Antique Lures



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

Prices | Fakes | Internet Auctions | Tricks | Trading | Cleaning lures/boxes | Insurance


Another variable relative to condition depends on just how much you are asking for your bait. Price and condition are linked in a way where correctly priced cheaper baits don't require the more strict condition one would expect for higher dollar values. If you are pricing at what is known as "retail plus" for a rare and excellent piece, then the grading is going to get real picky, real quick. However, if you are asking a reasonable price then maybe the mental gate for condition gets lowered a few pegs so the deal goes through.

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I guess what I'm saying is don't expect to get an excellent condition price for a bait that is incorrectly graded. Both parties have to agree on the grading and then the price will follow.

The absolute bottom line on pricing is for you to attend as many shows as possible to look and learn about prices from actual sales. Yes, this is expensive to do and takes a lot of time, but again it is the price of your education and can't be done in a short period of time.

What someone "asks" is rarely the sale price in antiques and believe me, we are talking about antiques here, not just fishing baits. What a guy has for a sticker price will change depending on if it is the first or last day of the show. Trade prices are different than cash prices. Trade prices tend to be much higher. Cash talks.

Prices also tend to vary greatly from one part of the country to another. In Michigan, the supply of lures is greater than in Arizona, so the prices may be better in Michigan. The same goes for the number of collectors in an area. Competition among a large group of collectors will drive the price up due to demand. The number of collectors in Michigan is greater too, so the supply and demand equation works both ways. In this information age, the phone network or Internet can spread sales prices in one evening. To quote that sage of sages, Clyde Harbin, Sr., "Nothin' ain't worth nothin' except what someone is willing to pay." Just because a high price was realized at the last auction doesn't mean that my lure will bring the same price with the next buyer.

Here is a hint on how to price lures: look in the completed auctions list on  Sort by bid price and look at what a given lure went for at auction.  This is tricky because it is not absolute, but a one time event.  Price depends on condition and rarity, but also willing buyers.   That one particular  buyer may not have been at the auction, so the price shown may be abnormally low.


It only takes a few buyers in the high-end of the market to set a trend.  A few years back it was lure auctions that set the pace, but more recently, the prices are set among a few collectors who are in constant communication by phone, on eBay, and by e-mail.  One buyer paying "stupid" prices can change the asking prices across the country in a matter of days.  There is always resistance to price changes among older collectors who have "seen it all", but new highly motivated collectors with serious money to invest will move past the older collectors in lightening speed.  The scarcity factor is very much in play across the country since 1998.  Lures from the large collections in the Michigan and New York areas are slowly surfacing as older collectors react to the reality that their collections are worth a fortune.  Again, the high-end part of the market (early excellent condition lures and boxes) are setting the pace and all other areas are responding in kind.


We've all heard the term "global village" in regard to how the world is shrinking due to communications. If you think what you say on the Internet is not seen and heard by hundreds, if not thousands of unspeaking eyes, then you must be living in a vacuum. The same goes for what you say and do in the tackle collecting world. How you behave and what you say will spread like wild fire among the collecting community. If you take advantage of someone on the West coast, that someone is going to tell another collector on the East coast and before you know it, the "word" is out.

With the cost of communication being so low, it is easy to spread the word on the good and the bad within hours of a deed. The days of "moving on" to another location to hide your past are gone. Think about it. It's just too easy to pick up a phone at ten cents per minute, call or type a message, and warn the other guy about a problem person. Years ago, people with a habit of double dealing or cheating could just move on to the next town, but now your reputation is an open book. If you are one of those people who just can't make yourself tell the truth or be honest in your dealings, then you need to understand you have entered an age where you will become progressively isolated from the rest of the pack. People are going to find out and tell one another. It really is a small, small world after all.

Until only a few years ago, all tackle trading was done face to face, mano y mano, where you could judge the cut of a man's jib and look him in the eye. Not now. This is the day of rapid delivery packages, e-mail that tracks the time and day you said you would do something, cheap phone calls, and chat line deals that are made where the eye never sees the person. People who abuse the mutual trust which is necessary between individuals doing a trade or sale via this impersonal medium, will soon find themselves with no friends or customers. In many cases, your word is all you have for establishing your reputation and if you violate the trust one individual extends to another via the phone or Internet, then you risk loosing your reputation. There is a marketing axiom that states if you make a positive impression on someone, they will casually tell two other people, but if you make a negative one, they will tell eleven people with vengeance.

Another word of just friendly extremely courteous on the Net or with any non-verbal communication like E-mail. You never really know who you are talking to when dealing with a faceless contact. Language becomes the eye contact where a "please or thank you" may have to substitute for a smile or a handshake.   And, for goshsakes sign your name to your E-mail....!


