Fishing is a very popular activity among all generations. Most people call it a sport, yet I don’t see it like that, no offense, please. I think fishing is a great hobby that helps people relax, catch some yummy fish, and reconnect with nature.
We all know that hunting and fishing were essential activities in prehistoric times since our ancestors mainly survived on the food they caught on their own. Nowadays, fishing is a commercial and recreational activity.
While the first men used a spear, trident, and their bare hands to catch the fish, today people use rods, baits, traps, and all other tools to help them catch the trophy. One of the most important tools for fishing, besides the rods, is lures.
Since the first lure was created in the late 1800s, I was curious enough to check if there are some antique lures available for purchase and what is their worth. Now you all know how that adventure ended.
I represent to you a list of the most valuable rare antique fishing lures! Here’s all you ever wanted to know.
First Let’s Talk More About The Origine Of Lures
Let’s get one thing straight lure and bait are not the same things. Bait is a living or dead creature used for attracting prey, while the lure is artificial bait. From that you can conclude one thing, lure fishing is very challenging and exciting because the point is to outsmart the fish.
I already mentioned that lures are quite innovative, considering how long people use and craft fishing equipment. So let’s learn when was the first lure created, who created it, and how did it look.
Welcome to the history of fishing lures, a very short edition
Behind almost every thing we use today is a very interesting story about how it was created or how the creator got the idea. This is one of those stories.
Somewhere in late 1890, James Heddon a passionate fisherman was waiting for his friend at an Old Mill Pond. While he was waiting, he naturally got bored and found a way to distract himself. He took a small piece of wood and started to carve, he end up carving a tiny frog.
After he finished it he throw it in the pond and started to play with it, probably using the stick. In a few moments, he noticed that a fish approached it and start to nibble on it.
This is what inspired him to start experimenting with artificial bait for fishing. Soon after that, he started making a proper one, in his kitchen, by hand. The first lure he created was called Dowagiac Casting Lure.
Soon he realized how profitable this business can be so in 1902. he establishes the Heddon Lure company. In 1910, he opened a factory in the town of Dowagiac. Also, that year his company began a collaboration with a big Canadian supply company that wanted to distribute his lures.
Thanks to James Heddon, lure fishing became ultra popular in the mid-19th century. This encouraged the mass production of fishing lures and started a whole new branch in the fishing equipment industry. The most notable manufacturers from that time were Heddon and Pflueger.
List Of Most Valuable Fishing Lures
When you rumble through your old fishing lures and you look at them you must be thinking, well this old crowd does not worth as much, you might be wrong. There are a lot of different antique lures out there that can cost as much as your current vehicle or even more.
The great thing is that they are very rare, and some specimens still remained undiscovered so make sure you take a good look at your collection.
1. Giant Copper Haskell Minnow
- Year: 1859
- Price: $101,200
This is a golden grail among fishing equipment. What is characteristic of this exact lure is that it is the only one that exists (for now). The lure is produced by Railey Haskel in 1859 from copper. It is astonishing how much it resembles a real fish. The details are on point!
Haskel Minnows lures are in general very rare and valuable, no matter the size. However, the size of this lure is what makes it so valuable. The lure’s size is around 10 inches. There is one more special thing about this lure – the revolving tail that attracted fish very effectively.
Until now this is the most expensive antique fishing lure ever sold. It is sold at Lang’s Auction in 2003. for the whooping $101,200.
2. Pflueger and Pardee Wooden Minnow
- Year: 1890 – 1904
- Price: $42,500
Same as the previous lure, this one as well is sold on a private action in 2006 for non less than $42,500! If you take some time to think you can buy a new car for that money, and I really do mean new. Anyhow, this historical piece was crafted somewhere between the late 1890s and 1904.
The interesting fact is that this lure is supposedly the first American wooden minnow. It was found in perfect condition in Ohio, in the tackle box of Hiram Rice. The Pflueger and Pardee are assumed to be manufacturers.
Unfortunately, since this case is very specific there isn’t a lot of information about this lure or the auction on which it was sold.
3. Chautaugua Minnow
- Year: 1908
- Price: $37,400
This particular lure has a very interesting story. It was made in 1908 in New York by manufacturers Kratz & Smith. However, this lure wasn’t effective at all, and most fishermen refused to use it. So they stop manufacturing it, and there were only a few pieces left unsold.
A few decades later, this becomes one of the most rarest and valuable lures, just because it was so rare. Especially if it is still unboxed, since most specimens are used.
4. Rare Haskell Musky Minnow
- Year: 1859
- Price: $32,000
It seems like Haskell Minnows are really rare and valuable. This one is true work of art. The Musky Minnow features all the detail such as scales, eyes, fins, and even the mouth. That was a lot of work for early American craftsmanship, which is the reason why these lures are so valuable. It wasn’t especially big, measuring 7.5 inches in overall length.
This lure was sold at a Lang’s auction in November 2007 for over $32,000! However, a similar lure was sold on Invalauble.com for around $2,500, but the particular item wasn’t in such great shape, having rust all over.
5. Musky Charmer Minnow
- Year: 1900s
- Price: $21,000
The Musky Minnow is Charmer’s most desirable and valuable lure. At the first glance, it looks more like a bumblebee than a fish, thanks to the colors and stripy design. It comes in an orange-black, yellow-black, and gold-red color pattern, and it is over 5-inches long.
Like the previous model, it has three hooks, one on the tail, and two on the fins. Also, it sports a propeller on the tip of the head. There are only a few of these that still exist today so make sure you check your grandad’s fishing collection. This extraordinary lure was sold for $21,000 at auction in 2018.
