Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

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kyreels
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Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

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B.F. Meek and Sons letterhead and advertisements contain the notation of “Established in 1835”. This covers the period of reel making from J.F. and B.F. Meek, Meek & Milam, B.F. Meek, Bluegrass Reelworks and B.F. Meek and Sons. B.F. Meek left Frankfort for Louisville to found his namesake company in 1883, and incorporated as B.F. Meek and Sons in 1898. While B.F. Meek passed away in 1901, the company continued until 1916 and its sale to the Horton Manufacturing Company. This collection tells the story of fine Kentucky fishing reels and tackle that were made during that period, all under the influence of one of Kentucky’s finest reel makers, Benjamin F. Meek.

Dr. Todd Larsen states in his book B.F. Meek in Louisville, 1882-1916 , “the history of Benjamin F. Meek and the B.F. Meek & Sons company encompasses not just the history of Louisville and the Bluegrass State, but the history of fishing and tackle as a whole”. This collection is inspired by that book and that time period.

Every reel collection has some story to tell, and I chose to limit the tale to 36 reels. That is an arbitrary number that requires some discipline and culling, and each reel in the sequence must demonstrate some quality worth calling out. Many of these mostly hand-made reels have differences and evolutions that reflect both ornamentation and design choices, as well as purchasing options and tournament caster modifications. I try to be exhaustive in showing most known freshwater models and examples, but there are some cataloged examples, most notably the B.F. Meek and Sons #1 reel that are not known to exist. I have included a different number 1 reel. I also notably do not include the saltwater models which are rare and desirable examples. While it may be possible for persons of means and diligence to expand this collection to many more reels and not bore the audience, there is some benefit in limiting it to 36 reels. I don’t claim they are the best 36, or the most representative 36, just that in each reel you can see the progressive hand of B.F. Meek and his group of master craftsman that follow. Every reel shown in this collection represents a unique progressive change.

The pressure to be competitive with other mass manufacturers was strong after 1900, yet the B.F. Meek and Sons and Bluegrass and Simplicity reels were of very fine quality, and often overlooked by collectors. This collection represents all of the reels, no matter what the rarity or value.

I am grateful to the many ORCA members that helped me build this collection and I am certain that this collection will live on in the next generations. I hope you enjoy looking as much as I have enjoyed assembling this historic group.



A1
J.F. & B.F. MEEK FRANKFORT, KY, NO 4.
Circa 1840, Brass, numbered screws, buffalo horn grasp, handmade, numbered screws, non CB handle 12 o'clock, click and drag. One of around only 70 J.F. & B.F. Meek reels produced, this example would have been one that B.F. Meek would have had a strong hand in making. While not one of the earliest examples, it shows the influence of previous reels and the evolution towards finer reels. It had a gear ratio of 4:1 and both the click and the drag mechanism. You can follow this basic design into similar models in the Meek & Milam, as well as the early B.F. Meek reels. J.F. & B.F. Meek reels were made from 1837-1852. B.F. Meek was in his early 20's when he started at the firm.


A2
MEEK & MILAM FRANKFORT, KY, NO 2.
GS, ivory grasp, non CB handle 12 o'clock, click only
The Meek & Milam partnership ran from late 1852 to 1881, but B.C. Milam made most of the over 700 reels. B.F. Meek concentrated on the jewelry business during this period.


A3
MEEK & MILAM FRANKFORT, KY, NO 1.
GS, ivory grasp, non CB handle 12 o'clock click only. Filed foot
Obtained from the collection of Al Munger. Pictured in Fishing Reel Makers of Kentucky by Vernon & Stewart (pg. 39)
Shown with a US Silver Dollar for comparison to size. Reels of this small size were often used for fly fishing. (Early Fly Fishing with the Kentucky Reel, Michael Norgay, The American Fly Fisher, http://www.amff.org/wp-content/uploads/ ... No3web.pdf


A4
MEEK & MILAM FRANKFORT, KY, NO 4.
GS, ivory grasp, CB handle 12 o'clock, click and drag
If you compare this reel to the J.F. & B.F. Meek reel in A1, you can see many similarities. The counter-balanced handle is the main external difference, supporting the evolution towards casting with the reel.