Personally, I found trading to be mind boggling for the first couple of years because I didn't know what was valuable and what was not. When older collectors would look at baits I found in the field and wanted to trade, I was suspicious (and with good reason as it turned out)   because I figured they knew a lot more than me and if they wanted it, it must be valuable. I still have difficulty letting go of items I know to be rare because I don't know if I can find another one. On the other hand, trading between two knowledgeable collectors who trust one another can be fun and help build your collection with better items. Just keep in mind that grading correctly becomes essential and the ground rules have to be clear before you actually exchange items by mail. One-on-one, in-person exchanges tend to be much easier than mailing items back and forth where you may find the other guy's idea of Excellent is your idea of Good.  This is especially true when dealing with non-collectors.

There are brokers who specialize in doing two and three way trades. I have one friend who has helped me build my collection and he is the master of the three way trade. If I send him such and such lure, he will use that to get three baits from so and so, then sell one of the three baits to two other collectors and so on. The secret here is the broker knows who collects what, he grades all the baits and sets the prices for a cut of the deal. It is the ultimate "I trust you" situation, and great if you can make decisions in rapid fire order. The bottom line: get to know the other person first so there are no hard feelings when making deals. The worst problem I hear about on a consistent basis is how one guy took advantage of another in the past. Those bad feelings tend to linger and breakdown relationships.


An extensive list of references with photos is located on the BOOKS & REFERENCES page.  If you are new to collecting lures, get Carl Luckey's book first and Edmisten and Murphy's book second.  Decide what you want to do and then buy the specialist books.  Links are provided directly to for your convenience.


Now for the part of the hobby which scares me the most: repaints and fakes. When the price of common lures got above $200, it was just too much for some unscrupulous people to not fake the paint jobs. The NFLCC has new by-laws for the elimination from the club of anyone caught selling repaints, but like the wheels of justice, the gears of some older members of the club, who dictate policy, need a little grease. I feel it will come this year and hopefully buying from a member of the NFLCC will be an insurance stamp of approval that you are buying quality, and not taking a chance.

I personally saw a letter written to a friend of mine by a lure dealer in Michigan who blatantly bragged that he sells repaints to tourists and "anyone else" (meaning you and I) stupid enough to buy the things (his words, not mine). Sooner or later, most of you in the club will see this letter, because it is being processed though the correct channels of the NFLCC for distribution to as many people as possible. This kind of despicable individual has to be eliminated from this hobby. Repaints which are deeply marked are acceptable as craft, but they are not antiques and should never be allowed to be sold as such.


If you have not been in on the action, then you have missed a world  of fun.  On the other hand, you may have missed getting stuck with a bunch of  junk lures sold by people with questionable ethics.  eBay is where everyone  is unloading the lures that don't sell at tackle shows.    Most of the stuff  is in below average condition and is being sold for 30 to 50% more than
 normal prices.  In many cases, items are being sold that could not be sold at  an NFLCC show in a lifetime.  What this says to me is there is a pent up  demand for antique lures and people who know little or nothing about antiques  are buying just to buy.  It's sad to think what a difference a little  knowledge would make to these individuals.  There are some great pieces  placed on eBay for sale, but you better know what you are doing and not do it  on impulse. Be further warned that marked and UNMARKED repaints are routinely
 placed on eBay as, for the most part, knowledgeable collectors at a show will  not go near them let alone purchase them. If the seller specifies "no return  privilege" or will not authenticate the lure ...steer clear of it. Typically,  sellers offering Fakes and Repaints have phrases such as "found at an estate  sale" or  "purchased from an old fisherman" somewhere in their description. 

 If you must buy on-line, do so with eyes wide open and don't buy it unless you check prices elsewhere first.   Just having a couple of the lure books  will tell you if you are getting ripped off or making a fair buy.  Here's a  list of
reference books.


Some hints to protect yourself from buying repaints and fakes:

  • Get a UV black light. It won't help much with a total repaint unless you know what to look for, but touch-ups shine like moonlight under UV light in a dark room.  Newer paint will look exactly the same under the UV light as full spectrum light.  Red will be red if it's a fake.  Old red paint looks kind of a rust color, but it is not a bright dark red.   Fake yellow will turn a dark mustard color, but real yellow will still be a light yellow under UV.  The best way to use UV is to compare to other lures at the same time and see what color they turn.  You have to learn by comparison to lots of lures and under various conditions.   The ambient light where you examine the lure will cause some changes in the colors.  A totally dark room is best.  Someone needs to write a well researched article on this one.  This small unit like I own is from Antique and Collector Reproductions News, P.O. Box 71174, Des Moines, IA 50325  Phone: (515) 270-8994.

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  • Think about that "deal" price. If it looks too good to be true, more than likely it is. Evaluate the circumstance from which you buy, i.e. has the person had it since before time, or is it in the hands of a flea market dealer. If your grandfather had it, don't worry, but if you are offered a $500 bait for $100 by a questionable antique dealer, inspect and re-inspect before you buy.

