Sunday, February 17, 2008

Identifying Antique Line Spools


As a collector of old fishing lines, I can often find those called "collectibles" that were made during that fifty year span from 1909 to 1959. However, I consider myself extremely fortunate whenever I can find any old fishing line that can truly be called an "Antique." You see, technically speaking, for a fishing line to truly be considered an ”Antique" today it should have been made at least 100 years ago or more.

"Antique" can refer to almost any old object that has value due to its age, aesthetic appeal, condition, rarity, and/or historical significance. But it's not always simple deciding what is or is not an antique. In the 1930s, antiques were considered artwork, and thus could be brought into the United States duty-free, and so everyone wanted to call every old item an antique.

The U. S. Customs Office stepped in and surveyed antique dealers, and concluded that antiques were objects made before the development of mass production in the 1830s. Since that defining moment — mass production — was 100 years in the past, the customs office decided that an antique was something made more than 100 years ago. Duty was collected on objects less than 100 years old, but items more than 100 years old were still duty-free.

That 1930s definition is still in use today, and is used by collectors and dealers to distinguish between true antiques and collectibles

The truly antique fishing lines that were made more than 100 years ago are extremely rare, and surprisingly, are often passed over by some rather astute collectors of "antique" and "collectible" fishing tackle simply because they have not yet learned how to recognize them for their antiquity. To remedy that situation I would like to share with my fellow tackle collectors a few of the clues that I have learned over the past 20 years of collecting fishing lines. The following clues have helped me to identify those tell tale signs of antiquity that often appear on those 100 year old plus fishing lines:

Clue one - the simple text labels. Simple text labels are very common on those lines spools that were made more than 100 years ago. These style labels will usually containing only a company name, maybe a line brand name and very limited text. They will usually have no graphic art work, except for the occasional trade mark art. An example of such a simple label is the one shown above that was custom made between 1895 and 1903 for Stark and Weckesser of Dayton, Ohio by the Hall Line Company of Highland Mills, New York. The "S & W" brand was also marked on metal spinner lures that were made for Stark & Weckesser by Pflueger. In the late 1890s, Stark and Weckesser operated a bicycle shop and also sold fishing tackle just a few blocks from their main bicycle shop competitors, the soon to be famous, Wright brothers. This simple labeled wooden spool of fishing line predates that first successful airplane flight that was made by Orville and Wilbur Wright in December 1903.

Clue two - look for fancy script lettering and printer's flourishes and dingbats (the printer's term, not the lure). It is quite common to find these little fancy swirling lines in the "white space" of labels or incorporated directly into the letters used on the labels of line spools made from the 1880s through the 1890s with a few from the very early 1900s. These ornamental design styles were especially in vogue with printers during the last third of the 1800s. The Edward K. Tryon (the Crown and Fish was their trade mark) Hardware Company of Philadelphia, line spool label shown above is from the late 19th century and make use of ornamental flourishes in the letters. Note, in particular their use in the capital letters "B," "C," "S" and the "L." Fonts such as these can help a tackle collector to identify fishing lines as being made prior to 1900

The Abbey & Imbrie "Maltese" line spool above would now qualify as a true antique line, because it was listed in the firms 1907 and earlier catalogs. Note also in particular the style of the font used in the A & I logo. This same logo which was also in use by Abbey and Imbrie during the late 1800s uses the previously described printer's flourishes and dingbats which are incorporated into the intertwined letters "A" and "I."

Clue three – look at the shape of the spool when viewing it from a side profile. The shape of wooden spools changed several times between the 1870s and the 1930s, so it helps to learn about the different shapes and the period in which they were used to identify the age of your line spools. If the spool has a wide diameter (3 inches wide across the face of the spool) and is very thin (3/8 inches thick or less) then it is very likely a candidate to be a true 100 year plus antique line spool. Every one of the line spools in my personal collection of more than 2000 spools that fit this exact same profile have all been identified through information contained on their labels and from catalogs and advertisements as being confined to the 1903 to 1908 time period. These very thin wood spools have not yet been identified nor associated with any other time period other than these early 1900 dates, so they were most likely a short lived fad with the line spool manufacturers.


Another important shape or profiles to look for are those spools with the "V" shaped center or the modified "V" shaped center. All of these "V" shaped styles that I have ever seen and researched have all been associated with labels on line spools that were made only between the late 1800s to the very early 1900s.


Clue four – look for a company logo that is centered right in the middle of the label. This was a common practice and design style that was characteristic of fishing lines that were made only between the 1880s through the very early 1900s. After 1910, line spool labels still continued to feature a company's logo, but not usually in the very middle of the front main label, and the logos were not generally as prominently featured as they had been in the 1800s. The Shakespeare Company's "Indian Silk" logo design shown above (centered in the middle of the label) was first introduced in 1908 and was then used for only one year before the Indian's image was changed in 1909. In 2008, this particular line spool became a true 100 year old antique. The three examples shown below are all pre - 1908 line spools, and they also, all employ the simple centered company logo in their label design. All of these also qualify as true antique line spools.

This particular version of the Saranac brand fishing line label was only made between the years 1905 and 1908. This fishing line features the Clark - Horrocks (later to become Horrocks - Ibbotson) logo centered in the middle of the label, which was typical of labels made from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. Note also the printer's flourishes just above and below the words "Trade Mark" which offers still another clue to this lines antiquity.

The simple centered company logo on the spool above was used from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. The logp, consisting of the intertwined letters "E" and "C" and a tied feathered hook was the trade mark of "Empire City" which was a popular 1890s "house brand name" that was owned and used by Abbey & Imbrie on their less expensive lines of rods, reels, fishing lines, tackle boxes, and other economy fishing tackle. Note the flourishes at the tips of the letters and incorporated into the font design. This is still another clue to this line spool's age of 100 years or more.


The Thomas J. Conroy "Minnow Casting" line spool above features the company's logo centered in the middle of the label. T. J. Conroy used this same design on their line spool labels from the late 1800s through the very early 1900s. And, while this line spool has not yet been completely researched to determine its exact age, it is a very likely candidate to be classified as a true antique, which was made more than 100 year ago.

If you have any line spools that have a company logo centered in the middle of the label, or fancy printer's flourishes designed into the white space of the label or incorporated into the lettering, or have any wooden line spools that are very thin or have the "V" shaped side-view profile, then you may well have a very rare and historically significant fishing line spool. I would like to hear from anyone that has such spools, and will be happy to try to help them further identify the makers and exact ages and values of their truly antique fishing line spools. I can be reached at johnsetch@aol.com Thanks, John Etchieson