Friday - 12 February 2016

Cast your mind back 700 years – or even further

29 September 2004Written by ATG Reporter

“IN my 30 years in the business I’ve not seen anything like this before,” said Neil Freeman, of Angling Auctions. “I’ve checked everywhere, but I can’t find anything like it.”

He has spent a good deal of time over the last few months energetically trying to unravel the story behind what could be the earliest fishing tackle ever to be seen in the UK. His efforts have taken him from the British Museum to the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge.

All the fuss has been over a Chinese reel and rod that appear in the sale of Fishing Tackle and Related Items on October 2 at Chiswick Town Hall in West London.

The rosewood reel has six U-shaped spindles in an open-cage and is mounted on a matching 3ft 10in (1.17m) bamboo rod. It is catalogued as c.14th century, but could be a lot older.

The great 20th century Cambridge academic Joseph Needham mentions in his 16-volume Science and Civilization in China an ancient invention called a "windlass". It was originally used for spinning silk, but later, in the 12th century, it was adapted for use as an angling reel. Despite his extensive travels around China, Needham records that he did not see one.

However, the earliest illustration of this type of tackle is by Ma Yuan, entitled Angler on a Wintery Lake, c.1195. "The Chinese were certainly using this sort of thing 800 years ago," said Neil Freeman. "For the example we have here, we've probably given quite a conservative date. It may well go back a lot earlier."

Fishing in China is a very ancient activity indeed, stretching right back to the earliest civilisations. According to Chinese legend, fishing was invented by the first emperor Fu His, whose dates are thought to be 2852-2738 BC. He is also credited with introducing his subjects to writing and hunting.

The fishing tackle on offer on October 2 is though to have arrived in the UK roughly 70 years ago, brought over from China after it was given to a British diplomat as a gift in the 1930s.

In the late 1970s it was sold for a mere £38 to the present owner.

"It's difficult to say what it'll make at the sale," said Neil Freeman. "We could give it an estimate of £5000 to £8000 and still be wildly wrong. This item is a one-off and so we have to let the market decide."

The sale also includes 100 lots from the Frederic M. Halford collection, including his personal fishing tackle and book collection. Halford is seen as the godfather of fly fishing. He was a founder of The London Flyfisher's Club and wrote seven books and over 200 articles on how to fish with the dry fly.

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ATG Reporter

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