Though often overshadowed by fishing lures and reels, fishing rods are the source of the word "angler," so they deserve our respect. That’s because in medieval England, fishing rods were known as "angles." Back then, before fiberglass and graphite composites, fishing rods were often made of light, tough, and pliable bamboo or ash, with maple butts and grips of cork.

In 19th-century America, a gunsmith from Easton, Pennsylvania named Samuel Phillippi is generally credited with making the first split bamboo rod in about 1845. In 1854, Charles De Saxe was issued a patent for a rod, and Thomas Chubb, Henry Pritchard, and many others won scores of patents throughout the rest of the century for tips, guides, seats, and ferrules.

Most of these early American rods were made of bamboo, but hickory and ash were also favored. Rod makers had to choose their wood carefully, though, taking care to cut their rods from the part of the tree between the heart and the bark.

Of course, even the early antique fishing rods had numerous components beyond the wood itself. There were the fishing-line guides, which ranged from the Pritchard guides (patented in 1859, they consisted of a ring soldered to a metal collar wrapped around the rod) to bell guides that were lashed to the rod with brightly colored thread or fine twine. The ferrules, which were the sleeves used to connect a rod’s sections, were often made of metal. Finally there were the rod’s grip and reel seat, which, by the late 1880s, was often braided in cord or celluloid.

Late-19th-century rod makers like John Krider of Philadelphia, Charles Orvis of Manchester, Vermont, and Benjamin Nichols of Boston would often engrave their initials, name, city of manufacture, or even the date of manufacture on the rod’s butt cap.

For rods that lack such information, you can date a rod in a number of ways. First, if there is a "wedding band" around the rod just above the handgrip, that signals a rod that is post Civil War. Ferrules without raised trim bands indicate a rod from before the 1860s (Orvis rods did not feature raised bands on its ferrules until about 1907).

The length of an antique 19th-century rod can also be an indication of its age. For example, in 1859, Frank Forester writes in Fish and Fishing of the United States and British Provinces of North America that 12 feet is the ideal length for a trout rod, and that it can be made of "hickory, lancewood, or bamboo, with a solid butt of ash." But in 1885, in Fly-rods and Fly-tackle, Henry P. Wells advises that "ten feet, or ten feet six inches, I believe to be quite sufficient to give to any single handed fly-rod."...

Charles Wheeler rods from 1876 were made of bamboo and had cork grips. His rod won an award at that year’s Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Also causing a stir at that event was a split bamboo rod with solid gold mountings, a solid gold reel, and topaz jewels embedded in the handle. It cost an astonishing $2,500 (a small fortune at the time), but it’s likely that retailer Abbey & Imbrie had it manufactured simply to call attention to itself (the gambit appears to have worked).

Thomas Chubb fly rods from the late 1800s are particularly handsome and collectible. Often made of lancewood, they can be indentified by the distinctive Chubb star trademark, a black-and-ivory-celluloid grip, and bands of red used for both decoration and to secure the rod’s ring guides. More idiosyncratic is the 1888 Abraham Coates rod with a reel integrated into its handle.

Most collectors of antique fishing rods focus on these 19th-century rods and the early 20th-century split bamboo fly rods made by Orvis and others. Lately, though, other types of rods have been getting attention, including the earliest fiberglass Wonderrods by Shakespeare, split bamboo casting and spinning rods, and even some early steel casting rods.

Bamboo rod names to look for include Granger, Young, Dickerson, Phillipson, Devine, Edwards, Thomas, Payne, Leonard, and Hardy, as well as rods made for Abercrombie and Fitch, Heddon, South Bend, and Abbey & Imbrie. As is the case with many types of collectibles, condition is everything. And having an antique rod’s original cloth bag and rod tube will add to its value.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

OldRods.com

OldRods.com

If you're into 19th Century wooden fishing rods (greenheart, bethabara, hickory, ironwood, lancewood), you've come … [read review or visit site]

Joes Old Lures

Joes Old Lures

Joe Yates' website is a great showcase for hundreds of old fishing lures, providing high resolution photos and in m… [read review or visit site]

Mrlurebox.com

Mrlurebox.com

Take a big bite - you won't want to just nibble at Robbie Pavey's gallery of over 300 antique fishing lures, many w… [read review or visit site]

AntiqueLures.com

AntiqueLures.com

This extensive site features over 500 pages of information on pre-1940 wood fishing lures and lure boxes. Start wit… [read review or visit site]

Oldfishinglure.com

Oldfishinglure.com

This site is sure to snag you with its great collection of fishing lures from the early 1900s. Includes lures from … [read review or visit site]

