Antique Lures

 

LURE COLLECTING KNOWLEDGE: 1

What you really need to know to survive if collecting antique lures...pages and pages of stuff your mother didn't tell you about...

Part One: Knowledge 101 | Grading | Books | Rarity | Mental Games | Rejection

Part Two: Prices | Fakes | Tricks | Trading | Cleaning lures/boxes

WHY COLLECT ANTIQUE LURES?

You may ask yourself...why collect fishing lures? Well, that's a valid question if the only lures you've seen are those at Wal-Mart on a cardboard hanger with bubble wrap holding the lure in place.

Let's first clear the air on what is "Antique" and what is "Not Antique".  In the lure world, old and antique are relative.   In the real world, antique means pre-1900 for all intent and purposes. There just are not that many commercially made lures prior to 1900.  Most of the really excellent collector material falls in the 1900 to 1940 era.  Lures made after 1940 are "old", but they are not antiques relatively speaking.   Just because your father used them doesn't make them "antiques".    There are plenty of forty year old lures around, but that just puts them into the 1950's and not much of quality was produced after that point.   The real quality material was made in this country prior to 1940.  After that time, production costs and the war limited the ability of anyone to produce quality lures.

The other reason the quality decreased is that plastics came into use after 1940, the big companies started making cheaper lures and boxes to compete in the rapidly expanding fishing tackle market.   As with so many other things we see today,  "Made in America" just didn't stand for the level of quality that was produced prior to World War II. 

The golden era of tackle is that time frame when Heddon, Shakespeare, Pflueger and the smaller companies (miscellaneous) were competing to produce "quality" lures which were hand painted and produced with glass eyes and wood bodies.  Yes, your father had some antique lures, but unless they were handed down from his father, more than likely they are post 1940.  If you want to collect post 1940 lures, that is great, but it isn't not the same as the earlier lures which are relatively rare and getting more and more scarce.   If you have a plastic lure or even a wood Creek Chub made in the 40's or 50's, yes it's old, but it is not an "Antique".  (Yes, I know nothing  post -900 is technically an antique, but there isn't much to discuss pre-1900.  So for the sake of argument, I call anything pre-1940...antique.)

The collectible stuff is more on the level of early American art, a product of an era when it was considered ones duty to do things the right way and competition was organized to produce a superior product. The height of that era for antique lures generally falls into the period from the turn of the century until just prior to World War II.

High-grade early fishing lures are as much a part of our American history as is the Winchester Rifle was to the history of the West. No, the Indians were not involved in this corner of history, but fishing lures were important to the men and women who fished for pleasure or produced the fishing tackle during the early part of this century.  For some of us, the history is as important as the art.

The highly decorated and carefully produced lures, boxes, advertising, and paperwork which are collected today are rare and highly sought after works of commercially produced art. Of the millions of lures produced, only a few survived in excellent condition into this, the end of the twentieth century.

Because of the beauty and rarity of these early pieces, the prices and demand have gradually increased to the point where there is great interest among the large number of collectors who frequent the antique and flea markets today. The collector base and knowledge are growing daily.  

 For further information on this thinking, see:

COLLECTING KNOWLEDGE 101:

I don't care what you collect, you can't have enough books or information on the topic. I'm constantly amazed by people who want to start collecting and are too cheap to buy a book on the area they want to collect. Invest in your knowledge and it will pay you back a thousand times over. Start a large ringed notebook of the various topics which interest you and keep adding pages as you find the information. Print out this page and add it to the front of the book for future reference. Join the NFLCC and order a copy of every catalog or article which pertains to the area you wish to collect.

Buy reference books. I even bought duplicates of the reference books I need constantly and cut out the pages of the areas I collect so I don't have to lug around the whole book. This was expensive initially, but cheap the first time I needed that information at a show where I wouldn't have brought the whole pile of books. My personal reference notebook has been reduced to about three inches thick, and only contains the essential material related to underwater minnows and boxes.   I've also had to create one just for the miscellaneous lures as that area is a specialty unto itself.

The difference between a collector and a gatherer or accumulator is the knowledge the collector gains by study. If you just want to gather as much stuff as you can accumulate, then you don't need much knowledge. If you collect, you will have structure, purpose, and direction to your acquisitions. If you spend more than 20% of your free time thinking about fishing tackle collecting, you might be a collector. If you spend more than 80% of your free time looking for or thinking about tackle, you might be a dealer or have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

When the prices of what you wish to collect get high, you best be a very studious collector or you are going to go broke accumulating junk. I have a friend who "collects" and for the most part will never pick up a book, or read the many articles relative to what he collects. His "fractured collection" is testimony to the fact that a lack of knowledge is a detriment to the quality of your collection.