6. Heddon Black Sucker
- Year: 1900 – 1911
- Price: $19,000
The Heddon Black Sucker lure is one of the most sought-after lures among fishermen. This particular lure dates from a period between 1900 and 1911, so as you can see it is over a century old which is the reason enough for the high price.
The model changed a lot during the crafting period, and it is available in two different color variations, black head with the orange striped body, and with the orange body and a wide black stripe along the back.
This wooden lure is around 6 inches long, has a front spinner, and has three hooks on the fins and tail. In 2006 it was sold for $19,000.
7. Shakespeare Wooden Minnow
- Year: 1907
- Price: $18,700
This is the earliest Shakespeare Wooden Minnow lure. It was characteristic of its design. It must have longhorn props, five hooks, and a shapely hi-forehead body with a red or yellow belly. At first, they were made of wood, but later manufacturers transitioned to hollow aluminum. They also experimented with rubber lures. In 2012 this lure was sold for $18,700, the price was so high since the lure is in perfect condition and it came with the original box.
8. Hosmer Mechanical Frog
- Year: 1936
- Price: $13,000
Not all fishing lures are shaped like small fishes. A lot of lures n the past were shaped as little froggies. It seems like frogs were very interesting bait for fish. Knowing that company Hosmer made their significant frog model in 1936.
The frog was painted bright yellow or green with hand-painted spots and a mouth. If you have the box then you won the lottery. The box is very valuable because it consists of a paper label and instructions on how to fish the frog lure.
Very few examples of this bait still exist but they are rarely sold. There is one case, a green one is sold on Morphy auctions for $3,750, even though it was estimated for around $8,000. The yellow ones are more valuable, the one that was sold for $13,000 in 2007 was yellow.
How To Identify Vintage Fishing Lures?
As I said a lot of lures are still unidentified since fishermen tend to use prototypes to check if the fake bait will be attractive to fish or not. Since crafting items that are so small and delicate as lures are very difficult, it is also very difficult to identify their origin, date, and value.
However, there are some guidelines you can follow when you come across the lure that you might think is valuable. Pay attention to the following details, they are naturally different from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- Hook attaching hardware – Different manufacturers used differently designed attaching hardware for the hooks made in different years. For instance, James Heddon’s company used cup-rig (1904-1915), L-rig (1915-1934), toilet seat rig (it really does look like a toilet seat used from 1926-1934), flap rig (1934-1948), and surface rig (post-1948).
- Stencil identification – Like with all antique items make sure there is a stencil identification or company mark that clarifies if that item is really manufactured by the maker.
- Eyes – Also, a very interesting and important detail is the design of the eyes. If you think your lure is maybe produced by Wm Shakespeare Company then make sure to check the eyes first. There are only three designs that their products feature. The first ones are glass eyes with white iris and small black pupils (pre1910), the second design is similar to the first but the pupils were two times larger (1933-1935), and the pressed eyes design (post-1935).
- Propellers – Propellers are almost always placed on the tip of the head and on the beginning of the tail, some might have only one, and others will have both. What is important is the size of the propellers and if they are marked. If there is no company mark on the propeller then your lure is probably originating from the period before 1912, most propellers that are made after 1912 are marked.
- Material – Most antique lures are made from wood or aluminum. If there is plastic involved in the manufacturing then your lure is probably made after the 1930s. The first manufacturer that used plastic is Heddon.
Where can I buy vintage fishing lures?
Even though these items are antique you’ll probably waste a lot of your time trying to find them in antique shops and markets. Most of these valuable items are in possession of fishing enthusiasts who have a large appetite for antique equipment.
The best thing you can do is to find as many communities and organizations that are specialized in vintage lures such as National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, Fishing Tackle Collectors Club, and so on. There are a lot of collector clubs that can help you identify your lure, offer some guidelines, or share some valuable info about upcoming private auctions.
Also, you can try your luck at websites such as eBay, Etsy, Invaluable, Live Auctioneers, and Lang’s Auctions which is the best web page for tracking and buying antique fishing lures.
What old fishing lures are worth money?
There are over 25 different pieces that are sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Some are extremely rare, meaning that there is only one copy of it available, like the giant copper Haskel minnow.
You can try your luck by searching for Miller’s reversible minnow (worth around $6,000), Comstock Flying Hellgrammite (worth around $10,000), or Heddon Dowagiac Casting Bait (estimated worth $9,000), and so on.
The weirdest one is the Heddon night-radiant moonlight bait box. Yes, only the box is worth around $9,400!
What did the first lure design look like?
The first lure design was extremely simple. The fake bait was manufactured from wood and carved to look similar to a small fish. It was white, with a blue head, and a red circle collar around the head (probably imitating fins?).
It has only two hooks. One is located on the belly, and the other is at the end of the tail.
When did manufacturers stop using glass eyes?
This mainly depends on the manufacturer. For example, Heddon used glass eyes on wooden lures up until World War II. So remember this information when identifying your lure. If it has glass eyes it is probably pre-war manufacture.
After 1933, when the first plastic lure was created, plastic eyes took over. From the 1950s most common material used for making the lures was plastic.
So Is It Worthy To Collect Vintage Lures?
I’m sure that after reading these lines you realized that almost everything that is linked with fishing is valuable and price. Did you know that a good quality fishing rod can cost over $5,000? Well, that explains why vintage equipment reaches such sky-high prices.
Fishing enthusiasts and collectors are different kinds of people, they religiously take care of their equipment and accessories, and for them owning something that is rare and was a part of history is more than prestige.
If you have some valuable information on your sleeve, or you have some interesting lure design to share and discuss about don’t hesitate to post it in the comments section below.