Antique Lures


Collecting Rare and Historical Antique Fishing Lures

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 level.

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 advice?

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 duck decoys 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 talk about.

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 returned.

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.



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

Lure and Lure Box Prices We Pay


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