Let's talk some about collecting
antique fishing lures in an area most commonly known as high-end rare and
historical. This discussion is not about the lures commonly found
in antique shops or those used by your father and most certainly not about
plastic lures. These are the lures used by your grandfather or his
father during the time frame 1900 to 1930. It is about lures in
excellent condition, not those which were fished and then left to rust and
deteriorate in a greasy old tackle box. These are not the common
everyday lures you find being sold on eBay very often.
I want to talk about those lures
and boxes preserved or put away to protect them for over eighty years or those
which have been in mature collections and are now just seeing the light of
day. We are talking about the rarified area of the one thousand to five
thousand dollars and up group. It has been speculated on among
collectors and dealers that this group consistently involves about three to
five hundred individuals at this point. There are others who will step
into the circle from time to time, but are not consistent buyers at this
First of all, collecting antique
lures has absolutely nothing to do with fishing. Yes, some collectors
happen to fish, and some got started collecting because of fishing.
But when you get into the high-end of this hobby, which ultimately deals with
the rare and historical, it has nothing to do with fishing per se.
It has everything to do with use of specific knowledge, speculation in
collectibles, and investing in something which is appreciating rapidly at this
time. The key word here is "at this time". If you think you can
wander into this hobby, buy a few expensive lures, sit back and wait on the
market to lift all boats, then you are in for a big surprise. It ain't
likely to happen. Collecting is hard work both physically and mentally.
If one gets into it just to speculate in the rapidly rising collectibles
market, then someone is likely to get badly burned. Conversely, if you
buy lower grade lures and figure the market will get you out of them at some
point without a loss, then you too have another think coming and it's not
going to be pleasant.
Antique lures basically have no
real intrinsic value above five to ten dollars. For some
collectors there is an emotional connection to our past or an individual we
cared about when growing up with whom we associated fishing. There
are those who love beautiful things that are old. But in the end, lures
are historical artwork that was, in some cases, mass produced more than sixty
years ago. There are plenty of old lures out there. The real
quest is for the special historical pieces or those preserved in new
condition. Yes, there are those who don't care about history or
condition and that is their choice.
If one studies the past history of
the hobby of lure collecting, it will become evident that the first people who
collected had no intention of putting together historical or high quality
collections. They just like the looks of the lures and collected
or gathered for fun, not profit. The gatherers were the guys who wanted
as many lures as they could put in a house or barn. It didn't matter
what the history was concerning the lures, they just wanted them and as many
as they could get. Those guys are still out there and they have massive
"collections" of stuff. All kinds of stuff. Barns full of stuff.
Attics or basements with wires strung from one side to the other with lures
hung side by side from wall to wall. These are not the people or
collections we want to discuss here.
The K & K Animated Minnow
The high-end historical collectors
are generally much more driven and certainly more competitive. They are
the ones who usually study and understand the history of the lures they
collect. Yes, it takes a lot of financial commitment to collect the
older lure material if it is in any kind of condition, but this is the level
where "investing" becomes a consideration. If you spend more than a few
thousand dollars a year on collecting lures, you are most likely investing
either consciously or unconsciously. Of course the "pure of heart" would
never stoop to admitting they collect to invest. But if you are spending
fifty thousand a year on any collecting activity, you best look at it as an
investment, understand what you are doing, or you are going to lose a lot of
your hard earned money. (Assuming you actually earned it. There
are those among us who have wealth which is 'unearned'.)
I've written several pieces where I
related how long-term collectors have used their experiences in other
collecting areas to help build lure collections. Collecting is a
non-specific science. The methods, but not the information, used to collect in
one area are usually applicable to collecting in another. There are
steps you have to take to understand how, what, and when to collect. If
one just goes out and starts accumulating "stuff" then there is no order or
flow to building a high-grade collection. One typically can't just
decide to start collecting and then randomly buy lures. First, you could
go broke and second, more than likely you would buy a bunch of pretty junk.
Not the way to start.
Museums preserve historical pieces
just like individual collectors, but museums hire staffs who assemble
collections with great care and study. Great collections are built on
knowledge, study, perseverance, a good deal of luck, and money. If you
read about anyone or organization who built a great collection, be it art, or
otherwise, it was always done with someone in the chain acting as the
"knowledge" base. Someone has to know what to buy and why.
Whether it is a dealer with connections or the collector him or herself, the
knowledge aspect has to be there. Knowledge can be the
result of long-term experience or dedication to the accumulation of a specific
area. There are collectors who build collections by themselves, who
study and assimilate information. But there are precious few collections
which are not built on a strong base of information. This is why
collecting tends to follow the publication of knowledge in one form or other.
In the past, it was books, now it may be the Internet. If you decide to
collect in the high-end, who are you going to look to for verification and
There is another type of collector
who just walks into a show, approaches a collector who has a display they want
to buy and says:..."how much?" The owner says: "it's not for sale."
