The following article is from the Sept. 1, 1900 Forest & Stream magazine and features a writer up of a purported 1830s fishing reel. It was penned by the magazine's editor A.N. Cheney.
An Ancient Reel.
A gentleman who has on several occasions furnished me with interesting information on fishing subjects, has put me under fresh obligations by sending me an old fishing reel, of which he says: "The reel was given to me by a man who told me his grandfather made and used it seventy years ago. The man is now forty years old, so it is quite probable. I do- not know that there is any particular history connected with the reel or whether it ever helped any one to land a fish. You will see that one of the bars which hold the disks together is removable by taking out two screws in either end, and when the bar is removed a screw driver can be inserted to reach a screw hole in the reel seat, and this makes it evident that the reel was fastened to the butt of a rod with a screw. Reel seats were probably not in use when this reel was made, or if so the maker did not know of them. I think I would prefer to fish with a hand line than such a weapon. Do not sent it back, as I will present it to you as a relic of old times."
If my correspondent had said the reel was reputed to have been made 170 years ago, the reel itself bears no evidence to dispute it. The disks are of brass and the spindle a bit of iron wire bent on the outside to form a crank handle, and the reel has no click or check of any sort, but otherwise it closely resembles a modern reel in form. The bearings of the spindle are much worn, and other indications are such as to convince me that the reel has seen much service. I think a proper abiding place for this relic is the case in Forest And Stream office, and there I will send it to bear witness that long ago some enthusiastic fisherman made for his own use. in all probability, a reel that was "the best he knowed."
-- Dr. Todd