Collectible Fishing Lures: Rare Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Baits from the Early 20th Century

Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Neon Fire Fly Little is known about this early pyralin (an early plastic) lure, other than that it was manufactured in the late 1920s or early 1930s by the St. Croix Bait Co. in Stillwater, Minnesota. The clear nose is filled with about two ounces of liquid mercury to make the lure glow, which it undoubtedly did.
Value with box: $75-$150
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Bubble Minnie The Bubble Minnie was made in the 1940s by Fair Play Industries in Detroit. It features a blued aluminum frame with wooden "barrels" that fit inside the cavity. The barrels were filled with bicarbonate of soda and emitted a noisy trail of fizz and bubbles.
Value: $50-$75
With box: $200-$300
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Anderson Minnow The spring-loaded Anderson Minnow was made in Chicago in the 1940s by Anderson Bait Co. and offered in frog spot, redhead and perch colors. The brochure claims the mechanical feature rendered it illegal in Missouri, Minnesota and Pa.
Value with box: $75-$100
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Clark Make-Em Bite Little is known about the Clark Brothers of LaPorte, Indiana, but their Make-Em-Bite lures are wonderful. Dating to around 1920, and finished in vibrant red crackleback, this example features glass eyes and single hooks that expand when a fish strikes. The instruction flyer is included.
Value with box: $350-$500
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Cats Paw The spring-loaded Cat's Paw Weedless is a neat 1940s bait designed to avoid snags, but spring open to hook fish upon a strike. This short-lived wooden lure was found at a flea market in southwestern Michigan. They have painted eyes.
Value with box: $50-$75
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Dunks Dubble Header This wooden lure, made by Dunks Bait Co. of Ohio, has a spring-loaded head that can be rotated to make the lure either dive or skitter on the surface. The Dubble Header was patented in 1932. Wooden head models are rare--most have metal heads. Check out the graphics on this very neat "intro" box that was made only for a year or so.
Value: $50 to $75
With box: $250-$500
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Abbie & Imbrie Glowbody The well-known Abbey & Imbrie sporting goods wholesaler was in business from 1900 on. The glass Glowbody Minnow was sold around 1920 and was filled with some sort of luminous liquid. This one still glows!
Value: $50 to $75
With box: $300-$400
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Clyde Hoage Magnetic Weedless This eccentric plastic lure from the late 30s and early 40s features an elaborate magnetic weedless harness. Offered by General Tool in St. Paul, Minn., the box also mentions the Clyde Hoage trademark and the Water Gremlin line of baits.
Value with box: $20-$40
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Johnson Automatic Striker Johnsons are neat plugs from the 1930s that were made in four sizes, and featured an elaborate spring mechanism to insure the fish would be caught. The inventor, Carl Johnson, patented the mechanism in 1935.
Value with box: $200-$400
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Paulson Combination Minnow Fred Paulson of Geneva, Illinois, made this unique, multi-position "Combination Minnow" in the late teens. It features a double diving lip attached with an axle, and a screw and bolt to loosen that lip, allowing adjustments to create a dozen or more different actions. The huge instruction flyer was typed on an early typewriter. The wooden lure has glass eyes.
Value with box: $250-$300
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Pflueger All-in-One The Pflueger All-in-One Minnow is a classic among all lures, not just this company. Offered only for a year or two around 1916, the elaborate bait featured rhinestone "diamond" glass eyes and four interchangeable, mechanically designed lips for "floating, diving, darting, wiggling or spinning." The lips all bear the Pflueger trademark and are numbered one through four. The maroon box shown here is very rare.
Value: $100 to $400
With box and all four diving lips: $2000-plus
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Vann-Clay Retrievable Minnow The Vann Clay Retrievable Minnow, made in Thomasville, Georgia, in the late 20s and early 1930s, is hollow and has a spring fitted to the head. Its claim to fame is a de-snagging feature: when hung up on the bottom you were supposed to pull the line tight, which would pull the head out from the body. When the line was released, the head was supposed to snap back into pace, and the force of that action would unsnag the lure.
Value: $300-$450
With box: $1200-$1800
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Fenner Weedless This lure supposedly dates to the 1920s, according to reference books, but its construction is more similar to baits of the 30s and 40s. It is made of pyralin (early plastic) and features hooks that spring open from recessed slots when a fish strikes.
Value: $15 to $30
With box: $50 to $60
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Rhodes Mechanical Frog The Rhodes Mechanical Swimming Frog is made of rubber and designed so the legs kick as the line tie is pulled. These rare classics are usually found in a wooden box. This example is in a very unusual gray cardboard box that is seldom seen. This lure dates to the 1909-1913 years and was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Value: $140-$250
With box: $1500-$2000
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Darby Weedless Bait This contraption was co-patented by brothers Tony and Mike Darby of Whiting, Ind., in the late 20s or early 30s. The spring-loaded Darby Weedless Bait featured a rotating head with metal fins, unique machined hooks and twin "triggers" that caused the hooks to spring open like a switchblade knife when a fish struck. This lure was no doubt deadly - to any angler daring enough to attempt to use it! This lure sold for $2 - a tidy sum in its day compared with other baits of that era.
Value: $100 to $300
With Box: $600 to $800
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Schaller Three Bagger The 'Three-Bagger" is an odd chunk bait from the early 1930s made by E.W. Schaller of Mendota, Ill., and sold for $1.50--a tidy sum for the era. The huge instruction pamphlet that came with the lure would make any snake-oil salesman proud, but the lure is well-made and elaborate, with a machined, removable primary hooking device.
Value: $50-$75
With box: $250-$350
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Evans Weed Queen This spring-loaded wooden lure has unusual milky glass eyes and dates to the early 1930s. These lures were made by E.S. Evans & Sons of Detroit. The hook is machined out of wire to give it resilience.
Value with box: $100-$200
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Wilson 6-in-1 Wobbler The Six-in-One lure, made in Hastings, Michigan, has a little ratchet and gearbox on its nose so that its diving lip can be adjusted six different ways. This is a mechanical Michigan classic, and one of the company's most desirable lures. It was introduced in 1915 and patented in 1917. Shown here with its beautiful introductory picture box.
Value: $75 to $150
With box: $300-$500
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
E-Z WAY Bass Bait This is unquestionably one of the most elaborate--and potentially dangerous--lures ever manufactured. Made around 1913-1915, it features a grooved tail into which a spring-loaded double hook contraption is attached. The hooks, when set, make the lure weedless, but when the trigger mechanism releases the barbs, spring open several inches. The flyer inside its box starts out with some important advice: "Look Out!-¿ The makers included William F. Harlow, a well-known outdoorsman and pattern maker for the Worley Stove Manufacturing Co. of Newark, Ohio, a riverfront town about 35 miles east of Columbus. Harlow also manufactured and sold duck decoys and duck calls around 1900 and his products are highly sought after by collectors of waterfowl memorabilia.
Value: $200-$300
With box: $750-$1000
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Drake's Sea Bat This rattling lure was patented in 1931 and sold in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for several years. The side fins were adjustable and could make the bait dive and wobble. There was also a BB rattle inside. There are lots of these lures around; some time ago a cache of new-in-box examples were uncovered.
Value with box: $75-$150
Rob Pavey
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Mechanical and Spring-Loaded Collectible Antique Fishing Lures
Babbitt Automatic Weedless The ingenious Babbitt Automatic Weedless lure was patented Oct. 12, 1937. It features a heavy weight that, when tilted, snaps open the hook. Its slogan: "Ballasted Like a Ship!" The lures often come badly chipped. This specimen is mint in the box, with papers.
Value with box: $100-$150
Rob Pavey
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