Published: November 4, 2015
Review and Onsite Photos by R. Scudder Smith
Catalog Photos Courtesy Morphy Auctions
DENVER, PENN. — “This was our first auction of antique fishing tackle and related items and we are very pleased with the results,” Dan Morphy, president and founder of Morphy Auctions, said on the Monday following the Saturday, October 24, sale. A well-designed and colorful catalog pictured and described the 551 lots to be sold, and at the end of the day the total reached $563,000, with premium, against a low estimate for the sale of $410,000.
The success of this auction has already reflected on the auction schedule for 2016, when both a spring and a fall auction of antique fishing tackle are planned. “We are already talking to some important consignors and the sales will offer some of the best pieces to come to auction,” Dan said. This new division of Morphy Auctions is overseen by two consultants, Joe Stagnitti, fishing and tackle, and Tom Noll, knives.
“Over a period of two months before the auction we had several hundred people preview the sale at our gallery,” Dan said, also noting that collectors in this field are used to bidding online as well, substantiated by the 600-plus bidders who used the Internet. Several hundred phone bidders made use of the eight phones available, and the book was loaded with left bids that were registered by the auctioneer. About 40 people made it to the gallery and did their share of the bidding, as well as enjoying a tasty pizza for lunch, along with other treats and drinks all day.
“It all went great, very smooth for the first one, and we set a number of auction records,” Joe Stagnitti, both consultant and the director of antique and collectible fishing tackle, said. He is looking forward to next year and is already talking to collectors and seeking consignments for the spring and fall auctions planned. “We are looking to offer around 500 to 550 lots per auction, but if we happen on a very large consignment there is a possibility that we may increase to 600 lots per day and even run two days,” he said. Joe has a long history in the fishing lure business and did his first show in 1983 in Dallas. He has been collecting since 1989 and is a well-known authority in the field.
Andy Ourant called the major portion of the auction, starting off with a Creek Chub Dinger, black with white head, stenciled, very good plus to excellent condition, that sold within estimate for $240, followed two lots later by another Creek Chub 100 Wiggler in goldfish, glass eyes, marked diving lip, excellent plus condition, that went over the $700 high estimate, selling for $1,140. All prices quoted in this review include the buyer’s premium.
A Heddon 177 heavy casting minnow with box remnants, finished in white body with red eye shadow and red hand painted gill marks, went over the $500 high estimate, bringing $720; a Jamison’s Nemo, solid yellow, Chicago, all original and measuring 2¼ inches with belly double and weedless tail single hooks, red painted hanging belly weight, fine condition, brought $480, just under the high estimate, and an unknown tarpon bait with spinnered tail, in a box, measured 4 inches long with hand cut, tin spinning tail. It made three times the high estimate at $3,000.
Selling for just over the high estimate at $1,560 was a Louis Rhead large Nature Frog, the largest made by this company at 3½ inches. A lot of five Kenneth Trader figural fish baits, considered folk art, are carved and painted and sold within estimate at $840. All are in excellent condition and, more than likely, are one of a kind. In beautiful condition was a HL Leonard fly rod, 8-foot in three sections with two tips, German silver ferrules and possibly refinished. It went just over estimate at $840.
A handcarved fish plaque, unknown artist, 15½ by 12 inches, featuring a brook trout and a crappie, age unknown, exceeded the $500 high estimate, selling for $1,560. Several complete calendars were offered, including a 1917 Bristol Fishing Rods example, 26½ by 40½ inches, by Philip R. Goodwin, showing a couple taking shelter from the rain under a canoe, advertising “Meek Reels” and “Blue Grass Reels,” great condition, that went for $2,040, over the $1,500 high estimate. An 1870s WD Chapman large-size International Minnow had a rich patina and full feather treble, fully functional back clip, and Chapman swivel. The catalog noted that it is “One of the top 5 or 10 Chapman baits that every serious metal collector should own.” This one sold within estimate at $2,400; also selling within estimate was lot 103, a Creek Chub experimental jointed black sucker, 6½ inches long, with oversized screw eye hardware, red painted diving lip and large glass eyes, for $4,250.
Selling at the high estimate, $3,000, was a Heddon’s Dowagiac fish decoy #400 with box and tissue, glass eyes, green fancy back; excellent and clean metal tail. It was followed by an early Heddon & Son #300 surface minnow, circa 1904, with fancy green back, large red hand painted gill marks and yellow iris eyes. It sold for almost twice the high estimate at $3,500. Making $6,600, just over estimate, was the Redfin Floating Bait, with box, from James Donaly, Newark, N.J. It has the standard white body with red color, side hook model with three single hooks to comply with New Jersey laws. The box is in super condition with very clean label.
A colorful Charles Kellman fly rod Baitfish Minnow, “one of Kellman’s most beautiful works,” is reddish orange and features painted eyes and scales, handcarved gill detail and orange fins. It measures 2 5⁄8 inches long and went for $870, over the high estimate. The Automatic Minnow was patented July 29, 1913, by Charles Lane of Madrid, N.Y., and “is one of the finest lures ever created.” It is of hollow metal, glass eyes and measures 2 5⁄8 inches and is finished in brown back, silver sides, white belly with tiny hand painted scales and just a hint of red on the mouth and gills. According to the catalog, “This is one of the most ingenious inventions in fishing tackle … as the bait moves through the water, the metal tail rotates, causing the side fins to move up and down.” Surprisingly, it sold below the low estimate, $2,100, for $1,680.
