It’s The Condition! Grading Collectible Fishing Lures

Grade: EX/EX+ The light spots are from the camera.
Grade: Bait, Box and Paperwork are all EX/EX+ A great and desirable combination
Grade: Bait is EX/EX+ (note the extreme scuffs at the edges and the 49 that was written on lid)
Grade: Bait is EX/EX+ Box is EX ( Because of corner edge wear and a crease between the MB of Bomber on lid) Paperwork is VG/G (Because of the color stain)
Grade: Box is VG/G (Tearing to paper and extreme edge wear)
Grade: Bait is EX/EX+(camera created shiny area) Box is EX/EX- (note the wearing and scuffs at the left side)
Grade Fair/Poor ( those white marks are to primer coat and this shows what a worm burn does to a bait)
Grade: VG/VG+
Grade EX/EX- (Problem above eye at right and below head screw at nose, the bait also has numerous hook pointers)
Grade: EX (Note the few pointer or paint scrapes in mid section)
Grade: VG/G (Chipping to paint at cup for hook and numerous age lines)
Grade; Example: (Just an awful bait)
Grade Fair to Poor (Note how deep the gouge is)

1. Most everybody wants perfection, but few have the bucks to pursue it.

2. There are grading guides for almost anything a person collects.

3. Things change and with it so does desirability and demand.

Beginning in 1993, I witnessed a rapid escalation of prices for collectible American-made fishing lures, which lasted approximately nine years. The more perfect the lure, the higher the price paid. With the escalating prices came the dark side. People tried to “create” perfection, to improve on what they wanted to sell the unsuspecting by altering the lure, or creating it by outright forgery. I guess that is inevitable with all collecting. Even though there are a few narrow levels of collectibles that still may have not peaked, in general, the bottom slowly fell out of the fishing collectible basket towards the end of 2001.

When you have a marketplace that isn’t as robust as it once was, a whole new spin on what constitutes value for condition comes alive. With lures, the grading standards that were used by most of us broke down everything into specific grades including: Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Average, Fair, and Poor. These were effective and may still be, but I think they are primarily, though not exclusively, used for dealers when purchasing.

The more choices, the more chances of a buyer to nit pick. Furthermore, because there are so many “common” (low in value and in condition) lures out there, most dealers and advanced collectors just aren’t that interested. It is just too costly and unprofitable to inventory, catalog, and sell these items.

Even though the economy was beginning to change before 9/11(the Japanese had major economic problems and we had our fair share begin too), after that day the deterioration of the fishing collectible market intensified. People just weren’t as anxious to spend stupid money on just any item. I mention the Japanese, since they were very much involved in American made fishing collectibles beginning in the mid 90’s, as their economy declined so did their purchasing power, which negatively affected prices.

At the same time as prices were escalating, many U.S. collectors were willing to pay ridiculous amounts for items that weren’t in the best of shape. These folks probably weren’t concerned with (or weren’t aware of ) adulterations. At fishing tackle conventions, dealers would stock pile “stuff” and price it outrageously knowing that the Japanese, or those of us “who just had to have that special lure”, would buy it. With escalating prices, the influence of E-bay, and later even the Antique Road Show phenomena, fishing tackle began to come out of the woodwork.

There was more reference materials available to everyone and consequently everyone, theoretically, could become an “expert” The adage, ”a little bit of knowledge is dangerous,” became a reality. At garage sales, antique malls and flea markets there were more and more tackle collectors and sellers plus there were always the new converts. Well, the “Perfect Storm” was born. All of a sudden, in a changing economy, there was way to much supply and way to little demand at those high prices. Those dealers and collectors who didn’t adjust prices to the marketplace were left with the same items show after show or list after list. Ah, and, what items were they left with? Tons of the over graded ”middle” ground product and especially junk. What do I mean “middle ground”?

The “middle ground” is a lure in no better than Excellent condition and valued under $1,000. What do I mean by “junk”? Junk, common baits (lures), in horrible condition. What do I mean by over graded? Well, in a rapidly rising market, people aren’t as particular or as critical with the condition, they just “have to have it”, but in a falling market, everyone is more critical and grades tighten up; nothing seems to “slide on by” Looking at auctions prices realized (prices actually paid) I just don’t see that pricing differentials matter much when dealing with lower graded items. Those items aren’t going to sell unless they are sold inexpensively.

I think the following represents a more practical way to look at grading lures:

1.) When I sell an item, I never use the mint word, even if it is. I like to generalize it as Excellent to Excellent Plus (EX/EX+), which means it is new, apparently un-fished, and may approach perfection, or even be there; or then again it may have a tiny imperfection that someone may detect.

2.) Excellent (EX), would still mean an item with very minor flaws or defects and still an attractive item.

3.) Excellent to Excellent Minus (EX/EX-), a ‘tweener grade, it is neither good enough to be EX nor bad enough to be VG. The lure would have a few more problems such as more prominent age lines, pointers, varnish flakes, or other minor flaws.

4.) Very Good to Good (VG/G), it has age lines, minor problems, some minor paint chipping or paint cracking, minor hardware problems but better than just an example and could even have a minor paint touch up.

5.) Fair/Poor (F/P), would imply substantial problems with paint loss, chipping and defects. There also may be some parts loss, paint touch ups, and worm burns (the chemicals in plastic worms will dissolve the paint on lures).

6.) Finally, Example, a grade that includes major paint loss and hardware replacement or the lure could have been completely repainted.

All these grades are affected to the positive side with the addition of an original box and/or paperwork (box inserts). In some cases the box or paperwork can be more valuable than the lure since most were thrown away. The condition of the original box and paperwork are as equally important as the condition of the lure. Today there seems to be a lot of demand for this combination of lure in the correct box with the original paperwork, especially if all these elements are in EX/EX+.

My advice, be careful and know what you are buying or selling. Things change and with it so does desirability and demand. Just because a lure is rare, it doesn’t mean that it is valuable; it’s the condition!

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