William Mills & Son reels were sold by one of the longest run sporting goods stores in the USA. The company was started in 1822 under the name T. & J. Bate. The company name changed to Thos. Bate in 1836, to T. & T. H. Bate in 1843, to Thos. H. Bate in 1853 and then to T. H. Bate & Co. in 1859. The name was finally changed to Wm. Mills & Son in 1875.
Probably the most famous brand name reels sold by Wm. Mills were those by H.L. Leonard. Hiram Leonard was a famous rod maker from Bangor, Maine. In 1877, Francis Philbrook assigned his patented raised pillar reel to him and that was the start of the Leonard reel history. The earliest models have beautiful marbleized orange and black hard rubber end plates and handle knobs and are marked Philbrook & Paine, Makers. Marbleized fly reels and salmon reels have also been found unmarked and marked William Mills & Son. The next series were bimetallic and had nickel silver frame with bronze rims and pillar attachment tabs. The first bimetallic fly reels had nickel silver spools and later ones had aluminum ones. Either of these reels is considered rare and highly collectable. Most Leonard reels found are the later ones sold by William Mills & Son and are marked “H.L. Leonard, Patented” or “Leonard-Mills.” The Leonard-Mills reels were made for the William Mills Co. by Julius vom Hofe starting around 1900 up until World War II. All the Leonard reels are high quality and sought after by collectors. Reels marked Philbrook & Paine or T. H. Bate are also highly collectable.
William Mills & Son reels were not made by them. Reels made by Julius vom Hofe and other New York reel makers were marked with “William Mills & Son” for them. They offered these reels made specifically for them. Reels that were made by Geo. Gayle & Son for them were named “INTRINSIC.” One was a high quality bait casting reel of German silver with an aluminum spool. It came in two variations and in No. 2 and No. 3 sizes. One version had a flanged head plate and the other was a standard Kentucky style reel. Gayle also made a 9/0 size reel made of German silver with hard rubber end plates. William Mills & Son is considered one of the great New York tackle dealers.
The T.H. BATE & CO. Reel, circa 1860
The WILLIAM MILLS & SON Brass Reel, circa 1880
The PHILBROOK & PAINE Salmon Reel, circa 1877
The H.L. LEONARD Bi-Metal Fly and Salmon Reels, circa 1900
WILLIAM MILLS “INTRINSIC” Reel by GEO. GAYLE & SON
The WILLIAM MILLS “INTRINSIC” by GEO. GAYLE & SON
The WILLIAM MILLS “INTRINSIC” by Julius vom Hofe
The LEONARD-MILLS Salmon Reel
The WILLIAM MILLS & SON 1933 Catalog Pages
WILLIAM MILLS & SON August, 1880 Ad
WILLIAM MILLS & SON June 2, 1888 Magazine Ad
Photo of Thomas Bate Mills, Son of William Mills
To see William Mills & Son Fishing Tackle Catalogs, click on the links below.
Another Great Antique Vintage Fishing Tackle Link: