Problems with Fishing LuresBy Dr. Michael Echols
Problems with Fishing Lures
Black light tests - how to make an examination
Rare antique fishing lures have been selling for ever increasing amounts. Reports in the antique press have shown examples of rare lures and boxes selling in the $15,000 to $30,000 range. eBay is also replete with high-dollar sales between individuals. While most high-dollar lure sales occur in the background, a few outstanding sales get reported in the press.
As the case with many other categories of antiques which have increased rapidly in value, reproduction and reworked lures have become widespread. The situation with lure fakes began around 1999 and has increased in intensity as values have continued to escalate. In light of these facts, I decided I needed to experiment to figure out how best to use a black light to detect lure fakes.
Test Subjects: At the time I undertook my experiment, I had a collection of about eight hundred excellent condition ca. 1903-1940 wood lures, about half of which were bought between 1995 and 1997 before prices went through the roof and fakes became common. For the most part, there was no problem at the time with direct reproductions, but rather with touch-ups and repaints. The majority of the collection was purchased from sellers who contacted me through my web site. Pieces bought through my web site provided lures from the field that had not previously been in collector hands or at shows.
Methodology: All eight hundred lures were viewed under black light at one sitting. A typical hand held, battery operated black light was used. The test took place at night and the room was totally dark except for one small red light on the floor to avoid night blindness. Each lure was rotated to inspect the full paint job and I stayed in a given company/maker to compare the paint only for that company or maker. In other words when I tested Heddon, I tested all the Heddon lures from oldest to the newest lures.
Findings: The older paint from pre-1940 pieces varied considerably from present day paint in the degree of fluorescence. I had made some test "lures" for comparison by painting dowels with modern paint and lacquer like those used to do repaints. This was done to check for obvious differences. The newer paint and varnish was totally different from older oil based paint used on early pre-1940 lures. The newer paint is almost fluorescent as it glows when the ultra violet light hits it. The older paints, as found on lures by Heddon, Pflueger, South Bend, Shakespeare, etc. were much duller and had a kind of brownish cast due to the thick lacquer. Newer lures from younger companies like Creek Chub had brighter paint and were much harder to detect as being different from current paint chemistry. Thick or thin varnish (lacquer) greatly changes the overall cast of the color. Thick varnish as found on early South Bend, Heddon, and the higher grade Pfluegers, gives the brownish cast. Thin varnish lets the underlying `paint' color shine through better.
Any lure which had a scrape to the varnish showed up as a dark spot against the over all background of the original paint. Turning the light on and off to inspect a given area was telling as you could see where the varnish was even slightly modified.
Early Shakespeare lures showed the greatest variation as there seem to be multiple layers of color and any scratch or rub drastically changed the look of the paint under the defect. In general, early pre-1910 Shakespeare lures, have very thin or no varnish. The solid yellow of early, pre-1908, Shakespeare lures is non-fluorescing and looks very dull.
The greatest surprise came when we compared three supposedly mint all-yellow lures. The lures were a 1920 Heddon 150 fat body in L-rig, a 1926 Heddon 150 slim body in L-rig, and a Musky five-hook ca. 1916 Shakespeare minnow. All three were very high dollar lures. The first was a known field-find Heddon fat body 150 in the correct box, which dated to the early 1920s. This Heddon served as the "known original." I knew the Heddon was `right', but the other two were suspect due to their condition and the fact they had been shipped in for evaluation by two different individuals. The solid yellow on the known Heddon lure turned a light yellow under the black light, but the other two turned an identical solid mustard brown instead of the natural light yellow of the known Heddon 150.
I placed all three yellow lures under a 30X dissecting microscope and checked for crazing in the paint, looked for paint on the eyes and around the hardware. What I found was the hardware on the two suspect lures were lightly dented, which was inconsistent with the "mint" paint. Perfect paint is not consistent with damaged hardware. The conclusion in the end was the two suspect lures were painted by the same person and just happened to turn up at the same time.
Other findings were that early 1905-1908 Shakespeare, which has little or no varnish, consistently looked the same from lure to lure. The same with early Pflueger and the early miscellaneous companies we examined.
Conclusions: The trick with a black light, like grading, is to look at as many examples from one company as you can at one time. Examine older collections and compare paint within a given company. For Creek Chub collectors, this is a real eye opener as the paint varies greatly due to the variety of lures and the time frame when they were painted. But, in the end, you have to compare age to age and company to company. There is no one "cook book" answer on fakes. You have to compare lots of lures and then cross examine your findings against specimens known to be original to get a basis for comparison.
You can do this same kind of examination at lure shows, but you have to pick your time because of the lighting and traffic. At one show, I had a night time safari to take small groups of collectors around the show with the lights down after hours and looked at lures on each table. It was very instructional as we found several obvious fakes or repaints.
The other aspect, which has to be considered, is using a 10X loupe or magnifying glass to inspect the underlying paint and hardware for variations from the norm. Hardware will often be a telltale for mint lures as it is difficult to have perfect paint and beat-up hardware on the same lure. Checking paint on Heddon lures for deep crazing is essential to gain an understanding of the characteristics of old and new paint. If someone has removed hardware to repaint a lure, there will often be distortions to the screw edges from application of a screwdriver. Genuinely old but worn lures that have been repainted to simulate mint condition will generally have dents in the hardware. Always check the eyes for over-painting at the edges of the glass and varnishing over of dents. Variations in storage may account for different problems, but experience is the best teacher.
Other than knowing someone with extensive experience, your own experience is the best teacher. Repaints are obvious once you look at a collection of early lures and see what the real paint looks like under the black light. Knowledge of original colors from the factory is always a great help. You cannot hope to learn about black light use unless you have a frame of reference by looking at similar age lures, which are known to be original.
Dr. Michael Echols has contributed multiple articles to the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club publications, to various antique tackle-related web sites, and is a contributor of articles and photos to Luckey's Old Fishing Lures, a lure and tackle reference book. .