A5
B.F. MEEK LOUISVILLE KY No 4.
Circa 1883-1897,GS, replacement ivoroid grasp, non cb handle 12 o'clock, click, drag, 1 mark on foot, S/N 309
This early B.F. Meek reel shows the craftsmanship and quality of reels made by the hand of B.F. Meek. His reels were designed for bait casting and all of the materials were designed for the performance and life of his reel. The reels contained the spiral (or helical) gears that made the reels run so smoothly and were a major advantage. He was likely the first reel maker to incorporate that type of gear into a fishing reel. Handles were thinner and "delicately balanced" and came at 12 o'clock by default, but could be ordered in other positions. Some early B.F. Meek reels came with the familiar S handle like the Meek & Milam. Reel controls for click and brake were fluted as were the front plate.


A6
B.F. MEEK LOUISVILLE KY No 3.
Circa 1883-1897, GS, ivory grasp, non-CB handle 12 o'clock, click, drag, 0 mark on foot, engraved HENRY R BARRET 1915, SN 458
Counter balanced handles were $2.00 extra (an extra 9% of the reel cost), and jewels were $6.00 extra in the 1885 catalog. The reel cost was $22.00, which is around $590 in 2020 dollars.


B1
B.F. MEEK LOUISVILLE KY No 2.
Circa 1883-1897, GS, ivory grasp, CB handle 12 o'clock, click, drag, 1 mark on foot, SN 139
The 1885 catalog lists the length of a #2 as 1-5/8. This reel is 1-13/16. Many number 2's are different lengths.


B2
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY. No 3.
Circa 1900, GS endcaps, CB handle 12 o'clock click and drag, extra knurled frontplate and knurled backplate, SN 1017
B.F. Meek and Sons made reels from 1889-1916. Early ads listed the company as B.F. Meek and Son, no s, but that disappeared after a few months. This reel is an early version with an early serial number.


B3
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY. No 3.
Circa 1904 Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 12 o'clock click only, engraved E. R. OWENS 1st Prize Chicago, Aug 1905, SN 1779
Award for an early NASAC tournament


B4
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 3.
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 2927 on foot
Now we see the shift to 4 o'clock handles, where previously 12 or 6 o'clock was the common order.


B5
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 4.
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click and drag SN 3334 on foot


B6
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY CLUB SPECIAL
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 2613 on foot
Rare marking, only a few of these known. The Club Special marking is also seen at the top of the reel on some examples. It is like a number 2, but marketed to tournament casters. The length of this #2 is 2-3/16, the longest of any #2 I have.


C1
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 2
GS endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, engraved B.F. SAWIN CHICAGO. SN 2736 on foot
The #2 reel was listed in catalogs since 1900 as ideal for small mouth black bass and ladies use. It was used frequently by tournament casters, but it was not until the 1911 catalog that they started emphasizing that. The length of this reel is 2 inches.




C2
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 2
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 12 o'clock click only, SN 3671 on foot
This reel handle position is odd in that it is at 12 o'clock instead of the normal 4 o'clock for this period. Guess you can get what you prefer. The length of the reel is 2 inches.


C3
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 3.
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 3646 on foot


C4
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 3 FREESPOOL PAT NOV 26 01,
Jeweled endcaps, CB tournament handle 4 o'clock, no click, marked PAT NOV 26 01, engraved Harry A. Deber Chicago SN 3978 on foot
A really fine example of an early tournament reel, handle likely from BFM&Sons. The availability and usage of aluminum spools on reels for tournament casting was a major advantage in not overrunning the spool, both in distance and in accuracy. The use of freespool reels for tournament casting dominated the sport since the caster no longer worried about a rapidly spinning handle during the cast. The patent from Nov 26, 1901 number 687,642 was obtained from G.E. Medley and related to the automatic engagement of the freespool mechanism. This same patent and method and other improvements were used on the model 34 later in their manufacture.


