We know artificial lures have been in use almost forever. Artificial fishing lures have been depicted on walls in Egyptian tombs, in Greek and Roman art work and even in a Prince Valiant comic strip. In the age of Arthur, about the fourth or fifth century AD, the comic strip showed the valiant Prince fishing in a salmon stream using flies made from animal hair and feathers.
Prior to the middle of the 20th century, more Americans were liv ing in rural areas than in cities. With the exception of a few of the larger cities, the sale of fishing tackle was a sideline of hardware stores. The source of fishing supplies for the hardware stores was from jobbers or wholesalers. One such jobber was William Mills and Sons Tackle Co. in New York City. In the early years they were the principle supplier to any business dealing in fishing tackle. Originally the founders of the Mills Tackle Co. owned and operated a hook and needle manufacturing company in England. They opened their business in New York in the 1820’s. Although they manufactured some tackle in New York, most of what they sold was imported from England. The company was still in business as late as 1970. I’m not sure of their status is now.
The reason I mention the Mills Tackle Co. is because I had an opportunity to read a reproduction of one of their early catalogs, dating back to the late 1800’s. In the catalog they advertize an artificial lure representing a minnow. It is the earliest such ad I know about. In fact there were several replicas of minnows with names like the Protean Minnow and the Caledonian Minnow. There were sold by the dozen, costing between $4 and $12. Apparently a very popular lure at the time was the Devon minnow. It came in a variety of sizes and colors. The claim was that it would catch bass, trout and pickerel. It is also interesting to note that the Mills Tackle Co. offered soft rubber baits at the time. They advertized a rubber crawfish, patented in 1878, for 40 cents each and a soft rubber frog for $3.60 per dozen.
By my mid teen years I was completely addicted to fishing. Whenever I had any money, I would buy fishing lures: usually from a sporting goods store in Norfolk, VA. As best I can remember, I paid about $1.25 for each plug I bought. After a couple of years I had acquired quite a collection. Included in my collection were lures like: Heddon’s crazy Crawler, South Bend’s Bass Oreno, Arbogast’s Hula Popper and Jitterbug, the Dalton Special and many by Creek Chub. Many members of the Striper Club would remember these lures and probably use them because they still work.
At this time of year, we all get a plethora of fishing catalogs. Being the addicted fisherman that I am, I always review the catalogs just to see what’s new. I couldn’t help but notice some lures, particularly the type that has multiple joints, that sell for $25. The Mills Tackle Co. mentioned above, sold a multiple jointed Minnow imitation in the early 1900s’ for 75 cents. It seems as far as artificial lures are concerned, not much has changed except for the price.
Good luck and keep the lines tight Paul