John Brown Moscrop and his Innovative Fly Fishing Reel

Front of the Moscrop Fly Reel showing the handle and tension adjuster.

John Brown Moscrop was born in Bury close to Manchester in the county of Lancashire in 1830. After starting his working life as an articled clerk to a firm of Architects he realised that it was not for him and left. His chosen profession was that of a cotton spinner.

Moscrop invented and patented the steam and speed recorder for spinning machines that was soon adopted by every textile mill in England. Various other patents followed, and it would not be long before he turned his attention to his hobby – fishing.

Moscrop was a member of the old established fishing club The Manchester Angling Society. His first application for a fishing reel was in February 1888 and this was granted in April of that year. At this time he was living in the Manchester suburb of Urmston.

By reading the three patents that he submitted we can get some idea of how the reel progressed, developed, and evolved into the reel which we know so well today.

moscrop patent detail first model
Moscrop Patent Detail First Model.
Patent Detail of the First Model Moscrop showing the Internal Clip Fixing.

The basic principle of the Moscrop reel was laid down in the first patent (document 2900) of February 1888.

1. The reel frame is cast in one piece and then machined out.

2. The improved construction of the drum, again cast from a single piece resulting in better line ventilation.

3. The method by which the drum is held securely in place on the frame.

I have never seen the reel shown in the patent drawing above and I believe it would have had a very short if any, production run.

The reason is that the method of fixing the drum to the frame was not satisfactory and would indeed have proved difficult to remove the drum. If you follow the axis A A on the patent drawing you can see where the hollow spindle has an annular groove cut into it.

Into this groove is inserted a steel spring clip. On the inside of the bore of the drum is cut a corresponding groove into which slots the steel spring clip.

Moscrop Second Model Faceplate
Moscrop Second Model Faceplate.

Now patent 2900 was accepted on April 6th, 1888 but on June 4th of the same year, (just three months later), he was back with an improvement. This patent, number 8122 is dated June 4th and is interesting in that the general outline is given in the provisional application.

Moscrop Second Model Foot Details

Provisional applications allow the person submitting the new idea to get some form of protection without submitting great amounts of detail. Usually, it allows them to think out and practically apply their ideas. 

There were two improvements offered in the provisional application. The first was two friction plates to hold the drum and frame together, these also act as a drag mechanism.

Moscrop Fly Reel 2nd Model Back

The second was for the handle construction – and here we have something of a puzzle. I suspect that the original reel carried the improved handle, but he had simply forgotten to include it in the original patent application, or possibly the construction had not been perfected.

Moscrop Fly Reel Handle Details From the Second Model.

However, when the complete specification is submitted on March 2nd, 1889, Moscrop only pursues the friction plate arrangement and specifically in relationship to the handle states “I do not desire to embrace the same in the present Specification” – I wonder why?

The reel in the photograph is the same as that shown in the patent drawings, manufactured from “gunmetal” which is a specific type of brass and has a fixed check. The peg referred to in the provisional patent as a means of fixing a check pawl is missing.

Moscrop Fly Reel Tension Screw Detail.

As seen in the photographs above, we have the two plates and retaining lugs connected with a fixed screw head with the spring. Tightening up the plate on the back of the reel, as shown in image 6 above, increases drag for the drum.

Every half turn there is positive locking of the plate.

There is no name on the reel but this reel, that matches the patent application perfectly, and the named special Moscrop shown later in the article, came from the same Manchester workshop, and therefore we can assume that it is a Moscrop reel.

The handle on this second model reel does conform to the normal Moscrop handle, I do not know why he did not add the handle details to the patent specification.

I can only imagine what was going through his mind once he had managed to get a working model of his reel into production – “How do I improve it?”

Patent 17501 Drag Mechanism Moscrop Fly Reel October 1891.

Well, in October 1891 he returned to the patent office with further improvements that radically differ from the second model and were a major innovation in reel design.

He had also moved home during this time and was now living in a “better” area of Manchester, Platt Lane in the leafy suburb of Rusholme.

Patent 17501 was accepted in August 1892, nearly ten months after his initial application. He states in his opening preamble that the improvements refer to his two previous patents and these new ideas will result in a more efficient reel.

The first improvement was in the drag mechanism. The drawing fig 4 from the patent shows this arrangement on the reel drum.

A hollow tube, or flanged thimble as Moscrop calls it, ending at F acts upon the back of the reel frame. The hollow tube was under pressure by means of a spring tightened by a thumb piece G. The thumb piece was screwed in and this in turn acted on a threaded nut B that compressed the screw. The nut was prevented from revolving by having one side machined to match the barrel.

Again, there was a major design change between the Provisional Patent and the Completed Specification. Originally the hollow tube, or flanged thimble, was not included but I suspect that under pressure the spring would have been distorted.

He also offers another method of fitting the pawl where he replaces the wire spring J with a coiled spring. I suspect that this was for larger diameter reels as the straight wire would not have applied sufficient pressure.

Fig. 6 from Patent 17501 Moscrop Fly Reel, October 1891 showing how the pawl and spring mechanism is fitted.

The next improvement was the radical departure from existing reel design. What Moscrop did was to fit the check pawl to the reel drum and the check cog to the inside back frame of the reel. Conventional design before, and in many cases since, was the reverse of this.

Moscrop Check Mechanism 2nd Model Fitted in the “Conventional” place as per Patent 17501.

The back plate of the reel drum was pressed out with a square profile into which sat the hollow tube and the check pawl. This change in profile again differed from the conventional curved style that had the check cog fitted to it. This square profile is clearly shown by the dark lines in patent drawing fig 4.