C5
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 44
Fly Reel 3rd style,click, SN 3886 on foot
This is the third version of the venerated number 44, trying to get into Ron's will for the first version. The advertisement card shown shows what the first version looked like. The price since the beginning of the firm was $15, but the price was lowered in 1911 to $10. One of the least expensive and highest quality hand made Meek reels has become one of the highest priced reels in the collector market.




C6
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 2
Jeweled endcaps, perforated aluminum spool, period aluminum tournament handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 4251 on foot
The length of this reel is 2-1/16, and is heavily modified for tournament casting. The perforated aluminum spool would not have been available from the factory and would have been done by a machine shop, as is the tournament handle. The low spool inertia would be a major advantage in both accuracy and distance casting and is valued by tournament casters, The number 2 reel is still a competitive reel in tournaments. But the wide spool is not favored any more in my experience. The narrow spool number 2 was favored by the best casters today.


D1
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 3.
Jeweled endcaps, aluminum spool, aluminum tri-knob tournament handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 4424 on foot
The tournament casters of the ACA era have used the Meek reel with aluminum spool to produce world record casts. This non-free spool reel would have used the tiny tournament handle to further reduce inertia in the cast. Why three handles instead of two? There is an element of style and trends that were prevalent here that are not strictly explainable by physics.


D2
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 2
Jeweled endcaps, narrow aluminum spool, wood arbor, period CB aluminum tournament handle 4 o'clock click only, SN 4644 on foot
This reel is 1- 11/16th in length, the narrowest spool in my collection. It is perhaps my favorite reel in that if I used a Meek reel in tournament accuracy casting, this is the reel I would choose. You can still see this reel in use today in national ACA tournament casting.


D3
BLUEGRASS REELWORKS LOUISVILLE, KY No 3.
Steel endcaps, CB handle 6 o'clock click and drag, SN 521 on foot
Blue Grass Reel Works sold reel from 1889-1904 and reels with this marking are therefore rare. The Blue Grass designation represented the attempt to make a high-quality reel and be competitive with the emerging mass production of fishing reels from firms such as Shakespeare and Pflueger and many others. The Blue Grass reels raised the ire of the B.C. Milam & Son firm which led to the famous lawsuit over the claim of B.F. Meek & Sons to the "Genuine Frankfort Reel". When the lawsuit was settled, the firm folded into B.F. Meek & Sons and the Blue Grass Reel trade name continued in that line. (B.F. Meek in Louisville, 1882-1916, Todd E. A. Larson, The Whitefish Press, 2019)


D4
BLUEGRASS REELWORKS LOUISVILLE, KY No. 4
Jewelled endcaps, CB handle 6 o'clock click and drag, SN 695 on foot


D5
BLUEGRASS REEL MADE BY B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE, KY No 3.
Steel endcaps, CB handle 6 o'clock click and drag, SN 4313 on foot


D6
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE,KY BLUEGRASS No 5.
Steel endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock, click and drag. SN 6727 on foot. Foot has drilled hole.


