Fishing priests make a splash

20th April 2023
Charles Wallrock with Queen Victoria's fishing priest.
Charles Wallrock with Queen Victoria’s fishing priest.
Pic: Emma van Lindholm

The Watson Collection of 97 Fishing Priests

The finest collection of fishing priests ever assembled that includes Queen Victoria’s has emerged onto the open market for the first time.

There are 97 examples in the collection including the oldest known one in the world that is inscribed with the date 1718.

Anglers used the devices to dispatch fish before they were taken to the kitchen and cooked, and these historic examples display the full range of materials and designs.

It took Dave Watson 50 years to assemble the collection which is now with leading antique dealer Charles Wallrock, owner of Wick Antiques in Lymington, Hampshire.

Queen Victoria’s priest consists of a narwhal ivory head engraved with ‘VR’ and a crown, with a rosewood shaft.

She enjoyed fishing trips in Scotland with her husband Albert and later her ghillie John Brown and this priest has the patina to prove it was used.

The oldest known priest is inscribed with the date 1718 and the initials ‘IN’ and has a pewter band around the end and has clearly seen some use.

Few historic fishing priests have survived because they were broken or thrown away. 

But those have survived show an array of woods and metals as well as designs and weights to satisfy the requirements of individual anglers.

They are called priests because they were used to administer ‘last rites’.

Charles Wallrock said: “When the collection became available through a recent private sale I instantly wanted it because it’s unique and in my opinion the finest collection of its type.

“It gives a glimpse into the past and would be a dream to own for an antique fishing tackle collector.

“These are beautiful and tactile objects which are so similar to each other but at the same time so different.

“Each is unique and they display a huge variety of materials with beautiful woods including ebony, laburnum, walnut, boxwood, yew, ash, and lignum vitae.

“Some have ends made from whale bone, antler or narwhal tusk, and others have metal ends and some have metal inserted in the end to add weight.

“They’re probably all British and are beautifully turned and made by genuine craftsmen to last.

“They have wonderful patina and a number have clearly had a lot of use on the river bank.

“Some were made for specific fish, such as salmon or trout, and they range in size from quite dainty ones under seven inches long to sturdy ones over a foot in length.

“Others have inscriptions or initials on them and several are dated which has proved invaluable in helping date others.” 

Dave Watson who put the collection together said it started by accident when he bought some angling books then began collecting antique fishing tackle.

He went on: “One day I was offered a beautifully grained and elegantly-shaped priest in boxwood. It had fine patina from handling and ageing over the years – my focus completely changed.”

For the next 50 years he sought out these antiques, adding: “They came slowly – and sometimes expensively… over time it became harder to find better quality examples for the collection as it developed to include different woods and materials. Still, each priest is unique.”

The value of the priests – which are all catalogued – ranges from about £20,000 for the rarest and most desirable to a few hundred pounds. They are being sold as a collection with a guide of £67,000.

Charles added: “I have enjoyed them for a time and they really are wonderful things and it’d be great to find someone who would like to own them all as a collection and perhaps add to them.”

View the collection in more detail here 

For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 07788392965 or ed.baker@deepsouthmedia.co.uk

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