Knowledge is power, and in lure collecting, nothing will better serve you to survive the rising tide of fakes and high prices than knowledge. Finding a lure or reel is the easy part, identifying and figuring out exactly what you have and what it is worth is the hard part. As quality lures become more scarce, the odds of buying a "reconstructed" bait and box combination are great. If you don't know the correct numbers on the box and the correct age of the bait that matches the box, you may make a costly mistake. Knowledge is the only long term answer. Sure, you can call a friend and pick his or her brain for a while, but that gets old for both of you.

There are several ways to accumulate a collection. You first have to understand that there is a huge difference between "field finds" and "dealer or Internet buys". The former requires lots of your time and luck, but little money, while the latter requires lots of knowledge, money, and you better know someone you can trust. Of course you could be one of those lucky individuals who inherits a collection, but what fun is that?

Where to start? First and foremost, learn all you can and then join the NFLCC. Go to the tackle shows, look, listen, and learn, but don't buy at first. Above all, ask questions before you buy. Make friends with older members who have forgotten more than you or I will ever know. Read, read, read, and read some more. Most serious collectors I know read some collecting related material almost every night. You cannot know enough.

For some individuals, the "hunt and find" is the attraction of the hobby. For these people, collecting is frequently secondary and they typically sell what they find. Great! It's a way for people who don't have time to hunt material to add to their collections.

Link up with a like-minded mentor who you can visit on a regular basis. I was fortunate enough to find not one, but three or four mentors when I started a few years ago and I can never thank them enough. Try to cultivate the friendship of an older collector who is a student and has seen it all. It is your only defense and most guys are more than happy to help a new collector if he or she is serious. Network with friends. Get on the phone and talk to people who share your interests. Yes, your phone bill will soar for a while, but so will the friendships.

GRADING LURES:

Grading lures is subjective. In other words, it is in the eye of the beholder for the most part. What is only very good plus to me, may be called excellent minus by another person. Visual values vary considerably from person to person. As we all know, not everyone has good taste or appreciation for details. So, what is excellent condition? I keep a set of photos of new condition lures to show people who don't understand what excellent means. This is the only method I have found to educate someone who doesn't understand the difference in old verses excellent. These terms are not mutually exclusive, they can co-exist.

Once you have a frame of reference, like the photos, for the ideal or excellent, then you can discuss the variations from that ideal. To me, an excellent lure means there are no hook pointers in the paint, absolutely no hook scrapes, no paint off the belly weight, no paint chips and maybe only a very, very minor varnish flake. The paint is shiny, but there may be age related crazing or minor fracture cracks in the varnish or paint. Excellent minus allows for some minor varnish defects, but no paint loss other than maybe very, very minor chips at the tail or belly weight, and no hook drags. Hooks should be consistent with the paint finish. Excellent plus means almost perfect. Mint means perfect and untouched. If a lure has been touched up in any way or manner it is no longer collectible in my book or a part of the grading system. Period.

The NFLCC has a detailed list on what constitutes excellent, very good, good, etc. Since I don't collect anything less than excellent minus in lures, I tend to not even notice baits which are of lesser quality because I collect for condition. If I color collected, I might accept lesser quality to get a color I don't have, but I don't color collect and therefore condition is very important to me.

One variation to this excellent rule lies in evaluation of really early (c. 1900-1912) baits and boxes from certain companies. With many miscellaneous company baits and some turn-of-the-century companies like Shakespeare or Pflueger, the condition rarely, if ever, meets the excellent standard as just outlined. In this case you have to make some allowances for age, wear, and rarity, but generally not with post 1912 material when there was a larger volume of production. For instance, Heddon made millions of L-rig lures, but fewer were made in cup rig in 1906. Boxes were not made to last and they didn't. If you find'em, get'em.   There is a whole page on grading boxes on this site.

There are no hard and fast rules on grading, so you have to set your standards and live with them. If the bait meets your standards, then that's fine, but don't expect the next guy to agree with your excellent evaluation when most people see it as only very good. If you have never seen what excellent looks like, then it is very hard to understand just how great the condition can be on some of the well preserved lures. There is no substitute for looking at or hand holding large numbers of lures. Your brain eventually absorbs the condition information after you stick your fingers often enough with hooks.