E1
BLUEGRASS REEL MADE BY B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE, KY No 3.
Jewelled endcaps, CB handle 6 o'clock click and drag, SN 4777 on foot


E2
B.F. MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE,KY BLUEGRASS No 4.
Jeweled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click and drag. SN 5398 on foot


E3
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY BLUEGRASS No 3.
Jewelled endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click and drag, SN 5493 on foot


E4
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY BLUEGRASS No 3.
GS endcaps, CB handle 4 o'clock click and drag, SN 5606 on foot


E5
BLUEGRASS REELWORKS LOUISVILLE, KY No 33
Earliest No 33, GS endcaps, CB Handle 6 oclock, click, drag, SN 752 on foot


E6
BLUEGRASS REELWORKS LOUISVILLE, KY No 33
Second model 33, Nickel plated brass frame and handle, CB handle 4 o'clock click only SN 136 on foot, patent pending on rear
Did you ever buy a great brand but felt they had gone a little far in cost-cutting? This is the only Meek reel that I would say went a little far, in that the nickel plating on the entire reel gave it that mass-produced feel, and most examples found have some pitting or plating loss. But still a great design that incorporated the Carter patent (pending at this time) that enabled the entire reel to be disassembled for cleaning without taking out a large number of screws. The back screw was left-hand threaded to prevent loss during casting, and has led to some buggered examples found in the field.


F1
BLUEGRASS REEL MADE BY B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 33
Third model 33, no thumbrest, German Steel endplates, Nickel Plated Brass frame, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, No 6 on foot, Carter's Pat on front
William Carter patent number 765,554 July 19,1904 was awarded for the innovative construction that enabled the reel to be disassembled mostly by hand, and provided the tubular frame that replaced a lot of complexity. (reminds me of the difference between body-on-frame automobiles compared to unibody). For a full description of quick takedown reels and the patents and constructions involved, please see the excellent , Steven K. Vernon, Second Edition, 2018, available everywhere on the orcaonline.org online store. The entire subject of take apart or take down reels is available in this reference. It is fascinating and illustrates the intense business struggle to stay competitive in the marketplace.

This reel was improved over the Blue Grass Reel Works model in the construction, but the spool when filled ran close to the bars and was reportedly difficult to thumb correctly. This version had no thumb rest, but subsequent versions added the thumb rest. This reel sold for $7.50, and was a price-competitive reel with quality feel.


F2
BLUEGRASS REEL MADE BY B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 33
Fourth model 33, aluminum thumbrest, GS endplates, NPS frame, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, No 1 on foot, Carter's Pat on front


F3
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 34 FREESPOOL PAT NOV 26 01 NOV 28 05
Aluminum thumbrest, steel frame, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, marked B on foot, Freespool pat on front marked PAT NOV 26 01 NOV 28 05
In addition to the Medley free spool patent for 1901 previously cited, thsi adds the Carter Reel Frame patent of of 1905, number 806,064. This further protected the earlier Carter patent and extended the protections to the gearing and frame carrying feature. This design was successful and carried over into future manufacturers including Meisselbach, Horton and Heddon.


F4
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 33 BLUEGRASS
Fifth and final model 33, Steel endcaps, aluminum thumbrest, steel frame, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, No 3 on foot, Carter's Pat on rear


F5
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 25 BLUEGRASS
Steel endcaps,GS frame, Double handle 4 o'clock click only, 4 mark on foot, Carter's Pat on rear. This reel was my first Ky Reel purchased at the NFLCC St. Louis show. I have never cleaned it nor altered it. I was happy to get it, and thought that might be the last Kentucky reel I needed. I was wrong. This model also shows the double grip handle, which was also available on other reels, but not seen very often.


F6
B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY No 25 BLUEGRASS
Steel endcaps,GS frame, CB handle 4 o'clock click only, No 3 on foot, No 4 mark on foot, Carter's Pat on rear
Why was the model 25 reel made? Why did it exist? Who was it for? I can relate to this reel, because it is a high quality take apart reel, cheeper than the classic reels of the time, all german silver, but featuring the take apart features. It was the moderate choice of the time. I find myself chasing the medium many times, often not the Honda or Lexus, but the Accura. give me a high quality reel at a moderate price point. That is the No. 25. Full disclosure, I drive a Honda.


B.F.MEEK & SONS LOUISVILLE KY - Pocket Screw Driver and Oiler
The Meek pocket combination screw driver and oiler sold for 50 cents in 1914. Extra blades were 5 cents.