And the 'buyer-collector' says: "No, you don't understand. How
much do you want? Price is no object." This kind of collecting
requires no knowledge, just money. It's not collecting, it's shopping.
It also tends to be self-limiting, because there are not many collectors who
will sell under those conditions and the buyer soon burns out.
There are individuals in the current market tossing around six digit figures
in the desire to buy whole collections or "invest" in the tackle market.
They usually pay too much, get less than they paid for, and go away after a
short burst or when they figure out they are the laughing stock of the hobby.
Part of the fun of any collecting
is figuring out what is rare and what is not. For some people,
possession of something other people want is a driving force. There are
collectors who just collect what appeals to them personally and that is fine,
but when the time comes to sell their collection, one can only hope their
tastes are shared by others who want to own and possess similar items.
Otherwise, you don't have an auction, you have a garage sale.
The Woods 'Expert' Minnow
Another area in this hobby is the
problem of dealers or individuals "sticking it to" the high-rollers who don't
know what they are doing. It's almost a game for some people to see if
they can get so and so to buy a repaint, a fake, or an over-priced lure.
Most of these transactions occur behind the scenes, so most people never know
about it. The high-roller gets stuck and the seller laughs up his
sleeve. No one ever said this was easy. This problem is common in
any antique area and high priced lures is no exception. It is why you
have to develop relationships and not just buy at random. There is no
sure fire way to protect yourself from a fake or an over-priced piece except
by experience or by hiring a knowledgeable "buyer" to run interference.
Organizations like the
NFLCC and regional tackle shows exist to
assemble collectors so knowledge and friendship can be shared to the mutual
benefit of one another. It also exists so collectors can make
connections, friends, and ultimately buy something for their collection.
With the advent of eBay and the Internet, the connections aspect is all but
eliminated. Now, you just sit at the computer, place a bid and hope for
the best. The question comes to mind: how will knowledge will be
accumulated if there are no friends to call? Who will closet collectors
call to ask a question? What if there are no tackle shows to
attend to shop and compare values and condition? Is the hobby to become
dominated by a host of closet collectors buying blindly on the Internet and
basing their bids on past prices realized?
We know a strong economy drives the
values of collectibles... be it lures or art. Good times bring
individuals with disposable cash and strong urges to collect. Bad times
do just the opposite. What do we have to look forward to for the next
ten years relative to collecting lures? With the habits of the
baby boomers well
documented, there can be no doubt that collecting of all kinds will increase,
not decrease. The recent moves in the prices of
shows us the high end of that market in the three to four
hundred thousand dollar range is not leveling off, but accelerating. It
is my personal opinion that lure collecting will gain strength as more
knowledge is disseminated via the Internet. Collectors who are turned
off by the high prices in decoys may well migrate to lures. More
lower-end collectors will migrate into older and more expensive material as
they gain knowledge about what to collect and learn to appreciate the history
of the early material. As older collectors sell their collections,
prices will rise, bringing more interest and attention to a hobby that started
out as just a bunch of good old boys trading the things they loved to use and
My advise to anyone seeking to
become a serious player in the upper end of the antique lure game, would be to
make a close association with someone who really knows the market. There
are certain dealers who can make or break your collection. The
odds of anyone roaming the floor of a National NFLCC show and correctly buying
a large number of high-end lures is highly unlikely. But, with the right
person at your elbow, it could be done. I know of one such individual
who did this by paying the way for an advisor while he bid at an auction and
once again at a National show. This individual had the good sense to
realize he didn't know what he was doing and brought along a hired gun to show
him the ropes. The buyer later got out of collecting after buying
everything in sight for about three years. To my knowledge, he has never
My other recommendation would be to
start out slow and easy by attending as many shows as possible to look and
learn. Don't buy when just starting out. Look long and buy
later. There is no better way to start your education than
by looking at massive numbers of lures and getting a feel for what is
available. Older collectors will usually not sell to someone they don't
know. It's the "good old boy network" in its finest form. But,
sometimes, money talks when an individual wants to move a large collection all
at once. It happens and it's luck when you find out about it and are
able to participate. Again, friends and connections are the key.
Buying on eBay can be risky
business if you don't know what you are doing, but sticking with the high-end
where there are more than a few bidders can be a pretty safe bet on something
that is not too uncommon. Bids in the five hundred dollar and up
category are usually pretty safe if more than five bidders are trying to buy
it. Of course it helps to know something about the bidders too.
Don't hesitate to check the prior bidding habits of the the current bidders.
Do they buy in the high-end or are they the type who just like to see their
name on an item at the inception of the bidding? Use the search facility on
eBay to determine the quality of the bidder by past purchases. If
someone has typically been successful at buying selected high-dollar material,
then it is likely they are knowledgeable, but it also may be a case of too
much money chasing anything that someone else wants.
If in doubt about how and what to
do about collecting in general, start by reading every
book you can find on the topic.
With all the on-line book stores, there is just no excuse for not owning all
the books on the area you wish to collect.