“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
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
"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
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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