H2O Magazine


From the nineteenth century


The first models of this wooden reel pattern appeared towards the mid-19th century in Radford and Snieton, two suburbs of Nottingham in England. The first manufacturer of these splendid mahogany wooden objects seems to have been Joseph Turner who gave himself a good reputation before S. Lowkes, who came from Nottingham as well, maintained he had made a better version. At a later stage this copy turned out to have several flaws instead, particularly for the fact that the line got easily tangled up at the foot ofthe reel.

In spite of this, Lowkes’s model was commercially successful and became the most common version of the “Nottingham” also outside the county. Another rather famous Nottingham reel manufacturer was Steers, to whom we must attribute the invention of a model with two internal clutches, a product which did not have great commercial success. The artisan, William Brailsford, sold almost all his reels to the Nottingham Worm Farm, which resold them at a retail market to local fishermen.


One of the most famous ones, George Holland, known as “Nottingham George,” popularized his model, “Brailsford,” even outside the area of Nottingham, when he shifted from fishing on the local river Trent to the Thames, and gained immediate success. Other local artisans who later manufactured, and in some cases improved the “Nottingham,” were the famous David Slater, H. Dale and Eaton Sun.

Towards 1875 George Bates from the Nottingham Wellington Angling Society developed the “Silent Check Nottingham,” a sort of silent revolving spool retrieval which had not appeared on the market yet. Later on, starting from about 1895 this model was manufactured in various sizes by E. West, a fishing gear dealer from Nottingham.


This big production of reels made the product technically advanced and greatly increased the distribution, so that the name, “Nottingham,” is today the benchmark for any wooden reel. By now it is common among the collectors of antique fishing tackle, but also among specialized auction houses, to describe the wooden reels by the caption, “Nottingham style”.

From the collector’s point of view the most interesting models are those provided with a hand-made brass circular clutch, a detail which is identified by the lack of regularity in the clutch thickness, due to the hot working of brass in a totally handcrafted way. Small flaws in the clutch and a different thickness of the clutch circle improve their value and quotation, as they are a sign of craftsmanship.

Another detail to be considered is the “star-back,” that is, the back of the retrieval. Here you can recognize the true history of the reel, the period of manufacture, area of origin and even where some artisans used to carve their name, a number or just their area of origin. In the most advanced models the release of the spring friction was positioned in the star-back. In the oldest models this release occurred by unscrewing a bolt in the front part of the reel, but then there was a shift to a small spring system situated inside a medal in the middle of the spoon.


Another point that will be able to tell you much about your Nottingham reel is the knob or knobs.There are various types of knobs mounted on the Nottingham reels, from the famous bulb-shaped wooden models to those made in hard rubber and those realized with horns of different animals. Therefore, if you bump into a Nottingham reel with ivory knobs fixed on small brass plates, take notice: it could be a very important piece.

A lot of artisans used to build these Nottingham reels for various companies and, as a consequence, it is common to find identical pieces under different brand names. Of course, this creates some confusion in the market and collection world, but studying some old catalogues of English companies and auctions, together with some genuine scams, will help you for sure to improve your knowledge of these wonderful objects from the past.



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