The Mysterious James Ratcliffe/Matthews/Clark&Horrocks Birdcage Reels
These great looking Birdcage reels, very similar to the reels of William Billinghurst , certainly were an off-shoot of the now famous Billinghurst design. At a quick glance in fact, it would be easy to mistake one for the other. There are however, several differences that set them apart from a "real" Billinghurst. For starters, the frame rings total 19 on a Matthews/Clark&Horrocks (from this point on, to be known as MC&H), where the Billinghurst has 20 - Always - and I've learned that there are very very few times when this word "always" is correct, but this is one of those times. Aside from the number of rings, you'll find the line guide on a MC&H reel is small and round vs. the elongated slot found on Billinghurst reels. The drag set up on MC&H reels is set up much like that of the early Billinghurst reels also, with two flexible "rods" that bend into the outer frame ring when allowed to come in contact with the frame. To run free, the rods are pulled away from the frame by sliding a band along a support rod, much stiffer than the drag rods, keeping the frame free from any contact with the drag. The sliding ring on MC&H reels is a round peaked do-hickey, vs. a small flat oval band found on Billinghurst reels. Later Billinghurst reels would utilize a basic spring to provide drag, placed between the foot and underside of the central disk.
There is nothing to differentiate the listed Matthews Skeleton reel¹, found in an 1888 A.F. Seeberger & Co. catalog from the "Billinghurst Safety Reel" found in the 1902 Clark&Horrocks catalog². Since Billinghurst passed away in 1880, it is possible another reel builder stepped in and continued on with what must have been a popular design by then. It is not known who may have built the reel after Billinghursts passing, or if Clark&Horrocks purchased the stock of reels from A.F. Seeberger, but given the scarcity of these reels today, they must not have been great sellers, despite the 40 cent price tag in 1902.
¹Thanks to Jim Brown for a copy of this scarce Seeberger/Matthews catalog page
²Thanks to Bill Holbein for the Clark&Horrocks catalog page
I'm always interested in adding reels to my collection. If you have a reel you'd like to discuss, trade or sell please feel free to e-mail me at Jim@sidemountreels.com