Selling for $3,750, over estimate, was a Shakespeare Rhodes Wooden Minnow bait and box, #43 model, 3¼ inches long, with only three treble hooks, standard bowtie props, glass eyes, most likely dating circa 1907. It was followed by an early Shakespeare #64 Muskellunge Minnow, 5 3⁄8 inches long, with blended green back, red belly with fine red hand painted gill marks. It sold for twice the high estimate, bringing $1,080.
Among the reels in the sale was lot 205, a Meek & Milam No. 5, Frankfort, Ky., with German silver Kentucky reel, 2 1⁄8 inches wide, fully functional and tight click and drag knobs. It went under the low estimate at $2,160. It was followed by a Peter A. Altmaeir 1869 patent handle reel and rod combination from the Harrisburg, Penn., inventor and gunsmith. The handle reel measures 6 1⁄8 inches and it is attached to a 5-foot 11-inch rod that is in beautiful condition, complete with brass banded trumpet guides. It sold within estimate for $7,200.
A green painted metal creel, maker and vintage unknown, 12 inches at the base, definitely unique, brought $360, within estimate, and a red and gold painted bait tin, 7 by 2 inches, sold for $330. A Creek Chub experimental Musky Jigger with frog finish, 4½ inches long, glass eyes and oversized hooks, went just over twice the high estimate, making $4,200.
An Underwater Expert Minnow by James Heddon & Son, Dowagiac, Mich., was popular in 1903 and has a short body with two belly weights. The metal parts have a wonderful patina and some still show the original gold wash. It sold at the high estimate for $3,000, and was followed by another Heddon bait, a #401 Bucktail Surface Minnow that was first produced in 1907 and lasted for only a few years at most. This example in about excellent condition, finished in the standard rainbow coloration, sold within estimate for $3,300.
The Colorado Floating Moth Co., Inc., of Denver, produced some of the finest and most collectible of all fly rod baits and included in the auction was a Floating Moth fly bait, 2 1⁄8-inch wingspan, that went over estimate for $420. The first full-time production bait from Wm. Shakespeare was the Revolution, aluminum body and spinners, clearly marked PAT APPLD FOR on both the bait and the rare black box. The high estimate was $2,000, and the lot realized $3,300. A product of the South Bend Bait Co., was the Muskie Surf Oreno. This example was in excellent condition, finished in the RSF pattern, two-hook model, painted tack eye and clear back stencil. The high estimate was $250 and the final bid was $720.
Selling for $1,200, twice the high estimate, was a Speer Family Surface Frog, 4-inch wood body, hand carved and painted with front mounted aluminum spinner. It has black glass eyes, red painted mouth, and dates to the 1920s. A Fred Keeling Expert in maroon box, the minnow with round belly finished in a beautiful blended gold pattern, spring loaded side hook hangers, 3 5⁄8 inches long, went over the $2,500 high estimate, achieving $4,500. A lot of 18 Peckinpaugh fly baits and boxes, all new in their original one-piece cellophane window boxes, include a cricket, roach, blue gill, Taylor frog, locust bug, minnow, hopper, etc, sold over the $800 high estimate at $1,440.
Among the knives in the sale was a M.S.A. Co., Gladstone, Mich., Dall Deweese knife, 7 inches long, hard wood handle, non-original sheath, circa 1905–15, that sold for just over twice the high estimate at $1,560. Selling for $1,320, just shy of twice the high estimate, was a copper tackle box full of American and British tackle of both early and later vintage pieces. An exceptional Louis Rhead Trout Minnow, 3½-inch-long wood body, finished in blended dark green, blue and light green with black and yellow trout spots and extraordinary painted head detail, appears to be missing the two glass eyes, but was still bid to $1,800, over the $1,000 high estimate. Two lots later, lot 422, a Louis Rhead fly rod Nature Frog, tiny size, went for close to three times the high estimate, finishing at $5,400. This frog measures a mere 1¾ inches long and has tiny glass eyes with a bright green, yellow, black and red spotted frog finish, and small belly double hooks. The $300 high estimate was left way behind when a salesman’s sample wood bait, unknown maker, sold for $1,920. It measures 9½ inches and is finished in a beautiful dace scale pattern. It has heavy-duty metal plate mouth line tie and is in excellent condition.
At the end of the day it was obvious that this sale had broken the ice for Morphy Auctions to move, well-grounded, into this field of selling antique fishing tackle. And it all happened with a lot of hard work, starting with a handsome hardcover catalog, well researched, that is sure to take its place on the shelf among other reference material. Expert consultants stepped forward, and the well-oiled Morphy Auctions machine made it all happen.
Adding to the success of the auction was the handful of records set, giving the sale even more solid ground to stand on. Those records include Lot 163, E.C. Adams Jersey Expert with box and paper, $19,200: Lot 176, the Moonlight Paw Paw Underwater Minnow with box, $18,000: Lot 266, Wiggle Tail Minnow from the Wiggle Tail Minnow Co., Detroit, circa 1912, $22,800: and Moonlight Dreadnought bait and box, Paw Paw, Mich., $28,800. These lots are all illustrated in this review.
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