Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques with the collection of fishing priests.

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A collection of nearly 100 fishing priests assembled over 50 years is on offer from Wick Antiques.

Comprising many different materials, weights and ages, the group includes the oldest known example, inscribed with the date 1718, and one with a royal crest that belonged to – and was probably used by – Queen Victoria.

Fishing priests were used to ‘administer last rites’ to fish before they were taken to be cooked and eaten. Often these broke or were thrown away, but this assortment built up by collector Dave Watson includes 97 examples. Among the priests are examples made of walnut, boxwood, yew, ash, lignum vitae and some with ends of whale bone, antler or narwhal tusk.

Watson started out as a collector of antique fishing tackle but started buying priests after coming across an elegantly shaped boxwood version.

He said: “They came slowly – and sometimes expensively. Over time it became harder to find better quality examples for the collection as it developed to include different woods and materials. Still, each priest is unique.”

Dealer Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques, in Lymington, Hampshire, jumped at the collection when it became available through private sale.

He said: “I instantly wanted it because it’s unique and, in my opinion, the finest collection of its type.”

The individual pieces range in price from a few hundred pounds to about £20,000. They are offered together with a guide price of £67,000.