collecting antique fishing lures:

advice for beginners

By Robbie Pavey (MRLUREBOX)

The time-worn cliche that first impressions make all the difference is especially true in lure collecting. 

New collectors today are largely influenced by their treatment among other collectors, and their ability to survive in a hobby that can sometimes be as cut-throat as it is rewarding. Long before we had the Internet and many of our contemporary reference books, collectors relied solely upon one another to determine value, formulate trades and decide whether a frogscale basser was a decent swap for three Keeling Tom Thumb lures. 

Having been a collector more than 20 years now, it is always fun to remember my early days in the hobby, when my entire collection consisted of a dozen battered old lures hanging from a styrofoam cooler lid in my bedroom closet. I was new to buying and selling, and very new to trading. I had been out of college barely a year and was a cub reporter for the Post & Evening Times in West Palm Beach, Fla., where (at least in those days) the flea markets were full of antique tackle. 

Someone mentioned there was an organization called the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club that I might want to join. I was given a phone number for a fellow in south Florida to call. His name was Jim Frazier, and he was the club's president at the time. I rang him up one afternoon, introduced myself as a new lure collector and got a little information about the NFLCC and its role in preserving the history behind the most popular pastime in America. 

In addition to a registration form and a request for the membership fee (it was only $10 in those years), I got a lot more from Jim. He told me about collecting, about shows, about finding tackle, about buying and selling, about the benefits of knowledge and about the many pitfalls of trading. He mailed me copies of old newslatters and sales lists so I could see how radically different actual values were from book values back then. He shared advice with me that has guided my collecting habits and interests for two full decades now, and that advice still holds true today. 

That's why I'm sharing it with you. Here are some of the things he told me: 

KNOWLEDGE: Invest in good reference books and read them. The cost is miniscule compared to the cost of mistakes made out of ignorance. Even today, if you own and read just three books - Luckey, Karl White and Murphy/Edmisten - you will know much of what can be learned from books on lure collecting. 

OTHER COLLECTORS: Get to know other collectors. If you're new to the hobby, you don't have to buy from or sell to them yet. Just visit them, see their collections and learn about values and condition and rarity. Books are fine, but they provide only a framework of knowledge. The "filling in" of that framework can only be gleaned from interaction with other collectors. 

TRADING: If you're new to the hobby, don't trade without getting multiple opinions. If it's a good trade now, it will be equally good after you've had a chance to learn a little more. When I first contacted Jim Frazier, I bragged to him that I was a shrewd trader. And I thought I was. I told him of swapping off an old reel I got at the Riviera Beach, Fla., flea market for a mere $2 for five old wooden lures. He asked what they were, and I proudly told him there were two Pikie minnows and three South Bend Bass-Orenos. He asked what kind of reel I'd found. I told him I didn't really know. All it said was "Thos. J. Conroy, Maker" on one endplate. Jim's humble response was a simple, "Oh, my......." 

TACKLE SHOWS: There are many collectors who never attend shows. Big mistake. You can learn more about lures and lure collecting by attending two or three tackle shows than you could spending a lifetime buying off Ebay and sales lists. There is no substitute for seeing firsthand what quality collections look like, and talking and learning from other collectors. There are dozens of shows each year all over the country. In addition to the NFLCC-sanctioned shows, other groups like the Florida Antique Tackle Collectors and Carolina Antique Tackle Club also hold regional gatherings. Go. You won't regret it. 

BUYING: Yes, it's always more fun to buy 10 lures at a show instead of one. Jim Frazier told me long ago that condition, rarity and age are the best things to look for. It is always best to buy the oldest, rarest, mintiest items you can afford. If you buy the best, no matter how much it costs, it will always be worth more than you paid for it. By comparison, buying lesser-condition items may seem more appealing, but they won't hold their value as well. And as you advance in your hobby, you'll always enjoy those rare, mint, super old pieces. In fact, you'll appreciate them even more. If you attend a tackle show and have $100 to spend, it's always better to come home with one nice lure than a dozen medicre ones. 

CLEANING, RESTORING and TAMPERING: Best suggestion: don't. It's tempting to repaint that one little chip on an otherwise mint lure. In my opinion, you've scuttled its value, forever labeling a nice piece as "touched up." Cleaning lures is a very intricate and precise science and requires skill and advice from experienced collectors. I've seen some nice lures screwed up badly by improper and inexperienced tampering. Leave it alone or get help. If you have to tamper, do it with a common Pikie or Bomber. 

Well, these were some of the lessons I learned early on in this hobby, and I hope they will serve you as well as they have me. I will always be grateful that I had the good fortune to meet people like Jim when I first started collecting. My treatment by other collectors is one of the reasons the hobby became such a joy in my life, and a primary reason it has held such appeal and interest all these years. 

Remember that when you become an experienced collector yourself, and you encounter someone whose interest in antique lures is a mere glimmer. How you treat them is what will ultimately make all the difference in the world.

Robbie Pavey, an NFLCC member since 1983, is a fulltime journalist covering outdoor issues for The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle. He operates ANTIQUE FISHING LURES AND BOXES, an  extensive, educational website devoted to early boxes and boxed lures. The site, which includes 96 pages and more than 400 photos,  is



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