Collectible Fishing Lures From the Early 20th Century

Detroit Glass Minnow Tube
These well-made, heavy glass lures were marketed around 1914 with the idea that a single minnow could live inside the Detroit Glass Minnow Tube all day and catch fish after fish. These valuable lures had German silver fittings. Imagine casting one onto rip-rap or rocks! The lure cost over a dollar in an era when many people barely earned that much in half a day. Value:
With Box:$1,000 or more
Without Box:$250 to $400 A Note About Value:
What's it Worth? That's the single most common question people ask about antique lures. The answers can be as varied as the millions of commercial lures made by thousands of companies from the turn of the century until the mid-1960s, which most collectors consider the end of the "collectible bait" era. Valuing lures depends on several very specific factors: age, condition, completeness (original box and paper flyer), rarity, color, and demand. Condition is perhaps the single most important factor. Often, a mint condition example of a scarce, desirable lure could bring many times what a well-used "warrior" might bring. Having the original box and paperwork also increases value. In some cases, an empty box for an early lure can be worth much more than the lure itself. Grading and valuing lures, however, is very subjective. A lure from your grandfather's tackle box that has caught hundreds of pike--and has the battle scars to prove it--might be worthless to a discriminating collector, but utterly priceless to you. There are dozens of reference books on antique lures, and most of them give values that can serve as a wonderful guide, but often require interpretation and adjustment. For example, the Creek Chub Pikie Minnow, a glass-eyed wooden bait made from the late teens well into the 1960s, is one of the most common collectible lures and can often be found--in nice condition--for around $10 in a common color such as perch scale. The same lure in a rare color--such as redhead and orange body with black spots--might be worth five times what a common color would bring, but you'd never know that from reading most of the available reference books. Demand for certain lures also drives values. Some baits made by small companies for a brief period are so obscure and hard to find that only a handful of collectors might pursue them, so there might not be too much competition when one becomes available. Conversely, there are common lures, such as the classic Bass Oreno by South Bend Bait Co., that were made in dozens (many dozens) of different colors. The variety of colors and sizes, and the abundant supply, makes them popular with collectors who enjoy trying to assemble one of each. That demand, of course, means that competition will increase dramatically for an unusual paint finish or special order color. How expensive can lures be? Several years ago, a one-of-a-kind size of a Riley Haskell Minnow, patented in 1859, brought more than $100,000. That is the exception rather than the rule. One of the great things about the antique lure collecting hobby is that there are opportunities to fit every pocketbook, from the high-end investor who can spend thousands of dollars on early, museum-quality baits to youngsters and casual collectors who can assemble fascinating collections with just a few spare dollars. Best of all, lure collecting is a hobby that remains in its infancy, meaning it is never too late to start. There are literally tens of thousands of untapped tackle boxes still sitting in basements, garages, and attics, waiting to be rediscovered by new generations of outdoorsmen who can appreciate the simplicity of yesteryear, and the workmanship that went into a product today's anglers often take for granted.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Heddon Dowagiac Casting Bait
Created by the James Heddon & Son tackle comany (established in Dowagiac, Michigan in 1902), the Dowagiac Casting Bait was Heddon's first commercial lure, and the four-hook version shown here, also known as the Dowagiac No. 2, appeared in 1902 along with its more common two-hook counterpart. This lure is unused and in mint condition, complete with its original box and instruction papers. These refer to the lure as the "Dowagiac Perfect Surface Casting Bait," which dates the manufacture of this piece to late 1902 or early 1903, after which the name was shortened to the "Dowagiac Expert." James Heddon died in December of 1911, leaving the business to his sons, Will and Charles Heddon, who later changed the company name to "James Heddon's Sons." Value:
With Box:More than $4,000
Without Box:$200 to $600
Field & Stream Online Editors
Hastings Weedless Frog
This soft rubber lure was patented and sold around 1895 in the picture box shown here. The maker was Jas. T. Hastings Co. of Chicago. Sometime after 1905, W.J. Jamison, also of Chicago, bought the rights and manufactured this lure into the early 1920s. Some early Weedless Frogs have bead eyes, while later ones are painted on. Value:
With Box:More than $450
Without Box:$50 to $100
Field & Stream Online Editors
King Wiggler
This nickel-plated hollow plug was made around 1917 in Minneapolis, Minn., and patented in 1919. This new-in-box example of the King Wiggler was once photographed as a centerfold Feature Lure in the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club magazine. Value:
With Box:Up to $350
Without Box:$50 to $75
Field & Stream Online Editors
Moonlight Ladybug Wiggler
This is one of the most unique lures made by the Moonlight Bait Co. of Paw Paw. Michigan. This one is actually the second--and more elaborate--version of the Ladybug Wiggler, which no doubt took a lot of work to produce. Note the external milky glass eyes and waxed string legs. Also note the 1917 patent date on the box. Red and yellow is a typical Moonlight finish. Value:
With Box: Up to $1,200 with an early picture box
Without Box:$150 to $300
Field & Stream Online Editors
Jamison Nemo
The Nemo, patented in 1910 by a famous tackle inventor named W.J. "Smilin' Bill" Jamison of Chicago, was short-lived in production but remains one of the all-time classics among collectible lures. Just as the Captain Nemo of novel fame could travel beneath the sea, so could this revolving head lure, by virtue of a round, removable belly weight that compelled the bait to travel beneath the surface. Remove the weight, and you had a topwater lure. This box includes a picture flyer advertising the Nemo as "new" and mentions their availability in musky size. Value:
