After I spoke with Rolf Baginksi, the great bamboo rod maker form Germany, he gave me the following advises before buying a vintage cane rod:
1. Check if all parts are present. If the original rod had THREE pieces then you should not get TWO pieces!
2. Are the two (or three) pieces of the old bamboo rod equally long? If not, the tippet was probably broken and was replaced.
3. Do the pieces insert well together? The inserted pieces should not move. The ferrules should be in brass or nickel silver (an alloy made of copper, zinc and nickel). Don’t ever trust any tin-zinc ferrule.
4. Is the rod more or less straight? It’s normal for antique rods to have a little bending in the upper part. This can be adjusted by a bamboo rod maker. But don’t ever buy very flexed and/or twisted rods.
5. Are all bamboo strips still glued together? If not, the purchase is not worth it
6. Is the finish still ok? If not,i.e. if the varnish is much deteriorated, it must be removed, snakes and guides removed,too and then the varnish re-applied. A lot of work which can be expensive eventually.
7. Are the rod maker’s name and line size still readable? It can be that the rod was repaired (lowering the value of the rod as a result), but it can also be that the signature has simply worn out (without the rod losing of value for that). Check carefully.
8. Are all the threads wrappings ok? When you lightly touch them you can feel and notice if the guide is still well attached to the rod. If not, wrapping can be easily repaired
9. How is the condition of the handle? Was the handle retouched, sanded down or has the original condition being maintained? A good quality fine cork handle can be renewed with a 220 grit sanding paper.
10. Does the reel-holder still make it up? Try and put a fishing reel in the reel-holder and see if it still holds it! Moreover, do rod and reel match together?
11. Try it! Fly-cast with the rod with the proper line inserted! Not only. Try also with a line one size higher and one size lower. Sometimes the indication written on the rod is wrong and you should fish with a higher size line. On the other hand, some very old rods can have signs of “fatigue” but you can still fish with them very well if you use a lower size line!
(these tips also appeared in the German-speaking fly fishing magazine Fliegenfischen)