sons, Louisville Ky/Blue Grass No. 3/ser # 8615. Can you tell me more about it?

A: The Blue Grass reels were a less-expensive line made by B.F. Meek & Sons, Inc., which bought out the original B.F. Meek & Sons in 1898. Nevertheless, the reels were nicely made and remain valuable. The serial number is in the high range; when the company was bought by Horton in 1916, Blue Grass serial numbers were in the high 8000s. Therefore, yours was probably made in the mid-1910s. Although the reel almost certainly is worth somewhere in the low hundreds of dollars (if it's in at least good condition), I can't be more precise without a good description and/or pictures.

Q13: I have a Heddon "Pal" 41 that I would like to give to my grandson. I am looking for some info as to when it was made. I would appreciate any help that you could give.

A: I believe the first Pal was introduced in 1947, and a modified version was available in the mid-1950s. I'm afraid I don't know how long they were made.

Q14: I was just wondering if you could give me some info on a reel I purchased recently. It is a HEDDON - WINONA reel. I am interested in finding out just how old it is and if they are rare and what it may be worth.

A: The Winona was made from the 1920s until at least the late 1940s, but it can't be dated more precisely by the name alone. It was one of the most popular "Indiana reels" available. It is still found regularly, and it lists as high as $50, depending on condition. If new in the box, it can go higher.

Q15: Can you please tell me anything about about an old reel I have? It is a small silver reel in perfect working condition and the only writing on the reel is the name Seminole Portage. Can you give me any insight you may have on this reel?

A: "Portage" was the brand-name for a line of economy reels made by Enterprise Mfg. Co., Akron, Ohio, which made the better known Pflueger equipment. Most of the Portage reels we encounter were made during the 1920s. The Seminole is a relatively common, nickel-plated brass reel that was made in at least three sizes. It lists at $30-$60, depending on condition.

Q16: I paid $50 for a Carlton 4 Multiple Pat. Oct 27,1903, but it has a broken crank. Can you help find a replacement? It also is making a grinding noise.

A: The adjustable crank was a major feature of the patent, but you may eventually be able to find a replacement on a "junker." Of course, the odds are slim. Nevertheless, the price you paid seems fair for a reel in that condition.

Carlton baitcasters frequently make grinding noises, often because of damaged gear teeth, at least in my experience. But there are plenty of other possible reasons for the problem. Unless you can see something obvious like a bent frame, you'll just have to dismantle the reel to see what's wrong. It could be just dirt or caked grease. Sometimes, just varying the tightness of each frame screw can help.

Q17: I have an old reel marked "Yawman & Erbe Mfg Co., Rochester, NY USA". Patented Feb. 28, 1888 and June 16, 1891. It is called an "Automatic Reel" and has a spring winder handle on one side and a spring loaded brake shoe on the other. Do you have any info on this reel? Thank you.

A: Loomis, Plumb & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., manufactured the first patented automatic reel, patented in 1880. (See the 8th reel down in Photo Gallery 1.) Yawman & Erbe, a manufacturer of various metal products, bought Loomis, Plumb in the mid-1880s and continued the manufacture of several versions of the Loomis reel. Philip Yawman received patents in 1888 and 1891 for improvements to the reel, including better gearing, a redesigned line guide, and an improved brake lever. The key wind was added when Yawman patented it in 1899, and the way was then clear for the reel to evolve from what was still little more than an improved Loomis & Plumb reel. Several sizes of key-wind reels were being made when Y&E sold their reel-making division to Horrocks-Ibbotsen about a decade later.

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