Published Sunday, October 2, 2005
Rarest fishing lure gets special care from new owner
By ALAN CLEMONS, The Huntsville Times, GUNTERSVILLE, Ala.
Occasionally, Kerry Chatham will take the remarkably pristine lure out of the vault and admire it, wonder about its travels over the years, maybe gently spin the 146-year old tail that still moves fluidly in front of two massive barbed hooks.
Chatham is a father to two teen-age daughters, a husband to an antique-loving school teacher, a successful financial investment planner, a passionate angler and a fishing lure collector. He enjoys horseback riding, fishing bass tournaments and helping his 15-year old daughter foster her growing love of the outdoors.
Very quietly, in January 2004, Chatham also became the owner of the 10-inch Haskell Minnow, the rarest fishing lure in the world.
Although it is believed there are approximately 20 Haskell bronze or copper minnows in five sizes, Chatham has the only 10-inch model known to exist. It was the first articulated bait ever patented, receiving Patent #25,507 on Sept. 20, 1859, as a trolling lure designed by Riley Haskell of Painesville, Ohio.
"There's probably been four (owners)," said Chatham, who also owns three smaller Haskell minnows. "The patent was 1859, but this was made before that ... probably about 1850, well before the Civil War.
"We feel like it probably is (the only one), because it is so big and it was not feasible to make that piece and try to fish with it. That's why you see so many of the (smaller) bass and pike size, and not many of the muskie. That's why we only have found three of those."
Chatham declined to divulge the amount he paid to the previous owner, Tracey Shirey of South Carolina. He and Shirey were the final bidders in a November 2003 auction, with Shirey paying $101,200.
Shirey reportedly said he only would sell if he could double his investment. He kept it about three months before selling to Chatham.
Since then, Chatham said, he has had half a dozen "serious offers, which I consider to be more than what I paid." One person offered $500,000, which Chatham declined.
"I don't really want to sell it," he said. "It's not the money. It's timing. If I get involved in a big project and want to sell it, I might."
The Haskell muskie, of which three are known to exist, measures 71/2 inches. A 6-inch version is believed to have been made, along with 41/2 and 31/2 models. All are of the same basic design: two-piece bronze or copper sheet hammered in the design of a fish, with an internal axle on which the tail spins.
Chatham has been collecting fishing and sporting memorabilia for about 25 years. He is a member of the National Fishing Lure Collectors Club, a 5,000-member international organization he says is vital to the collectors who search for specific items and the history behind them.
"The first piece I had was a jointed Heddon Vamp," he said. "A friend had given me his granddaddy's beat-up tackle box. I thought it was neat and I thought I knew a lot. Back then you could find things at yard sales and I didn't learn about the club until a couple of years later.
"I went to a show and was blown away when I saw 300 tables covered in fishing tackle. I really thought I knew something, so that was an eye-opening experience."
Chatham has a wide variety of fishing collectibles, many of which are on display now for a short time at the Guntersville Museum of Art. The Haskell Minnows are not, although he is considering putting together a show that would include them.
"They wanted to do something related to fishing since we have tournaments here and there is such a history of fishing in Guntersville," he said. "We're planning a `roadshow' of sorts in a few weeks for people to bring in things for appraisals."
Chatham's collection also includes sporting artwork, pieces sparked by the mentoring of the late and well-known outdoors illustrator C.E. Monroe of Huntsville. At one time, Monroe was considered one of the best outdoors illustrators in the country.
But the Haskell Minnow is perhaps Chatham's grandest acquisition. Haskell was a gunsmith by trade and supplied Kentucky-style percussion rifles to the Union forces during the Civil War. Chatham has one of those rifles, as well as a bullet mold.
"This (muskie) bait has bluing like on a gun," Chatham said, pointing to his Haskell muskie lure. "The patent papers say it was a silver bath. Obviously his production of these would have fallen off during the war, which may be one reason there aren't as many of them."
Chatham keeps his Haskells locked in a vault. But occasionally, he takes them out, just as a collector enjoys a fine painting or an outstanding vintage wine.
"You get an appreciation holding it, seeing how it works, seeing the craftsmanship and everything," he said. "Even if you're not a lure collector, you can look at that and see that it's neat. It has some eye appeal to it. It has a wide appeal to a lot of people."
Information from: The Huntsville Times.
World Record Lure
A"Giant" Haskell Minnow sold for $101,200 (including 10% bp) at Lang's Tackle Auction on Nov. 8 in Boxborough, Mass. Reported the most historically significant 19th century American lure to be sold at public auction, it was made by gunsmith Riley Haskell, and a pre-Civil War patent was issued for it in 1859. The Haskell Minnow was the first American truly fish-shaped lure with a revolving tail. Before the Haskell Minnow, metal lures in this country were flat spoon or spinner type baits. The Haskell Minnow is copper and hollow bodied with scale detail and well defined fins. This is the only known example of this oversized lure, measuring 10 inches long.
The Giant Haskell Minnow
lure resting on its wooden, slide-top box.
The slide top wood box has an incised "R. HASKELL" on the end. Because Haskell was a gun maker, it is not clear as to whether or not the box was specifically made for the bait or if it was a gun parts box that the lure fit into. However, it is the only known marked wood box to accompany a Haskell Minnow of any size.