The Hardy Perfect

Hardy Perfect 1894The Hardy Perfect has the distinction not only of being the most famous reel ever made, but has also been in production longer than any of its many rivals and it has been the flagship of the Hardy range for so long that in many ways it personifies the brand.

The design was the brainchild of Forster Hardy, who came up with the idea of a reel with a detachable spool which ran on ball bearings, and was fitted with an adjustable drag. The concept took a while to evolve and early patents show the reel with the bearings fitted around the outside of the frame, which made it a nightmare to take apart, given that every ball had to be taken out individually through a small trap before the reel could be fully disassembled. Fortunately, by 1890, Forster had settled on the much more efficient idea of placing the race centrally around the spindle and although he continually improved the design, the only major change he made after that was to move away from the frameless construction used for the initial batch of reels – and for the next hundred years, only limited alterations were made to his original design. The illustration above shows a 2 5/8" Perfect built in about 1895 and loaned to the Hardy Museum by Mr. M. Warbuton.

If you have ever fished with a Perfect, you will have been struck by the originality of Forster’s thinking; unlike the vast majority of other reels, the handle is mounted on the back plate, rather than the spool, which is held on by a screw. The disadvantage of mounting the spool this way - which was made long before the idea of quick release levers came into fashion – is that it makes it tricky to make left hand wind versions, which have to be made with a reverse-threaded screw. So the majority of Perfects ever made were built for a right hand wind, which was fine, because before the fifties, that was how the majority of anglers fished (left hand wind reels were available in 1921 at extra cost). The very early reels, like the one above, didn’t have the locking screw, which meant that it was possible to inadvertently unwind the drum, which was inviting disaster because the ball race wasn’t captive, a feature which must made changing spools in a hurry on a cold day a little challenging. Hardys must have sold their share of spares until the retaining screw was introduced in about 1894, the open race only finally disappearing some time around 1900. The reel shown below is a very early open race reel loaned to the Hardy Museum by Jim Hardy.

Hardy brass Perfect 1894

After a long gestation, the Perfect went into production in 1890 and Hardys must have known that they were onto a good thing, because by 1891 they were offering thirteen different sizes from a diminutive 2 ¼ inches up to 5 ¼ inches in diameter. What followed next made the product not only the ultimate fisherman’s reel, but the ultimate collector’s reel, because Forster never slept in his quest to perfect his baby and the endless variations on his basic design have created a rich market at the auction houses. The early reels had an iron Bickerdyke-style line guard, which was gradually modified and extended until it evolved into a cage which fully enclosed the spool; to begin with this was either soldered or riveted on, but from late 1894 the back plate and the cage were cast as one piece, which not only simplified construction, but strengthened the reel enormously. A major change in materials took place as well, the early Perfects being built virtually entirely out of brass, but in 1895 Hardys took the plunge and began to build the reel with aluminium spools, brass being more or less completely phased out of the construction by 1910.

Hardy contracted PerfectYet another modification made to the reel was the introduction of a circular line guard on the full cage design from the autumn of 1903, this being quickly followed by a redesign of the drag adjustment, or check, which gained the protection of a metal strap. This improved check didn’t last, being replaced in 1912 with yet another design and even this was by no means the last word on the subject. Perhaps the best example of how the design of this small component came to dominate the minds of Hardys’ engineers was the Silent Check Perfect, which was only produced for a couple of years between 1908 and 1910; if you would like to read more about this rather dry subject, I can recommend John Drewett’s in-depth treatment in his excellent book Hardy Brothers, The Masters, the Men and their Reels.

For the first five years of the Perfect’s life, the reel was built only for salmon fishermen, but in 1895 Hardys gave in to pressure from their clients and listed four sizes of trout models, known as “contracted” Perfects, because they had a much narrower spool than the original salmon reels. To begin with, these trout Perfects were built entirely out of aluminium, but Hardys built a few examples with heavier brass back plates; it is easy to forget how new aluminium was in those days and it took a long while for the metallurgists to get their heads around it. The contracted Perfect was built right up until 1995, giving it the distinction of being the longest lived member of this distinguished family, but it was by no means the only model of trout Perfect built by the company.

In 1903 Hardys were approached by a well-known angler called Louis Bouglé – a flamboyant Frenchman who wanted the firm to build a lightweight, high-capacity version of the Perfect to his own design, which they did, by machining down a standard reel cage and fitting raised pillars. The Bouglé Perfect, as it was named, remained in production from 1903 to the beginning of the Second World War and was reintroduced by Hardys recently, an example of the current production run being shown below. The company also produced a “Special Perfect”, which was a light weight version of the standard trout reel; demand for this variant appears to have been limited and it too went out of production in 1939.

Hardy Bougle Perfect

The Perfect appeared in Hardys catalogues for so long that it became an institution, many anglers buying one more on account of its classic status than because of its build quality, which was unmatched until the widespread adoption of the CNC lathe for reel manufacture, and production only finally came to a halt in 1995.  There the story might have ended, but Hardys’ customers thought otherwise and the Perfect is back in production by popular request. The new ranges are available in both left and right hand wind and if you would like to own a classic reel, it is very hard to think of a better alternative.

If you want to learn more about the amazing Hardy Brothers, read Jim Hardy's book, The House the Hardy Brothers Built, which is available from the Medlar Press and if you want to read more about Hardy reels and would like a primer on the subject, try David Stanley's The Hardy Book of the Reel. You can visit Hardys' website by clicking here.