After condition, color may well be the next biggest consideration that adds to the value of a lure. There are a lot of other variables, such as rarity of the company producing the lures (companies that only produced lures over a few years a very long time ago wouldn’t be considered because the scarcity lies in the lure itself, which trumps everything else other than condition). So, let’s talk about lures from the mega-companies that produced lots of baits over a long period of time. Companies such as Heddon, Pflueger, Shakespeare, South Bend and Creek Chub—considered The Big Five—are probably the most popular with the bulk of collectors out there and produced lures well into the end of the 20th century.
The color of a lure and the infinite variations of color arising out of demand (or what the manufacturer perceives is the demand) will be based on a particular lure design, which is also a component of that same demand. This demand is simply based on the fish-catching ability of the particular lure in colors that will produce landed fish—hopefully lots of fish caught and landed. Yes, fish do see color.
Some of these companies were better than others at designing and producing lures in a myriad of colors. I feel that Creek Chub was the best at this and the most “user friendly.” But, all of these companies offered non-standard or special-order colors to some extent. Probably the most produced lure color in history is red head/white body (RH/W) and every company seemed to have that color combination in their catalog. And that one color is probably also the least expensive when determining value because of the sheer quantity of lures out there in RH/W. Don’t assume that all baits out there are worth less in RH/W then that same lure in another color, because you would be wrong. Why? Well because if it was a lure that was never a catalog production piece in RH/W in for one reason or another, it then became a lot more valuable.
A good example of this is the Heddon Luny Frog. Most frog patterns are shades of green, but at one point someone at Heddon decided to make some in RH/W. Only a nominal amount of those where ever produced and the value is probably at least four times what a frog color Luny Frog is worth.
Furthermore, there are baits that were only used in salt water fishing and produced in colors that would turn on salt water fish—those colors just wouldn’t work for fresh water fish since the color wouldn’t be found on any bait that a fresh water fish would eat. In general, salt water lures are larger than fresh water lures, because the fish you are going after are also bigger than most fresh water fish and these lures are rigged stronger and use non corrosive hardware. Bigger baits attract bigger fish. Well, that line gets blurry when you talk about musky fishing—and musky fishermen use big baits and are always looking for something different to fish with. So, at some point in time some musky fisherman saw a salt water bait he liked the shape and size of and took it musky fishing. That person also probably adapted the bait by hand painting it in a color (like a fresh water perch color) that musky like to bite on. After some success, he could have gone to his local tackle shop and put pressure on the owner to have some made by the manufacturer of choice, or even wrote the manufacturer direct to have some made. Most of these companies would do that. So a common freshwater color that is not a catalogued color in a salt water bait is more valuable.
In the 1930’s, Zane Gray had the South Bend Co. exclusively produce for him a marlin teaser in a special color. Companies like Creek Chub made it simple for a customer to order special colors. Usually, if you would order 12 of the same bait, you could have Creek Chub paint them any color you would like. I was told that at one point Creek Chub would let customers special order as few as six baits. Wow! Now you realize how crazy it can get. Imagine knowing that there could be as few as six possible baits out there in that special order color (Ka-Ching!). Creek Chub even would stamp “SPECIAL” on the box the lure came in (double Ka-Ching!).
I used to collect Creek Chub Pikies, probably the most popular of all Creek Chub Baits, with millions of them produced from 1920 on. The most popular size and the flag-barer of this series was the model #700, a 4 ¼”-long lure with three treble hooks. At one point, I had more than one hundred different colors or varieties of this bait and I was obsessed with collecting as many of them as I could possibly find. In 2000 I sold them. Although I really didn’t want to, I sold them to help finance a business expansion. There are issues that present themselves at certain times and decisions need to be made at those times. Fortunately for me, I sold them at the peak of the market. After I sold them, I discovered that I was among those people who helped to make the market. When I stopped paying “stupid” prices for colors of 700 pikies that I just had to have (I told you I was obsessed), the economy began to soften as well (I wish I was smart enough to have done the same with the stocks in my IRA!). Other people began to stop paying “stupid prices” for those lures they just had to have and so on and so on.
One of the other factors that also lead to the softening of the lure market was, and is, a problem that by now may seem obvious with color to you—phonies and repaints. As prices were heading upwards by great leaps and bounds in the 90’s there emerged the beginnings of a “you want color, I’ll give you color” market, and that really put an end to the upwards movement of prices. Caveat Emptor is and should be your guide. There are definite ways of telling whether a lure has been repainted. Smell the bait. Yep, if there is a paint odor, pass on the lure. Unfortunately, that isn’t as fool proof as putting the suspect bait in an airtight bag and leaving it out in the sun for a while. When you open the bag and smell paint, well, that means it is a fresh paint job and you have been duped. Also, black lights do help to show off partial repaints and touchups. Touchups will appear as dark spots under a black light.
Prices are lower now because of “past histories” and you have a jump on the next phase of price increases. When the economy and the collecting environment improve, and if you are observant, diligent and careful, this is an opportune time to start adding to your collection with color variations.
“Fishing Lure Collectibles, Second Edition” Dudley Murphy/ Rick Edmisten. Collector Books, 2001
“Collector’s Encyclopedia of Creek Chub” Harold E. Smith, M.D. Collector Books, 2002
“The Fishing Collector’s Bible” R.L. Streater with Rick Edmisten and Dudley Murphy. Collector Books