Take a look at the photos, detailed terms, and discussion provided on Grading: the good, the bad, and the ugly.   Also take a long look at the article on Factors in Grading lures and boxes.

In my experience, many large collections with "thousands" of lures are "representative" collections and not "condition" collections. There are not that many unused lures out there anymore in the older age range. Much of the better material is in the hands of collectors and traded or sold in a small circle of friends. Those friends are people of like-minded values who tend to appreciate and are willing to pay for the quality they wish to place in their collections. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a representative collection, but don't think that just because it is old it will go up in value. Typically, it is a combination of age and condition which drive the higher prices. You can almost always get rid of a piece in truly excellent condition before you can get rid of a piece for which you have to make excuses.

RARITY

Collecting by rare colors is a whole different game. Figuring out what is rare and what is not is difficult at best.   Experience is the key. With fewer and fewer lures being available to handle at shows, this is the hardest area to learn. What is considered a rare color by one individual may be totally different for another person because their experience will be different. When a color for a bait is called "tough", just consider the source and then decide if you want to pay extra for a supposedly rare or semi-rare color. To my knowledge, there is no list or book which states what colors are rare and which are considered tough. That knowledge is closely held by long-term collectors and gained by experience.

I'm often asked what I think is rare in lures and where should one collect.  It might be easier to say what is not rare than what is rare.  Post 1920 Heddon is not rare.  Pre-1920 Heddon is rare.  Creek Chub is not rare, early South Bend and Shakespeare is really rare.   Early Pflueger in gem-clip is rare, Neverfail hardware is not rare.  Pre-1910 Shakespeare with an excellent paint job is rare, Dalton Specials are not.  For a more comprehensive list of what is rare and what is not, see the What's Rare page.

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My first Winchester rifle collection was put together without the benefit of having seen a really nice, excellent condition collection. Once I saw the excellent condition collection of a friend, I went home and sold my whole "collection" and started all over from scratch. Next time around, I bought only the high quality I wanted to collect. I remembered this lesson when I started collecting lures and it has served me well.  Buy the best you can afford and find out what constitutes the best.  For lures, the items shown on this site are a good start to seeing some of the better lures which you can collect.

Experience will change your values. Where you start your collection on the food chain or how you perceive quality will greatly influence the level you collect. There is no question that you should collect what you like, but price is a limiting factor for all of us. On the other hand, if quality is the goal, then a few good pieces are better than a room full of junk.   I know, because I bought more than my share when I started.

MENTAL GAMES:

When confronted with making a high-end buy, I have a number of mental tests which I run to determine if I really want to make the buy or not. They are:

  • When was the last time I saw one of these and what is the likelihood I'll see another one? ( A dangerous test if you are a beginner and think everything is rare!) After you collect for a while and build up contacts among other collectors, the feeling that you will see another lures again is more positive. The longer you collect, the more you understand what is really rare and what is not. There are lots of lures out there still in the hands of non-collectors.

  • If I pass on this, can I find another one in the same condition? (Mental masturbation at best.) Same theory again: there are thousands of lures out there and if you just wait, they will come to you in time. Or, they will show up on eBay.

  • Is it really something I will enjoy in my collection? (Do you get warm and fuzzy feelings?) With the passage of time, we all tire of parts of our collections. Today's passion is tomorrow's trader. It happens.

  • Do I want to go off in another collecting direction, or stay on the path I have decided upon? (One tends to collect that which is available. If Shakespeare isn't available, collect Heddon. Can't afford to play the game in wood baits, collect plastic. Do what works for you. Adapt.)

  • Am I going to get mad at myself if I let this pass? (Who among us has not kicked him or herself for passing on a piece because "it cost too much", only to later wallow in regret?) There will be another, but the test is when and how much will it cost next time around.

  • Is the price out of line with my experience or that of other collectors of a like mind? (One doesn't want to pay too much and be seen as "stupid" by ones' peers? On the other hand, stupid today maybe smart tomorrow!) Always pay a premium for quality. You never go wrong with the best.

  • How many survived? Is it really rare? (Experience is the only teacher. When you first begin collecting, everything is rare because you don't know how many are available.) My greatest fear is that someone is hoarding a million Heddon underwater lures which were stolen from the factory and plans to bleed them on the market for the next two years at different shows. Paranoia runs deep.