  • Carry a 10x magnifying loop on you at all times at a show or when buying lures. Look for age cracks, crazing, the fine age cracks in the paint or varnish of Heddon and other quality lures. Check for details under the varnish. Look for inconsistent paint jobs. If the gill marks look too new, assume they are. Lots of cleaned lures get fingernail polish gill marks added.  If you really want to get serious, pick up a disecting microscope off eBay in the scientific instruments section and really take a deep look into those details.  I use it to compare lure to lure in my collection and look at larger areas of a lure or box.

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  • Look at every bait you can get your hands on. Go see good collections. Get to know what a 'real' coat of paint looks like. Believe me, you can't do this without hand holding hundreds of baits.

  • If it's too good to be true, call and ask your mentor for an opinion. Is it in the right box? If in doubt, put a down payment on the bait and ask for an afternoon or a day to research it.

  • Carry your books with you to shows or when buying. I have duplicate books which I have taken apart and placed the pages I really need in a notebook and carry to shows. Since I don't collect everything in the book, why carry the whole book. Book knowledge is cheap. Experience is extremely expensive.

  • Buy only from trusted dealers whom you can return something which you don't like. Who can you trust? Ask other members of the NFLCC who they buy from on a regular basis.

  • Ask for 3 day return privileges when buying, and above all, ask before you buy. Buy at garage sales or through ads, but beware of flea markets, antique dealers, and the guy on the phone who has a deal that's too good to be true.

  • Really rare lures are rare because they didn't make many or they didn't survive. Where you find them (in a boat house or old hardware store) makes a strong argument for their authenticity. Something you buy from the widow of a 91 year old man can pretty much be counted on to be safe, but "salted" tackle boxes at yard sales are not uncommon.

  • Beware of inconsistency factors, such as: rusted hooks and perfect paint or vice versa, mis-matched props, bubbles under the varnish, cracks or crazing in the paint which have smooth edges indicating over-varnish, paint on the eyes, mis-matched eyes. A sticky surface, or strong odor of paint. Perfect paint and nicks in the props or hooks are not consistent to me.   If the cups on a Heddon or South Bend don't seem symmetrical this is a tip off that someone may have "reworked" the cups.  Peen marks from hammering a cup back to shape is usually obvious.

There are more ideas related to fakes in the Grading section of this site.


Want to clean your antique lures?  Unless you know exactly what you are doing...don't!  But, maybe it's safe to practice on a beater or two and then try it on a better lure.  I can't tell you how many lures I ruined when I first started collecting in the name of cleaning.  (If you are going to sell your lures to me, please don't touch them.)  I would rather buy them dirty than skinned of lacquer and chipped up from careless disassembly.

Unless you are extremely good at disassembly, I suggest you never disassemble a lure to clean it.  If you do, you may chip the paint on older lures where the paint stuck to the hardware.   Use soft cloth or cotton swabs, but don't soak them in water and soap.  The water will swell the wood if there are cracks.  Early lures should not be wet as any moisture may pop paint off.

If you must clean your own lures, (and I do), use something like the non-abrasive German made  product for cleaning fiberglass called "Flitz".  It is non-abrasive and works in seconds to remove grim and oil.  It won't damage the paint and I've used it for years.   It also leaves a polished surface to protect the paint.  

I know guys who use "Mother's" to clean, or one of the "cleaning cloths",  Sometimes I use a hand cleaner product called "GOJO".  It has lanolin in it and works well, but apply with a soft cloth or cotton swab and wipe with a damp cloth soon.   Never use anything with ammonia or alcohol in it, because it will cut the paint.

Cleaning hooks is a work of love to be sure.  I've tried phosphoric, hydrochloric, and other acids with little results.  A wire brush on a Dremel works, but if you get near the body of the bait, you can ruin a valuable lure in seconds.  Cleaning with Flitz works, but there is a more abrasive product called Poe which can be used with a cotton swab.  Don't use Poe on paint. 


There is no such thing as a sure bet with insurance unless you have it listed item by item with a reliable insurance company.  Do you really think they are going to pay off on something you 'think' is worth $1,000?  Not likely.  


Don't let all these warnings scare you off from collecting. I just wanted to pass on a little experience that maybe your own mother or father might not tell you. The underlying advice is to get you to learn and collect, not just gather. Ultimately, the best defense against the fakers or shysters is knowledge and knowledge is very, very expensive sometimes.

Show me a collector who hasn't bought a questionable lure and I'll show you someone who hasn't collected much or long. It happens in the antique game, especially at the more pricey levels.


Have lures or reels you want  to sell?   Contact Gabby Talkington:  Contact information

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