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    

Leonard Duracane Bamboo Fly RodHeddon Bamboo Fly Rod, 7'0, Featherweight, #4 LineHeddon #14 Thorobred - 8 1/2 Foot Split Bamboo Fly RodSouth Bend No. 12 Bamboo Fly Rod 8 1/2' Circa 1928, W/ Bag Edwards " De Luxe" 7ft. 9in. Bamboo Fly RodHardy Palakona The "tournament" Bamboo Fly Rod C. 1921 11' George Eastman KodakSewell Dunton & Son Bamboo Fly Rod, Angler's Choice, 8 1/2 Feet, 3/2,5 0z,m.fastVintage Orvis Impregnated Battenkill Bamboo Fly Rod Serial 7815 Cal Skinner 1950Superb Heddon Model #14 8 1/2 Ft Bamboo Fly RodFenwick Fiberglass Voyageur Combination Fly Spin Rod In Tube And BagVintage Garcia Conolon 2445 Spinning Fishing Rod Medium Action Fast Taper 9’ James Schaaf, Maker- Bamboo Rod, 7', Browntone, New, Never Used1936 Heddon #10 Bamboo Fly RodVintage Fenwick Spinning Fishing Rod Fs85 M 093701 With Sleeve & Original TubeVintage Fenwick Feralite Spinning Fishing Rod Fs85 C 11203 - 8 1/2 Ft. Vintage Fenwick Spinning Fishing Rod Fs86 M 198173 With Sleeve & Original TubeVintage Garcia Conolon Spinning Fishing Rod - 5’6” - 2 Pc - B501 B Very NiceNice Vintage Airex 2 Piece 6' Bamboo Rod #115 NrVintage Fenwick 2 Piece Casting Rod Fs79cVintage Fenwick Feralite Spinning Fishing Rod Fs75 K 46205 With Fenwick TubeVintage Fenwick Feralite Fs86 Spinning Rod Made In Usa W/ Case & BagSouth Bend No. 13 Bamboo Fly Rod 9 1/2' Circa 1935, Bass/steelhead ProjectVintage Fenwick Voyager Fly/spinning Rod With Case & Rod BagVintage Fenwick Fenglass Spinning Fishing Rod Sh 1024 F - 8 1/2 Ft.Bamboo Fly Rod 7' Genuine Tonkin Cane #72 Full Length Union Hardware?Vintage Fenwick Feralite Ff806 Fly 6 Rod Made In Usa F. E. Thomas Dirigo And Unknown Maker 3/2, 10' & 9' Bamboo Rods For RestorationGarcia Conolon 7595, 7 1/2' Spinning RodMontague Gaspe Bamboo Dry Fly Bamboo Salmon Rod, ProjectVintage Montague Clipper 3 Pc Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod - Very Nice & SleeveVintage Garcia Conolon 2685 C Dry Fly Action Fly Fishing RodShimano Tiralejo Trs90m2 9' Fishing Rod Spinning No ReserveLamiglas Series #1000 Model G-1297-6 Graphite Fly Rod In Bag And TubeOrvis Graphite Ultra Light Spinning Rod 6 1/2 Foot 2 1/2 Oz 1283Vintage Fenwick Woodstream Spinning Fishing Rod Fs65 S 460562G Loomis Jig & Worm 853c Jwr -glx 7'1" Fishing RodVintage Divine Bamboo FlyrodVintage Garcia Conolon Light Act. Fast Taper 4 Star 8210-a Spinning Fishing RodVintage Wright & Mcgill Trailmaster No. 4tmul Spinning/fly Fishing Rod ComboVintage Lamiglas Ltd Fiberglass Spin Rod With Ceramic Insert Line GuidesVintage Bayshore 3 Pc Bamboo Fly Fishing Rod - Very NiceVintage Garcia Conolon 10’ - 2 Pc - Spinning Fishing Rod Medium ActionVintage Heddon # 15 Premier 5' Bamboo Casting Fishing RodVintage Wright & Mcgill Champion 7’ Spinning Fishing Rod - 2 Piece - Very Nice26 Various Vintage Fishing Rod Guides 10 Nos Agate Guides Tunnel Guides & TipsFenwick Pls 65r 6.5' 4oz Feralite Pls65r Fishing Rod + TubeVintage Fenwick Fs70 Feralite Spinning Rod 7 Ft 2 Piece 1970's #g97934 Nice!Vintage 5' J. C. Higgins 2989 De Luxe Solid Fiberglass Casting Rod + Orig. SockVintage Fenwick Ocean Spinning Fishing Rod Ps120 With Sleeve - Huge Rod - 12 Ft.H-i Horrocks-ibbotson Favorite Bamboo Fly Rod, 9 Foot Long W/ Bag Trout LogoKunnan Spiraltech Advantage 7686mh 8'-6" Casting Rod W/ Extra Tip!Vintage Bamboo Fly Rod Unknown Maker 8 1/2' (3) Piece Wood Grip W/ Alum. Tube Vintage 3 Piece Steel Fishing Rod - Rava Mfg. Co. Milwaukee, Wi - Pat. PendingVintage Garcia Conolon 3365 Spinning Rod Made In UsaVintage Heddon Pal 5' Heavy Musky Casting Rod Made In Usa NiceEagle Claw Trailmaster IiiKitkast Vintage Pocket Fishing Rod Made In New Jersey Fishing RodWright & Mcgill " Trailmaster " 4 Pc Pack Rod 6'6" For Easy RestorationWright & Mcgill Granger Special Bamboo Fly Rod With Olympic Woven Wicker Case Vintage 14k Gold Plated St. Croix Magnaflex Fishing Rod Set Lamb Skin Case