The brass pillars that form the drum core are called lantern rods by Moscrop, this we must remember was at a time when lanterns for use in lighting were common.

What he does is fit the pawl to a wire that passes down a hollow lantern rod, Fig 6 from the patent drawing shows how this is achieved. The hollow rod K has the wire J passing through it. It is attached to another rod L. The hollow axis is W.

Moscrop Reel Drum Base Showing the Hollow Spindle and Check Pawl fitted in the recess.

Exactly why he chose this method of building a reel I do not know, I cannot see any advantage with this arrangement but Moscrop does offer an explanation in the patent document.

He claims that the reel would have “greater rigidity” and “produced with less skill and trouble and consequently cheaper than heretofore”.

I disagree the construction of the reel would have required skilled labour, especially when all the improvements are looked at and evaluated.

The next improvement was one that as far as I am aware only applied to the Moscrop reel.

Here the handle has a hollow brass dowel inserted into the vulcanite. The stem is fixed like a rivet with one end beaten to hold it to the drum. At the other end a ring fits into a recess at the top of the stem and holds it in place thus allowing the handle to rotate freely between the drum face and the bottom of the handle.

The picture of the handle detail is from the second model and it is clear that the method of fixing it to the reel had already been solved.

What was the reason that he did not include it in the second patent application, or did he have another method in mind? We shall never know.

The final improvement was in the method of fixing the drum to the frame. Again, we see something specific to Moscrop reels, the famous Moscrop Medallion.

Moscrop Reel U Shaped Clip and Medallion.

The U-shaped wire is passed through the disc this in turn goes through the hollow axis of the drum. This has two small holes near the top into which the wire clips thus holding the drum in place.

Moscrop Medalion Detail.

The bottom of the hollow spindle is slightly bevelled so that the drum can be located easily.

Moscrop Advert June 1893 for the 5 Models Available.

Moscrop made the first reels himself possibly using his own machinists who made his non fishing products. They were offered for sale through the tackle shop of Will Chambers of 25 Market Place Manchester. Although there is no mention of Will Chambers in the adverts.

Will Chambers Advert December 1893

S. Allcock are listed as the wholesale agents and would in future years play a major role in the story of this reel.

The reels offered were in five sizes with the two smallest having the option of no drag fitted. The sizes were 2 5/8, 3, 3½, 4 and 4½ inches. Later would be added the impressive 5¼ inch with double nickel silver rollers. It must have been a nightmare to use as it weighed two pounds without line.

In 1894 the second Fisheries Exhibition was held at the Royal Aquarium. John Brown Moscrop shared a stand with the Cheltenham based company of Ogden & Scotford.

He was showing his complete range of reels including his latest improvement. Now the report states that he was hollowing out the spindle. This I think the writer had got wrong, what he was doing was removing material from the outside of the spindle to leave two small areas to act as a bearing surface.

Moscrop Bearing Surface Detail Made by Removing the Centre Section.

Moscrop was offering to take back any of the old reels and carry out the modifications himself free of charge.

I expect that the problems of manufacturing the reels was getting too much for him and consequently in having appointed Allcock as his wholesale agent he took things further.

The Foot of the Moscrop Manufactured Reel.

He sold all the models and patent rights to Allcock who manufactured the reels. When Allcock took on the distribution of the reel it was given the model number 4106 in their catalogue. Allcock added their own name to the medallion on the back of the reel and dropped the J.B.MOSCROP MANCHESTER from the reel foot.

The Foot of the Moscrop Reel and Solid Spindle. Note the Size of the Frame Section. Manufactured Sometime Between the Second and Third Model.

They then started to make improvements to the reel and the first thing they did was to strengthen the check by fitting a check spring in the recess.

The model number was changed to 4107 in the 1910 catalogue. They also introduce the reel in aluminium with the improved check. This was given the model number 4107A and was available in all the same sizes as the gunmetal version.

Illustration from the 1924 Allcock Catalogue of the Moscrop Model 4170M with Handle Receiver.

The obvious advantage was the reduction in weight. The 5¼ inch model was ten ounces lighter than its gunmetal counterpart.

However, there was an obvious problem with the handle on the alloy version because they had to fit a handle plate.

In 1928 the last model was added, 4107AM. This is a very rare reel, and I must admit I have never seen one. It was only available in the 5¼ inch aluminium and was for Mahseer fishing. The reel had two handles and could hold 200 yards of the Allcock Anglo-Indian waterproof silk line.

By 1932 the complete range of reels had disappeared from the catalogues.

Moscrop Reel with Prototype Spool Retaining Drum Clamp. Not named but has the Same Spindle as the Named One.

During the period that Allcock manufactured the reel they were always warning retailers to look out for imitations. They only way to tell that the item was genuine was to look for the medallion on the back.

Moscrop Reel Drum Showing the Reel Clamp.

I did once look at a few reels that a collector had which he was convinced were prototypes. At the time I was unsure, but I now think that they were copies of the Moscrop reel.

The reel pictured over is a prototype or an attempt during the progression of the reel to come up with another method of holding the drum to the frame.

There is no medallion, and the hollow spindle has been replaced with solid one. Note the size of the section of the frame where the foot is fixed. Somewhere between the first and third model.

The drum is held in place by what can best be described as a pair of nutcrackers that contract and open by action of a wheel.

Moscrop Spring Detail Operated by the Tension Reel.

The tension to operate the wheel is by a spring entwined in the lantern rods. Having examined the reel carefully it is obvious that this would be too expensive to manufacture.