Alonzo Fowler (1825-1903) of Batavia, NY, was granted patent number #128,137 for his "Improvement in Fishing-Reels". A dentist by trade, Dr. Fowler described his invention as a fishing reel "made of Hard Rubber or Vulcanite, substantially" which greatly reduced weight, but made for a very fragile little reel. His initial offering was constructed with a butterfly style spool screw, and lacked a click. These first model reels were made between 1872 and 1874, and were offered in two sizes, a small Trout size with a 2 5/8" diameter and a Bass size with a 3 1/4" diameter. It is possible, based on an ad placed in an 1874 issue of Field & Stream, that there were problems with the initial production run, as the ad clearly states that "all reels made this year will pass through the hands of the inventor and none allowed to go out, except those that are perfect". Beginning in 1875, Dr. Fowler added a click, and now advertised his invention as "The Improved Gem". The external click and pawl were fastened by screws, and replaced the butterfly style screw.
Dr. Fowler's reel was perhaps the first to use all Hard Rubber/Vulcanite* for it's construction, and consisted of two circular disks with perforations to allow for line drying,that were supported by a rim or ring with a slot for line to pass through, which in turn were supported by two arms that attached to the reels foot. The early reels, 1872 to 1874, used the center screw to apply pressure between the spool and the rim, creating a drag or spool stop, as described in the patent.
As a result of the extremely fragile hard rubber, few examples of Dr. Fowler's reel are still around today. A nearly identical and more durable reel, clearly an effort to improve on Dr. Fowler's invention, was patented by inventor Charles Clinton, and made of Nickel Silver circa 1889. Any Fowler reel can be considered rare, and should be handled with great care to preserve these early sidemount reels.
*Vulcanite was discovered by Charles Goodyear circa 1838, and patented in the US in 1853 by Nelson Goodyear (brother of Charles)
Fowler Patent, 1872
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