Cast From The Past: Reuben Heaton Pictorial Fly Reels

Photo: Steve Woit

These Reuben Heaton pictorial brass trout reels with the streamside angler scene were made from 1880 to 1910 in Birmingham, U.K., featuring distinctive fishing scenes embossed on the side plates.

Reuben Heaton started the business in 1857 using money given to him by his father, who was part of the Heaton’s dynasty running the Birmingham Mint (Heaton’s Pennies are very scarce and collectible).

The embossed fisherman plates on the reels may actually have been made using equipment from the mint operation, or with brass casting services provided by the mint. The Victoria reel is the most ornate example and appears in a catalog of the period. These reels were available in both brass embossed and silvered versions, with some with hard rubber sideplates in both platewind and multiplying models. All featured attractively designed curved half-handles.

Birmingham became a major center for reel and tackle manufacturing in England over time and the Heatons exported reels around the globe, including to the U.S., with a number of American style reels appearing in the 1885 catalog. Heatons’ reels can also be seen illustrated in the catalogs of many English brands during this period including Farlows, G Little, Cummins, Bowness & Chevalier, Gillett, McGowan, Allcocks, and others. They manufactured reels for a number of these companies as well.

The company, which is still in business today, also made a wide variety of metal and wood reels including both centerpin and multiplying designs, as well as rods, rod fittings, landing nets, scales, gut twisting machines, and lures.

Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.


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