Rare Fishing Lures: Rodents, Reptiles, Crustaceans, and Other Collectible Critter-Shaped Baits

Wright & McGill Flapper Crab
This Denver, Colorado company was in business from about 1925 through the 1960s. Their early lures, such as this baby Flapper Crab, featured glass eyes and lifelike silken antennae.
Value with box: $150 to $175 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
Kimmich Mouse
The Kimmich Mouse was patented in 1929 by Harry Kimmich of Elwood, Pa., and sold for just a few years. These mice have a wooden head and well-tied hair tail. The eyes are little black glass beads. Kimmich Mice are often moth-eaten when found, and should always be protected with mothballs.
Value with box: $200 to $400
Field & Stream Online Editors
Grube's Crawfish
W.J. Grube of Delaware, Ohio was an early maker of rubber lures, in business by 1912. This Rubber Crawfish, circa 1918, is believed to be one of this company's larger and earlier lures. The box features a swastika, which was widely regarded as an international symbol of good fortune until its adoption as a symbol of Nazi Germany. The lure has a solid brass diving lip.
Value with box: $100 to $300
Field & Stream Online Editors
Creek Crab
The Creek Chub Bait Company's popular Crawdad was introduced in the late teens, and initially called the Creek Crab Wiggler. This example is shown in the original box for the bait, which was made for only one year. Note the folded, 6-page 1918 catalog inside.
Value with box and rare catalog: $700-$1000
Field & Stream Online Editors
Oliver and Gruber Glowurm
Patented in 1920, the Gloworm was made in the state of Washington but vanished after only a year or two. Perhaps by coincidence, Heddon came out with a similar 3-piece jointed lure, the Gamefisher, at about the same time the Glowurm disappeared. Legend holds that the inventors, Oliver and Gruber, worked at a psychiatric hospital and used patient labor for manufacturing these lures. When their supervisors found out, the practice ceased and many of the baits were warehoused -" and never commercially sold.
Value with box: $75 to $200
Field & Stream Online Editors
Vermilion Meadow Mouse
The leather-tailed Vermilion Meadow Mouse has red faceted glass eyes. These wooden lures were made around 1922 by Frank Knill of Vermilion, Ohio. The small company also made some nondescript spoons and spinners, but this is by far their most collectible legacy.
Value with box: $150 to $250
Field & Stream Online Editors
Weller Mouse
The Weller Mouse was made by Erwin Weller, of Sioux City, Iowa. It appeared around 1928 and vanished about a decade later. Like other lures by this maker, the bait featured glass eyes and came in a box with a picture of the lure on the front.
Value with box: $100 to $200
Field & Stream Online Editors
The Weezel Sparrow
The Weezel Sparrow lure emerged around 1946 and was marketed by the Weezel Bait Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, which also made an assortment of lead head jigs. The wooden Sparrow, according to the literature, was covered in genuine mallard duck feathers and designed to imitate a fluttering bird on the water. It goes without saying that today's manufacturers would never use wild waterfowl as a component in lure manufacturing.
Value with box: $20 to $40
Field & Stream Online Editors
Crippled Mouse
Bud Stewart was a lure maker from Flint, Michigan whose handiwork dates back to the 1920s. His folky baits were very effective. This Crippled Mouse dates to the 1940s and is new in its box.
Value with box: $150 to $250
Field & Stream Online Editors
Herb Mills Crawdad
The Crawdad, according to one catalog, has genuine silk feelers and hook wraps, and was offered only in Luminous Crawdad finish. Although the lure appears brown, the belly has a blended ivory hue. The metal headplate on this critter lure is stamped "HERB MILLS." It was made in Piqua, Ohio.
Value with box: $150 to $250
Field & Stream Online Editors
Shoff's Casting Mouse
This the larger version of the popular deer hair mice sold throughout the 1930s. It was made in Kent, Washington. The Shoff's Casting Mouse featured bead eyes, a leather tail and lots of hair. With a weight, this lure could be cast as a lure, not simply as a flyrod bait.
Value with box: $50 to $100
Field & Stream Online Editors
Smitty Crawpappy
Made of mahogany, the Crawpappy was sold in the mid-1930s by Smith & Yelton Co. Smith and Yelton were farmers - and also fishermen. Although the box is stamped Pat. Pend., there is no evidence of a patent. Available literature indicates that the inventors decided not to mass-market the lures - preferring instead to just fish with them.
Value with box: $50 to $80
Field & Stream Online Editors
The Vacuum Bait
The uniquely shaped Vacuum Bait was acquired by South Bend Bait Co. from it's original inventor, a Professor Howe of Manchester, Indiana, whose 1909 patent date appears on this hard-to-find square box. Vacuum baits are wonderful lures, but they're difficult to find in decent condition. They had vanished by the late 1920's. South Bend made some of them with glass eyes, although this Vacuum Bait example has painted tack eyes that place it later in their years of production. This is a rare "Baby Vacuum Bait" Model No. 21, mint in its original box, with a color Vacuum Bait paper flyer.
Value with box: $250 to $600
Field & Stream Online Editors
The Bug
Can you guess when Moonlight Bait Company's "The Bug" was made? Just look at the box, which reads "1916's Newest." The Bug was around only for a year or two. They are relatively small baits and came in four colors.
Value with box: $750 to $1500
Field & Stream Online Editors
Struggling Mouse
The Struggling Mouse, introduced in 1919 by world champion tournament caster and lure inventor W.J. "Smilin Bill" Jamison, was designed to mimic the action of a small rodent. This example includes a color flyer bragging about its effectiveness as a bass catcher.
Value with box: $200 to $400
Field & Stream Online Editors
Clewell Snakerbait
Bob Clewell of Canton, Ohio, made and sold the ceramic-like rubber Snakerbait in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The lures were rather unusual in appearance and surprisingly durable considering they were made of a hardened, overpainted rubber. The Snakerbait, which resembled a snake, or more likely a wriggling worm, had a well-engineered weight near the line tie. The boxes are both handsome and hard to find.
Value with box: $500 to $1000
Field & Stream Online Editors
Creek Chub Wee Dee
The Wee Dee is one of the Creek Chub Bait Company's most elaborate baits. This lure shown is painted in a rare color combination, the famous "bug finish," and is mint in its original, correct box. It dates to the late 1920s and early 1930s. Note the end label with verbiage about the lure. These "end label" boxes are more desirable than boxes where the end flap is simply stamped with a catalog series number. Value with box: $400 to $550**
Field & Stream Online Editors
Pflueger Meadow Frog
The Meadow Frog was a popular rubber bait made by the famous Pflueger Co. of Akron, Ohio. It is usually shrunken or cracked when found and often is missing the legs.
Value with box: $45-$75
Field & Stream Online Editors
Medley's Wiggly Crab
Harry L. Medley of Los Angeles patented this lure in 1919. The lure shown is in a very rare first box. Note the wonderful graphics.
Value with box and papers: $700 to $1200
Field & Stream Online Editors
Leepers Bass Bait
Henry Leeper of Fredonia, Ky., patented this lure in 1919. It was designed so anglers could tie the lure on either end, creating different action in the water. This exquisite, boxed Leeper's bait is the hard-to-find large size. It is mint in the box and has wonderful two-color papers with a hand-lettered postscript showing that it has recently been patented. The lure was likely made to imitate a mouse.
Value with box and papers: $500 to $1000
Field & Stream Online Editors