The Perfect Adirondack Collectible – Vintage Sport Fishing Gear

By Pat Martin, Home Farm Antiques
at the Antiques Market Place

Of the first six customers to walk through the doors of the Antiques Market Place yesterday, five of them asked for vintage fishing tackle. Just as snow spurs the quest for old snowshoes, warm weather brings out the fisherman in us all. And no wonder – we’re in the Adirondacks! We have crystal lakes and ponds, thousands of miles of clear rivers and streams providing the best fishing anywhere. We are home to the Great Camps, to hunting and fishing lodges and retreats where colorful Adirondack guides once led groups of Victorians over lakes to fish for rock bass and yellow perch. We are a fabulous source of vintage fishing gear.

Without spending a fortune, you can build a decent collection of hooks, of lines and of sinkers, of floats or nets or traps or tackle boxes. Although, if you want to spend a fortune, the high end of each group would be happy to accommodate. Lures, for example, can be a serious investment. A rare Haskell Minnow lure was sold in 2003 in Massachusetts for $101,200.00. There are good reference books on the subject, and visiting shops and shows and talking to dealers who specialize in the field is invaluable. Henry Caldwell, a dealer at Antiques Market Place and owner of Black Bass Antiques in Bolton Landing, is a wealth of knowledge in this area.

Antique sport fishing gear provides an interesting study of its own history. In 400BCE, Plato would have used a line made from either horsehair or finely woven flax, a hook made of bone or shell or the upper bill of an eagle, and a rod made from a large reed native to the Mediterranean area. Our own vintage rods, though not ancient, are things of beauty. You can see a good assortment at Vermont’s American Museum of Fly Fishing. We have a nice assortment of vintage rods for sale at the Antiques Market Place. To find a vintage Orvis rod, or an Abercrombie & Fitch piece, would be like reeling in a treasure.

Reels are favorites among collectors. The reason for this is best explained in the words of Steven Vernon in his book Antique Fishing Reels (Stackpole Books, 1985).  Mr. Vernon wrote: “… there is, for me at least, a… sense of wonder in the design of the reel. I can think of no other hand-powered machine which has undergone such remarkable evolution and yet must still be powered by hand…. That evolution reflects the reelmaker’s attempts to compensate for the hand’s deficiencies.”

Fishing creels held dead fish, and today they hold a captive audience among collectors. Creels are containers of wicker, some with leather accents, that can hang around your house (by their straps) with integrity and character. They’re good at providing storage, to boot. Speaking of boots, waders are enjoying a growing popularity. These tall rubber boots & pants combined lend a distinctive vintage air to a cabin. They look pretty nifty alongside a fly fishing rod, resting against your stone fireplace surround, backed by Hudson Bay blankets and old tin bait buckets. Not only tackle and gear itself, but fishing advertisements, literature, and framed fish prints from the Denton Fish and Game books are colorful and lively decorating accents that work well with many different decors.

As with most collectibles and antiques, the best piece to collect is one in its original finish with no major flaws. The piece should function well and have no missing or altered parts. If you collect advertising, it should have bold color and vivacious graphics.