  • Is this a fad buy? Will this "hot area" pass and should I just wait until the demand dies down? (One or two competing collectors can drive the prices on a limited supply and when they drink their fill, the price will drop like a rock. This has happened in Heddon underwater minnows, Punkinseeds, and highend Creek Chub. A few competing collectors drove the price through the roof and once they finished their collections, prices settled back down as calmer collectors re-entered the market.   Ebay can be a reality check.)

  • Is the item worth a premium to obtain at this time? (If it is a rare and a once in a life time opportunity to fill a hole in the collection...just do it!) I had some really rare (expensive) Shakespeare appear recently. I'm still swallowing hard, but it's in the cabinet thanks to two friends who helped me rationalize the deal.

  • How many people collect this item? (If you and two other guys are the only ones collecting a given item, don't overpay for the right to own it.) If you are the only person collecting a given item, then you have to think twice about being held up for a high price. Where else are they going to sell it?

  • Is this item so unique that no one else would want it but me? (A collectible is not a good investment unless other people want it.) Yes, I realize that the pure of heart collector doesn't really care, but at the price levels which some lures are trading these days, you have to weigh the cost vs. return on investment equation.  If you don't, you are going to go broke.

  • And finally, how am I going to get out of this item if and when I want to move it to another collector or dealer? (Is it a good investment? Is there a market for the item?) Quality will always move. As long as you have the best available, you won't have to apologize when it comes time to sell.

REJECTION AND THE "FIX"

If you hang around lure collectors for very long, you are going to hear one of us mention the drug related feeling..."I need a fix".  If we lure collectors can't find something to buy or add to the collection on a regular basis, we tend to get withdrawal symptoms: hyperactivity, edginess, yearning for stimulation to the lure seeking part of the brain.  More than likely this is a pre-historic left-over from the hunting and gathering instinct.  A distinct, powerful lower brain function, not unlike sex.

Watch the antique lure chat rooms long enough and you will see someone mention they are fulfilling this need by relating tales of a find or begging for someone to post a story through which the rest of us can endure another lureless day.  It's the "I need a lure fix" syndrome.   It is why eBay is such a success.   Assuming you accept this observation as fact, let's see if we can burst the comfort bubble and hang out some psychological underwear for airing regarding this constant hunting and buying of fishing lures or any collectible.

We all hate rejection.  No one actually goes out looking for rejection in any form be it socially or business related.  One would suppose that healthy individuals avoid rejection on the assumption that rejection is something you would just rather do without on a good day.  I would suggest that the "need a lure fix" feeling is related to rejection avoidance.  Ask any insurance salesman: "What is the worst feeling you endure?"  I'm sure it will be rejection.  Salesmen in general, to be good at their craft, have to be able to handle rejection.  The rest of us avoid rejection like crazy.

Collectors of any ilk are not used to rejection because they satisfy their need to avoid rejection by constant buying in the name of "adding to their collection".  Think about it, no one is generally rejected when buying, that comes when selling.  If there isn't anything to buy in one area, then we shift to another area of collecting.  (Can you visualize plastic lures from the 70's?)  The same pattern occurs in most areas of collecting and shifts in collecting occur when the supply or price move out of the individual's comfort zone.

If you want to test this observation, just try to sell some of those " in very good plus condition" lures for which you paid so dearly.   This is when the chickens come home to roost.  If you are talking selling, then you are talking about moving out of the comfort zone.  Those who buy do so out of a need to avoid rejection and seek comfort.  (Ever notice all those women in the malls with shopping bags?)  No salesman says "no" to the buyer with the right amount of money or the ticketed price.

For the buyer, the comfort is found in the acceptance created by the buying.  If you doubt this observation, get on the Internet or phone and try to sell something at an inflated price.  If no one accepts your item, then you are going to find out about rejection on some level.  I would suggest all of us need to try to sell some of our collectibles from time to time just to get a reality check.  Want to find out if you are paying too much?  Buy a lure in the morning and see if anyone is willing to buy it for the same price in the afternoon. 

So, the next time you start getting that feeling that you need a "lure fix", remember that you are just avoiding rejection and all the other excuses why you are trying to make a buy are just rationalizations. 

Continue on Lure Knowledge:  Part II

 

 

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