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    

H.l. Leonard Duracane 7'-6" #5 Green Wrap Bamboo Fly RodHeddon Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod #14 (aka Thorobred) 9’ 3/2 Great Condition -lookOctopus Edgar Sealy Bamboo Fly Rod In Cloth BagVintage Heddon Folsom 7 1/2 ,3/2 No.1522 Bamboo Fishing Rod!!Vintage Hurd Super Caster Rod And Reel Combo Fishing Pole With CaseVintage Early Model 315 Fenwick Usa 7' Fly Rod - 2 3/4 Oz - Pristine ConditionVintage Mills Standard Bamboo Fly Rod 9 ' 5" . 3 Piece 2 TipsVintage Fenwick 2 Pc Gfs 64??6'8"ultra-light Hmg Spinning Rod-used But A-ok-rare8 Ft. Heddon #10 Split Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod Classic Period Circa 1935 Vintage Phillipson "special" Fly Rod 7' 2pcMinty Vintage Fenwick Fs90 9' Large Spinning Rod + Tube & Sock, Surf, BoatSouth Bend Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod With Original Case 77 8'6" 3/2 Split Bamboo Fly Rod Parts (shakespeare & L&c Crown)Antique~8 Pc. Bamboo Fly Rod~6' Or 7' Length W/pflueger Reel Keep & Orig. Sock~Vintage Engraved Brooklure Orchard Fishing Rod Reel, Excellent Hardy 1899 Palakona 11' - 0" Split Cane Fly Rod Vintage Heddon #10 8 1/2' 3-piece Fly Rod Fishing Rod Rod Tube Neat!Vintage 2-piece 7' Shakespeare Standard Taper Wonderod No. Sp-a120 Spinning RodKencor Tenlew Magnaglas Panga Special 4'9" Conventional Shorty - 707hc, 20-50 LbVintage Amhurst Bamboo Fly Rod2- Vintage Garcia Conolon Spinning Rods Made In UsaVintage Wright & Mcgill Trailmaster Fishing Rod... 4-piece Fishing PoleNice Vintage 8' Fiberglass Garcia "dry Fly" Fly Rod, Model 2537, 6-7 LineVintage Wright-mcgill 6.5 Ft Fly Fishing Rod & Display Case,glass,#4tms,d-2,4 PcVintage Fenwick Fiberglass Fly Rod-#ff75 7 1/2 Ft 3 1/4 Oz Aftma Flyline No 5-6Vintage Horrocks & Ibbotson (h/i) Woodsman Fiberglass Fly Rod In Bag And TubeGarcia Conlolon 10 Foot Surf Rod New With Tags! Never Used NosTonka Queen Bamboo 2 Piece Fly Rod 7' 2" Vintage Heddon #10 8 1/2' 2-piece Fly Rod Fishing Rod Rod Tube Neat!Vintage5 5 Strip Cane /bamboo 7 Foot Spinning Rod By Uslan Needs To Be FinishedVintage Fenwick Lunkerstik 2000 Model 2053 Woodstream Fenglass Fishing RodThe Isaak Walton Vintage & Rare 3/2 Bamboo Fly Rod W/tip-tube And Sock No TubeFenwick Hmg Graphite Gfc605 6 Ft Removable Handle N355949 Bass Casting Rod, CaseVintage Sila-flex Fly Rod - Museum Quality / Unfished - Matching Components - Vintage Macys Classic Split Bamboo F2/3 Wt Fly Rod Two Vintage Heddon Bait Casting Rods 1 Deluxe Pal 1 Other Vintage Shakespear Wonderod #716 Spinning Rod & Originalrod Rod HolderHeddon Expert 125 Bamboo Fly Rod Project RodVintage Custom 5' Lamiglas S-glass 5ft Ultra Light Fishing Rod ~ 2 Piece ~ MintVintage Heddon #730 8' 2-piece Fly Rod Fishing Rod Neat!Garcia Conolon 2152t Surf Rod In Carry Bag, Great ConditionHardy 1910 Palakona 14' - 0" Split Cane Fly Rod 8 Vintage "agate Fishing Rod Tips & Guides" For 1 PriceMacgregor Bamboo Fly Rod 10 1/2' 6 Wt. Made In ScotlandNew Unused Vintage Japanese Bamboo Fly Rod In Wood Box 1950s Or 1960sTsunami Airwave 10' Surf Rod Med Hvy Tsawss-1002mh NewVintage Rare Model Plb83 Fenwick Feralite Spinning Fishing RodFenwick World Class Flippin' Stik W Tc 76 8-t, 7 1/2' Collapsible Casting RodVintage Berkley "buccaneer" 7ft Fly Fishing Rod & Display Case,glass,b5s,5 Pc,ex2 Vintage 8' Spinning Rods-1 Lamiglas S-glass 8/8780s Used & 1 Daiwa 8-1595Vintage Small Abbey & Imbrie "silk Color Preservative" BottleVintage Fenwick Ff80 8' Fishing Rod Fenwick #756 Casting And Or Trolling 5.5' Muskie RodFenwick World Class Hooksetter Whc 565 5 Ft 6 In 5 Power Bass Casting Rod, Look!Vintage Garcia Conolon 49-65 61/2' Med Action Spinning Rod-used In Vg ConditionVintage 2-piece 92.5" Herter's Fiberglass Fly Rod ExcellentVintage Heddon Pal Mark Iii Spinning Rod Fishing Rod Excellent!Vintage 2-piece 8' Berkley Cherrywood Fly Rod C40 For Aftma #6 Or #7 LineThree Old Vintage Bamboo Fly Rods ~ Restoration Project Rods ~ Complete RodsVintage Heddon Fly Rod, Golden "mark 50" Pro Weight, #8540, 61/2'- #5 Line, 2 Pc