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April 2006 – Money for old reels

I rarely go shopping. I have never been much good at it. For the same reason I steer clear of auctions. But earlier this month I went along to one of Neil Freeman’s biannual angling auctions at Chiswick Town Hall, West London.

Telephone bidders from all over the world had converged on the event, eager to snap up 600 lots of rods, reels and fishing memorabilia. The top price was £13,000 (plus 15 per cent auctioneer’s commission) paid for a run of Hardy Anglers Guides and catalogues, including one from 1888.

But it was the £6,600 paid for a Chub, mounted by one of the UK’s leading Victorian taxidermists, J. Cooper & Sons, that drew the strongest applause. Two Avon anglers went head-to-head and sent the bidding way over the £600-£800 price guide for this 6 lbs 3ozs specimen, caught by Bill Warren at the Royalty Fishery, Christchurch in Hampshire.

Collectors were choosy with some willing to pay well ahead of estimates for the best quality fishing reels, while many other lots sold for below the guide price. The highest price achieved for a reel was £9,000, at the top end of the guide price range, paid for a fine example of a Hardy Cascapedia 2/0 salmon fly reel, one of just 36 of these models produced between 1931 and 1939.

A rare version of an Allcock Aerial trotting reel once owned by Sir Thomas Peel Dunhill, a former surgeon to the Royal household, fetched £3,000, well over the top estimate of £1,600. A good provenance is appreciated among Allcock reels since high quality copies are often found in the market.

Neil Freeman says that rare reels and old baits have proved a good investment over the past 15 years. “If you’re buying reels it is better to concentrate on the rarest high quality items. They go for higher prices but they always remain collectable,” he says.

Prices for old baits have also risen. In 1990 a spoon bait made by one of the earliest manufacturers, James Gregory in Birmingham, would have sold for about £20. A Gregory dace bait sold at the London auction for £1,000.

Old rods tend to sell for lower prices because they are difficult to display and store. Increasingly, however, good quality cane rods are being sought by enthusiasts keen to use them. In fact I bid myself and bought a lovely 1970 6ft Hardy Phantom cane rod, unused and still with the plastic wrapper on its handle for £440, just within the guide price range.

Having looked at it I don’t think I can bring myself to use it. Instead I plan to use another cane rod I bought, a 7ft 6ins Jennings Moran which has a wonderful sense of balance. This, like many cane rods, came with two tips that it recommends interchanging during frequent use to ease pressure on the rod.

“I still fish a Hardy Perfection salmon rod made in 1919 and I’m sure it works as well today as it did then. The old stuff was built to last,” says Freeman.

A few anglers had gone with the specific intention of buying a reasonably priced cane rod and a reel to match. An ideal combination would have been the Jennings, say, and a small Hardy Perfect reel. A fine 2 7/8 ins version sold for £420 - too much for my pocket. But with careful bidding it was possible to find a first rate rod and reel – for use, rather than storing – with change from £500.

The problem is that for the occasional buyer, auctions need a disciplined approach and it’s difficult to sit on your hands. This explains the stuffed pike that has appeared above my bookcase, competing for space with a case-mounted brown trout that used to belong to Hardy Brothers, not to mention the big box of dusty old fly-tying feathers and the Izaac Walton chamber pot.

Mrs Donkin, no doubt, will not be amused to see her home transforming itself gradually in to a cross between an Edwardian gentleman’s residence and the studio set of Steptoe & Son. But she has been away and by the time she returns I will have disappeared on a fishing trip to Scotland, preparing to face the music when I get back.

I’m pulling my raincoats out for Scotland since the frogs have spawned close to the edge of my pond. An old friend, the late Bill Foggitt, weather sage of Thirsk in North Yorkshire, used to say that a wet spring was in the offing if the frogs spawned near the edge, rather than in the middle of his pond. The prediction would seem to concur with that of Phil, the groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, who saw his shadow in February when he emerged from his hole on Gobbler’s Knob, thus heralding six more weeks of winter weather.

Even the most torrential rain, however, is unlikely to raise the water table anywhere near what it needs to be for a healthy flow from the aquifers that feed the Hampshire and Wiltshire chalk streams. Only the frogs and St Swithin, perhaps, can save our season now.

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