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Shakespeare reels: 'Built like a watch'

A Shakespeare President reel model 1970A, box, instruction sheet and spare parts in very good condition. Mark Greenig/Record

Our title this week implies we will be discussing a Timex watch. That's not the case. The phrase, "Built Like A Watch," was an advertising slogan for Shakespeare reels back in the 1950s.

With winter starting to wear on me, I felt a topic for the upcoming open water season might cheer us all up. Let's talk about Shakespeare fine fishing tackle, specifically their fishing reel model 1970A.

Called the "President," this product was a level winding reel. It is stainless steel with nylon gears and carboloy bushings.

As a child, I often used Shakespeare reels. They were reliable and affordable for the common person. Often referred to as "knuckle busters," these reels were difficult to cast. When you cast this reel the handle always spun around in conjunction with the inner spool. Hands not properly positioned would be hit with the rotating handle. Thus, the origin of the knuckle buster phrase.

Today, such reels are free spool, meaning only the inner spool rotates and not the handle. Also, if not properly adjusted to the lure weight, you were pretty much guaranteed to wind up with a "birds nest" or commonly known as a backlash with these older reels.

Instructions recommended 15-pound line as a good all around choice. We didn't have mono (clear) line back then. Most of what we used was thick black line and often was the cause for many backlashes. It took patience to learn proper use of this reel, but once mastered it would serve you well.

Let's describe what to look for in the President model 1970A reel.

For its' time, the President model was pleasing to the eye with the sleek tear shaped design and color scheme. Those colors included stainless steel silver, dark green and ivory like amenities on the reel edges and handle grips. The interior of the reel, other than the sides is all stainless steel. It came with the typical "clicker" drag, and adjustment knob for lure weight. Ironically, those two features are still commonplace in many reels manufactured today. Each reel came with easy to decipher instructions for breakdown and maintenance. Even as a teenager, one could easily work on this reel due to its' simplistic design. Those same instructions came with easy to follow pictures for proper care.

Parts were commonly found at most hardware stores that sold these products. Such service appealed to the many users of Shakespeare products.

Packaging included a snappy looking red/blue cardboard box with those paper instructions. Dimensions for this reel box are 5" long, 3 ¼" wide and 3" deep. Remembering those measurements isn't really necessary. Just look on the reel for model number and make sure that same number is on the box. Often, when you purchased a Shakespeare reel with box, parts were included. That certainly adds value to this package. The instruction sheet when folded is 2 ¾" by 4 ¼" and 8 ½" by 11" when open. Nice black and white pictures are found on that sheet. Make sure the instructions match the reel and box.

One has to be a purist to use this reel compared to today's technology with bait casting (level winding reel) products. As noted many times before, try and get the reel, box and instruction sheet if at all possible. Someday when you sell, it will pay off.

Value for this package in very good to mint condition should be around $30. The good news is the reel alone is not difficult to find. Matching all three items to complete the package is more challenging. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.