Thanks for viewing, hope you enjoy my collection.
Matt Wickham
Collector of Casting Weights, KY Reels and KY Tackle

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Steve »

:shock: :bow:

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by reelsmith. »

Awesome collection. Thanks for sharing Matt. Well done.

I love that a Circa 1883-1897 reel is engraved 1915. Maybe passed down from father to son ?

Dean.
Wanted: Kosmic Items, Small Leather Fly Reel Cases, Early Fishing Related Bottles, Fly Reels and Pre-1900 Angling/Casting Medals.

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Mike N »

Now that’s a collection any ORCAn would gladly hang his hat on, Matt. Well done, indeed.

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Paul M »

Great collection and wonderful display. It goes on and on. I will need to spend a while looking at pictures of each and every reel. Matt, thank you for sharing!
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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by leland99 »

Great display Matt. Some fantastic classics there!!
Bryce Tawney
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Packing these reels into my nest hole: Talbot, Milam, Meek, Horton, Heddon, Wm Shakespeare Jr, and small diameter skeleton fly reels!

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by bettybarr »

Matt, this is fantastic. You introduced me to a material I know nothing about and could not find a reference to - parlyn. I am guessing it is a polymer and I bet it is on a reel we have but did not know what it is.
Ron needs a way to get to heaven so I am sure he will include you in his Will for that number 1, No. 44.
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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by kyreels »

Thanks Betty. Ron taught me there is no try, only do. Obi Wan Gast must consider the force.
Not sure about the paralene reference, will have to look that up before the judges descend. It is probably a replacement grasp of some polymer, will have to redo the reference.
Matt Wickham
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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Stef Duma »

Thats a great collection, thank you for showing it.

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

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I added some commentary and historical reference, and cleaned up some of the ambiguous references. Hope you appreciate the additions. In a digital world, the evolution continues.
Matt Wickham
Collector of Casting Weights, KY Reels and KY Tackle

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Steve »

Matt, finally had a chance to read your exquisite display more carefully. Perceptive, illuminating commentary about some of history's finest casting reels.
While we're here, I have one question, which I've been asking for years: B.F. Meek is generally credited for introducing spiral gearing to casting reels (your reel A5). Our old friend JVH showed spiral gears in the drawing for his 1867 gear-bridge patent. To your or anyone else's knowledge, has anyone ever found a JVH reel with pre-Meek spiral gearing?
And BTW: Parylene

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

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Thanks Steve. Coincidently, I actually pulled your book Fishing Reel Makers of Kentucky before I wrote that comment, and believe it or not wondered the same thing about the JVH spiral gearing which you first noted in that book. I have poured over the source research material in Todd Larson's B.F. Meek in Louisville and there is no answer there. I am not aware of anyone or any publication of finding a JVH reel with the patented gearing. But I would say that I am unlikely to be the one that finds a JVH gear, since I don't pursue them. I call upon the dedicated ORCA JVH collectors to find such a reel.

I think the obvious can be stated however, that even if someone found such a reel, it is unlikely that Ben Meek would have been influenced by it, and he still should get the credit for putting it into wide usage. I do think it speaks volumes that even today, the top tournament casters think the BFM&S and Horton reels are the best vintage reels for the sport, and it is probably due to the spiral gearing more than anything else. Only the nylon gears and the ultra lightweight spools displaced them.
Matt Wickham
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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Richard Lodge »

Great job on this, Matt. This is a fantastic collection and you pulled together great narrative and history in your presentation. Thank you.
Richard

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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by reeltackle »

Great collection, research and so well presented. This will be a great piece to reference in the future for all who are interested in these early, truly American reels. Thanks for sharing Matt!!!!!!!
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Re: Benjamin F. Meek Reel Collection – Profile in 36 Reels from 1835 to 1916

Post by Teal »

Beautiful collection!

-- Dr. Todd

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