Frank’s World Class Antique Shakespeare Fishing Tackle and Lure Collection

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Over the last 20 years, Frank has quietly built the most comprehensive collection of antique fishing tackle by The Shakespeare Company ever assembled.

When we set out to re-do the CustomMade blog, I really wanted to set a different tone.  We used to create posts that featured interesting things someone could get custom made (like jewelry, furniture, frames, etc.), and while the items  were interesting, just showcasing the items themselves didn’t get to the heart of what buying custom is all about.  So I asked myself – what is it that all of our customers have in common?  What type of person has something custom made? And that made me realize.

It’s people with passion.  People who have the courage to be unique.  People who go their own way, and pursue their own path.

People like my longtime friend, Frank Rybarcyk.

Over the last 20 years, Frank has quietly built the most comprehensive collection of antique fishing tackle by The Shakespeare Company ever assembled.

I’ve been trying to convince him to share it with the world for at least the last ten years, and he finally relented.

I’ve known Frank for almost my entire life.  He was my father’s closest friend, and we spent years fishing together all over the world (that’s me in the middle there).

One day, over 20 years ago, I distinctly remember Frank explaining to my dad and me that he had started collecting antique fishing lures and tackle.  We sort of dismissed it as a passing whim — something Frank was going to putter around with.  It turns out – he was pretty serious about it!  Over the next couple of years, he did what most new collectors do….he acquired lots of stuff.

The collection started in his garage, and then it moved into his basement.  It got to be so big and so broad, that Frank couldn’t possibly curate it.  So he finally decided he needed to specialize in one type of fishing tackle.  Since his primary passion was for fishing lures made by The Shakespeare Company, that was where he shifted his focus.

The Shakespeare Company was founded in 1897 by William Shakespeare, Jr. and it has a rich 115-year old history that spans thousands of different products and permutations.  The Company was conceived and founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Shakespeare, an avid fisherman, started to think about ways to improve the somewhat rudimentary equipment then available to anglers.  His largest initial frustration was related to fishing reels.

Because the fisherman had to constantly guide the line onto the reel using his/her thumb, it was a constant effort to make sure that the line was evenly wrapped around the spool.  This made casting the line difficult for all but the most experienced of anglers.  So Shakespeare used a jeweler’s lathe to create a device known as the level-wind reel, for which he received a patent in 1897.  And The Shakespeare Company was well on its way to becoming a household name.

By 1902, there were a dozen employees, and Shakespeare added fishing rods, lines, and baits to its product offering.  The most popular bait of the time was a rubber frog (you can see one at the very bottom of the picture below), which like the rest of Shakespeare’s tackle innovations, is still widely collected by enthusiasts like Frank.  Many of the innovations found broad-based commercial success, and by 1910, there were over a hundred employees.   Today, well over a hundred years later, Shakespeare brand tackle is still used by anglers all over the world…. because “Shakespeare Baits Catch More Fish!”

Frank was hooked (pun intended).  He started selling or trading all of his other brands for Shakespeare lures and tackle.  He went to garage sales, antique stores, tackle shows, collector’s galleries, eBay, put ads in the newspaper – if someone was selling antique lures, rods, reels or catalogues, Frank was buying.

Eventually, even this newly-focused collection grew to the point where he no longer had the room to store and curate it.  So Frank and his wife Sherry built a mini-museum behind his house to store the collection.  He custom-built display cases and shelving, and made it a place where he can go to get away and pursue his passion.

Today, the collection is undoubtedly the finest and most comprehensive ever assembled.   It spans the entire 115 year history of The Shakespeare Company’s products – including rods, reels, lures, accessories, and marketing collateral.

About Frank Rybarcyk

Frank lives in Elyria, Ohio.  He is always interested in inquiries from fellow collectors or enthusiasts.  Feel free to reach out to me (seth[at]custommade[dot]com) and I’ll forward any relevant requests to Frank.


CustomMade helps unique people like Frank get cool things custom made.  Jewelry, furniture, frames, sculptures, and virtually anything else you can dream up.  Even custom fishing stuff!  Check us out here.


Editor’s note: We received a small correction from another avid antique tackle collector, Steve Vernon of in regards to the early history of Shakespeare Tackle and the year he was awarded his reel patent. Please see his note below: 

Although Wm. Shakespeare, Jr., did, in fact, patent a mechanical level wind for a reel, it certainly was not the first. Patented in 1897 (not 1896), its line guide was driven by a pair of spiral-grooved rotating shafts. Level winds employing only a single shaft had been around since 1860. (I also discovered recently that Leonardo da Vinci had designed a 2-shaft mechanism very similar to Shakespeare’s, but, of course, it wasn’t used for a fishing reel.) Shakespeare phased out his 2-shaft mechanism eventually, switching to the now-common single-shaft design by the 1910s. Of course, the company deserves credit for popularizing the use of a level wind on a reel.



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