Collector's Corner: How fishing can reel you in an investment

From bait to rods, the antique fishing market is thriving. Gwyn Jones finds out how to angle for a bargain
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The Independent Online

ootball might appear to be the country's favourite pastime right now, but angling remains Britain's most popular participation sport. And while football memorabilia is popular in World Cup years, fishing collectables consistently represent a big catch.

All the experts agree that the fishing antiques market is in great shape. Almost everything to do with the sport has now become collectable. John Ayers, a dealer for nearly 20 years, says: "In the last 10 years, a lot of people have invested money into fishing tackle and earned returns of as much as 30 per cent a year."

The mainstay of the British market has generally been reels. The most famous manufacturer, Hardy, made high-quality reels for wealthy Victorian and Edwardian anglers and these fetch some of the biggest prices. A cool £10,000 for the rare reels is not uncommon and they can make more than double that.

Ayers, however, thinks collectors should consider alternatives. "Quality non-Hardy reels from 1910 through to the 1930s are still much underrated," he says.

"Dingley of Alnwick, Allcock of Redditch, Charles Farlow of London and Malloch of Perth, for example. Their early tackle is of the highest quality but there still doesn't seem to be the understanding and following that Hardy has."

Ayers adds: "Hardy stamped every part of its product and there has been lots of research, which has added to their collectability, but there are also some great other early makers."

Another mainstay of the market, cased fish, is less popular these days, so could be interesting to speculators. Minimalist interior design tastes could be to blame, but with only the top end of the market selling well, now might be the time to look at what's available.

Cast and carved fish makers Malloch and Farlow are two leaders to watch, while, in stuffed fish, the two London-based companies J Cooper and Homer are the stars. Prices depend on condition, rarity and demand. Trout was probably the most stuffed fish but it's the odd things such as eels and turbot that attract the highest prices.

Bonhams' fishing expert Charles Kewley says: "Provenance is the key - there are some slightly dodgy cases around where fish have been moved and tampered with, so you definitely need advice."

Research is important in other areas too. Kewley points out that the biggest misconception among beginners is that fishing rods are the thing to buy.

"People think rods are worth money but they're not because they're hard to display," he explains. "The accessories are where the value is. One lady threw all the accessories in a skip and gave us a bundle of rods which weren't worth anything but the accessories, after we'd dug them out, made about £1,800."

One area where Britain has started to follow the American market in past years has been lures and baits. US collectors began picking up pieces in the 1950s, whereas in the UK, this area didn't take off until the 1980s.

Americans will pay up to £26,000 for a fishing bait spinner, for example. "British baits in the last five years have seen a very high level of interest," says Mullock Madeley's John Stevenson. "We used to sell them in bulk, but now they can be sold individually, sometimes for thousands of pounds."

Creels, the baskets in which the fish are placed once caught, have also made some big gains. Leather creels and earlier examples now sell for between £6,000 and £8,000, whereas 10 years ago, you would have bought one for £1,500.

"Accessories and gadgets such as anglers' knives and oil bottles are a huge market, and general ephemera or clutter that an angler would take with him are very popular because so much goes missing," adds Stevenson. "Split tins of shot can be worth £50, which, a few years ago, would have been a penny."

Fly boxes and flies have been sought after for some time, but now even some of the early Hardy catalogues are worth thousands of pounds. Even oil bottles, the little kidney-shaped bottles which anglers used either to put oil on their flies to help them float, or to oil their reel, are regularly fetching hundreds of pounds.

Kewley has a couple of tips for any would-be collectors. "Look at things like rod and fishing licences, and photographs," he says. "We had a studio portrait photograph of an angler from 1895 in the last sale that made about £380 - photographs appeal to people across the board much more than a reel or spinning bait, and can be aesthetically more attractive."


Mullock Madeley: 0169 477 1771,

Bonhams: 01404 41872, (next sale 15 July)

John Ayers: 01291 672710,

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