With Box:More than $900
Without Box:$200 to $300
Field & Stream Online Editors
Pflueger Neverfail Minnow in Wooden Box with Paper Label
Prior to the maroon pasteboard boxes, Pflueger Neverfail Wooden Minnows came in wooden slide-top boxes. Unlike the rival Heddon company's printed wood box lids, many Pflueger wooden boxes had a paper label applied to the boxtop. This minnow has five treble hooks and a lead weight embedded into the belly to make the lure sink. The color is called "fancy back" or "green crackleback." Value:
With Box:$650 or more
Without Box:$85 to $150
Field & Stream Online Editors
Pflueger Surprise Minnow
The Pflueger Fishing Tackle Company of Akron, Ohio, was in business for more than a century. Their unique Surprise Minnow lures are a collectors' favorite. This is an early version with hole eyes; later models have glass eyes. The lure dates to the mid-teens. Value:
With Box:$400 or more
Without Box:$80 to $150
Field & Stream Online Editors
Shakespeare Rhodes Mechanical Frog
The Rhodes Mechanical Swimming Frog is one of the Shakesepeare Company's early contributions to classic fishing lure history. The elaborate lure is made of rubber and designed so the legs kick as the line tie is pulled. These rare hoppers are usually found in a wooden box, but cardboard boxes like this one also turn up occasionally. This lure dates to around 1911. Value:
With Box:More than $1,000
Without Box:$150 to $300
Field & Stream Online Editors
Shakespeare Underwater Minnow (in aluminum finish)
This Shakespeare Underwater Minnow was made in the 1907-1911 era in Kalamazoo, Michigan. William Shakespeare (the angler, not the playwright) was an accomplished tournament caster and founded yet another of the Michigan-based early fishing tackle empires. He was a friend and contemporary of James Heddon. Value:
With Box:$500 or more
Without Box:$75 to $150
Field & Stream Online Editors
The Shakespeare Revolution Bait
The Shakespeare Revolution Bait was first produced around 1900. The box shown with this bait is one of the most sought after by collectors everywhere. The lure is mint and the flyer inside advertises a fishing contest, in which whomever catches the largest bass on the new Revolution bait will receive a silver reel valued at $15. The deadline for entering the contest is "Fall, 1901." Value:
With Box:More than $900
Without Box:$100 to $300
Field & Stream Online Editors
Reynolds Decoy Co. Tempter
The Tempter Fish Bait, with its eccentric, duck-billed nose and external ceramic eyes is a wonderfully unique classic lure. Made around 1918-1921 by the J.W. Reynolds Decoy Co. of Chicago, the Tempter can also be found in a hand-mottled paint finish unique to these lures. The box is relatively unspectacular, but quite rare. Value:
With Box:More than $650
Without Box:$150 to $250
Field & Stream Online Editors
Lockhart Water Witch
Edward Lockhart's fascinating early baits employed the use of a hole through the body to create water flow that, hopefully, would entice nearby fish into a strike. The maroon carton shown with the bait has an applied paper label calling the lure the "Water Witch." Later boxes called the same lure the Wagtail Witch. The Lockhart lures were made in lower Michigan and are very collectible. Value:
With Box:More than $550
Without Box:$75 to $150
Field & Stream Online Editors
Worden Combination Minnow
Sometime around 1900, F.G. Worden began making and selling his wooden minnows, many of which had a hair "bucktail." That feature earned Worden the nickname "Bucktail," and a place in history as one of the most famous contemporaries of James Heddon and William Shakespeare. Value:
With Box:$1,200
Without Box:$250 to $500 Worden's business eventually became the widely known South Bend Bait Co. This is Worden's famous Combination Minnow, which had all the characteristics of a basic wooden minnow (belly weight, opposite spinning fore and aft props and side mounted hooks) with the added feature of a tied tail hackle. This bait and box date to around 1903. Note the brass screw hardware and hand-braided leader. Shown in the photo is a rare invoice on Worden's own letterhead.
Field & Stream Online Editors
**Hinckley Fish Phantom **
Livingston Hinckley of Newark, N.J., created these historically importantlures around 1895 and patented the Fish Phantom in 1897. The aluminum, revolving-head baits carry the 1897 patent date. The painted "Yellow Bird" example here includes original papers with instructions for fishing it. This piece is over 100 years old! Value:
With Box:More than $400
Without Box:$50 to $125
Field & Stream Online Editors
Coldwater Ghost
This Coldwater Bait Co. lure is shown in its earliest packaging, a "black box" that has "expose to light or electric" suggested across the top in large lettering and the 1914 patent date. Note the 2-hook lure matches the box picture. These are classic Michigan lures. Value:
With Box:$750 or more
Without Box:$75 to $200
Field & Stream Online Editors
Chippewa
The Chippewa baits date to around 1909 and were made in Blair, Wisconsin. The metal spiral in the cavity is usually painted red. This is the pike size lure in fancy sienna. These are difficult lures to find in perfect condition. Value:
With Box:$1,000 or more
Without Box:$100 to $350
Field & Stream Online Editors
Miller's Reversible Spinner
The Union Springs Specialty Co. of Cayuga Springs, N.Y. made the Miller's lures around 1914. The Reversible Spinner featured an elaborate set of ornate propellers. The company also made a wooden lure with similar spinners. Value:
With Box:More than $700
Without Box:$100 to $200
Field & Stream Online Editors

About the Author
Rob Pavey, a full-time writer and outdoors columnist with The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, has collected and studied fishing lures more than 24 years. His award winning collection of early lures and boxes is among the most comprehensive ever assembled.

Rob is a 22-year member of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club and has authored or edited three reference books on antique tackle and written dozens of magazine and feature articles on the topic. His educational website www.mrlurebox.com contains photos and details on hundreds of other early lure makers, as well as information on collecting and appraisals.

If you've got a lure you think he might be interested in, or just want to ask him some questions about collecting antique tackle, shoot him an email at: rpavey1@comcast.net