TackleCollecting.com

TackleCollecting.com

Larry Nicholson's site dedicated to vintage fishing lures. Features beautiful images of lures and boxes from Fred A… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Orvis 6' One Piece Superfine Bamboo Fly Rod, Built 1965Vintage F.e. Thomas Bangor Split Bamboo Fly Rod 8' 3/2 Free ShippingVintage 9ft." Shakespear # 1314 T-9 " Split Bamboo Fly Rod-excellent Condition !Folsom 1510 8'6" Vintage Bamboo Fly RodScott G905 Fly Rod Vintage South Bend No. 290 7 1/2' Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod With 3 Tips "look"Fenwick Voyageur Sf74-4 7' Fly Rod Looks Brand NewVintage Bamboo Sport King Fly Rod M27 Extra Tip Model 30 - 4 Pc. 8' Tonkin CaneVintage Dynamo Truline C07 7' 10-60 Lbs - Custom Rod, Deck Handle - MintyNice Vintage A C Hagedorn Signed Bamboo 8.5' Fly Fishing Rod Cane Case 2 Tips Antique Heddon 9 Foot Bamboo Fly Rod Number 20 *scarce* 1916-1918 Heddon No.6 "jim Heddon's Favorite" 5', 2/2 Split Bamboo BaitVery Unique Vintage A & F Fly Twin Fiberglass Fly Rod Made By Browning SilaflexVintage Fenwick Model Gfs70 Hmg Graphite Spinning Rod Vintage Split Bamboo Fly Rod - Allcocks England Mint Condition NrNice Vintage South Bend 4 Piece Split Bamboo Fly Fishing RodHarnell Unlimited Big Game RodSouth Bend 323 Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod.Vintage Harnell Fishing Rod Blank 1 Piece 9 Ft Saltwater Striped BassVintage Compac Golden Bamboo Fly Fishing RodOriginal South Bend #359 8 1/2 Bamboo Fly Rod With Original Tube And Case - Nr!Vintage Fenwick Sf75-5 Voyageur Combo Fly-spin Rod W/ ReelOld Vintage Antique Jc Higgins Pistol Grip Fishing Rod No Lures Log Cabin DecorVintage South Bend Split BambooVintage South Bend Bamboo No. 346-9 Fly Fishing RodVtg Abu Garcia 4 Star Conolon Surf Ocean 9 1/2" Fishing Rod Medium Action 2553-aExceptional - Edward Vom Hofe - No.5 Salt Water Trolling Rod - Excellent Cond. 3 Bamboo Fly RodsVintage Garcia Conolon 8208-a Spinning Rod, 3 Star, 6 1/2', 2 Piece, Mnt L@@kVintage H-i Lucky Ace Bamboo Fly RodVintage 3 Pc Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod 10 Ft Long In Aluminum Tube Case NiceFeatherweight Handle Fishing Rod Reel Champion Handles Pistol Grip Lee-darVintage Winchester Bamboo Fishing PoleThree Vintage Rods - Garcia Conolon, Shakespeare Wonder Rod, & Roddy Custom....Vintage Garcia 8201-a, Conolon, 5 1/2', Spinning Rod, 2 Piece, Lt Action, L@@kAntique/vintage Metal Action-rod Fishing PoleVintage Mint Garcia Conolon N-456 Spinning Rod 6' Light ActionFour Fenwick Fishing Fly Spinning Casting Rod Tackle Catalogs 1972/77/79/86Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod. 9' Unknown Maker. Hand Made?*superb* Montague Lake Pleasant Bambo Fly Rod Unfished! *$.99 No ReserveMills And Son Standard 9 Foot Fly RodVintage South Bend Model 24 9' Split Bamboo Fly Rod With Lures & Tube *must See*Vintage Montague Somers Point Bamboo 2 Piece Fishing Rod (nice)Rare Antique Kit Kast Snub Nose Fishing Rod W/ Vintage Reel No Reserve Antique 1870's Wooden Lake Trout Fishing Rod, Brass Reel Seats Vom HoffeAntique Fishing Set With Rod, Reel And InstructionsAntique Bamboo Fly Rod Restoration ProjectVintage Heddon Black Beauty #17 Bamboo Fly Rod, 8-1/2', *needs Restoring*Three H.l. Leonard Rod And Tackle Catalogs 1975, 1976, And UndatedEagle Claw Trail Master M4tmu 7 1/2 Foot Spin Fly Combination Rod BackpackingVtg Fenwick Fishing Pole Rod Sf110 69447 -9' Nuc Feralite -cork HandleVintage Garcia Conolon Fishing Spinning Rod 8212-a 6 1/2 Ft. 2 Pc. Made In UsaOld Vintage 6 Six Piece Fly Rod Fishing Pole Horrocks & Ibottson Tonka Queen And Princess Fly Rods 7ftNice Vintage Fenwick Feralite 9' Fly Rod Ff90 4 3/4ozVintage Heddon Mark Ii #6806 6-1/2' Fishing Rod Spinning Casting Medium ActionVintage Shimano"bullwhip Fight'n-rod" Casting Fishing Rod 65 3/4'",nice!! Bw-155Featherweight Handle Fishing Rod Reel Champion Handles Glendale CaliforniaFeatherweight All Angle Handle Fishing Rod Reel Champion Handles Glendale Calif.Heddon Pal Spook Superlative Rod #1 L - 6 Ft In Original Case