The Haskell Minnow, considered the "Holy Grail" of antique fishing lure collectors.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Randy Anderson reached into a display case, carefully picked up an antique fishing lure and handled it with the same care as some would a rare gem.
“This is the Haskell Minnow, one of the rarest fishing lures in the country,” Anderson said of the copper trolling lure that has the intricate detail of a minnow. “It was patented in 1859 and to my knowledge, only 13 to 15 have been found.
“There weren’t very many of them made in the first place. And those that were are hard to find now.”
So how much do you want for that gem, Randy?
“Well, let’s just I’ve been offered a lot of money for this lure,” said Anderson, a lure collector from Bartlesville, Okla. “But I’m not selling.
“You can replace money. But lures as rare as this one, you can’t.”
The fever over collecting rare lures can drive prices to lofty heights. Collectors still talk about a 2003 auction, in which a buyer paid $100,000 for a one-of-a-kind 10-inch version of the Haskell Minnow. He labeled the copper bait the Holy Grail of lures.
With the downturn in the economy, many doubt the lure would bring anywhere near that today. But the intrigue of antique baits still hooks plenty of fishermen who look for a tie to the past.
That much was obvious when the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club brought its annual convention to the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center this month.
The event, co-chaired by local collectors Jack Looney and Don Getz, filled the exhibit hall with more than 500 tables of vintage fishing tackle — everything from rare lures to old rods and reels to minnow buckets. Some of it was priceless. Some of it was for sale for as little as $10.
“Just because a lure is old doesn’t mean it is valuable,” Getz said. “If there were a lot of them made and they’re relatively easy to find, they aren’t worth that much.
“But it’s still fun to collect them. They’re a sign of the past.”
Indeed, the show attracted hundreds of club members, some of whom came from Japan, Canada, New York and California, who have a fascination with the history of the sport they love so much.
Anderson, a sheet-metal contractor who began collecting antique fishing equipment in 1982, was among the many displaying their collections.
Included was an impressive collection of Talbot reels, some of which are estimated to be more than 100 years old. The reels, first made in Nevada, Mo., from 1892 to 1913, then in Kansas City, were designed by a watchmaker, William H. Talbot. One particularly rare baitcaster featured diamond bearings.
Anderson has amassed his collection through the normal routes — scouring estate sales and antique shops, bidding in auctions, and buying and trading with other collectors.
Looney, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., started collecting antique fishing equipment in 1978 and now has almost 7,000 items. That includes not only rare lures, but the boxes they came in.
“Some of the boxes are rarer than the lures themselves,” Looney said. “The fishermen in those days may have taken the lures out and put them in their tackle boxes and used the the boxes to store nails and screws. Or they might have just thrown them away.”
Looney enjoys displaying his rare items. But he also enjoys fishing with the less valuable vintage tackle he has collected.
Last year, he landed a 71/2-pound bass on pre-1940s tackle — a Heddon Pal tubular steel rod, a Shakespeare Marhoff reel and a Creek Chub Baby Injured Minnow lure. Members of the collectors club think it is the largest bass ever caught on vintage tackle.
For Joe Stagnitti of upstate New York, collecting antique fishing equipment has gone from a hobby to a full-time job. He remembers how he got started.
“I grew up in antique county in upstate New York,” he said. “There were old fishing lures everywhere.
“I remembering buying one lure for $3. I sold it a few years later for $6,500. That’s when I really got interested in collecting.”
Stagnitti has a collection of some of the rarest lures known. Included is a Heddon Black Sucker, made from 1924 to 1926. The price tag? $22,000.
“It was relatively scarce to begin with because there weren’t a lot of people who fished for muskies,” he said. “Now it’s very rare.”
Stagnitti also has other rare lures that he offers for sale. He’s lucky, he says, because he’s able to combine his hobby with business.
“I love to fish, but I appreciate the history of this sport more than anything else,” he said.
“I am just fascinated by some of the things they came up with years ago.”
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