Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Voices from the Past: Oliver's 1988 Tackle Auction

As Lang's Week (the week preceding the semi-annual Lang's Auction) is always a festive time around here, it often causes me to reflect on auctions past and present. Recently collector Steve Kuchman sent me a page from the past -- a write up in the august Maine Antique Digest (dated Sep. 1988) covering a seminal event in the history of collecting: the first really big-time tackle auction.

Yes, 28 years ago this June 25th, a rather important event occurred in the history of tackle collating. Richard W. Oliver auctioned off a huge estate of prizes for tackle collectors, and in so doing helped launch the Silver Age of Tackle Collecting. Yes, I'm such a nerd for this stuff that I have periodized the history of collecting. As I see it, the "eras" of tackle collecting go as follows:

The Formative Age of Tackle Collecting (1800s - 1970)

The Golden Age of Tackle Collecting (1970 - 1988)

The Silver Age of Tackle Collecting (1988 - 2001)

The Internet Age of Tackle Collecting (2001 - Present)

Why the 1988 Oliver's Auction was so important, besides the fact it broke a half million dollars (a feat remarkable for that day and only surpassed by Lang's -- the successor to Oliver's -- today), is that it set many memorable price records. Furthermore, as the write up in the Digest suggests, it was also widely covered by the media.

What were some of the items sold? Well, you can't go wrong with a Haskell minnow, then as now. This neat Haskell pictured below netted $22,000 (the equivalent of $43,300 today).

The Dr. Fowler's Gem reel, which we've written about here on the blog before, finished with a hammer price of $15,400 ($30,300 in today's money).

Other items that came in at high prices included a B.F. Meek & Sons fly reel ($18,150), a Comstock Flying Hellgramite ($9075), and a Billinghurst in the box ($12,650). An H.S. Gillum 6'9" in a labeled tube came in at $13,200, a record for a rod at the time (since broken by Lang's a number of times).

Don't think there weren't bargains to be had, though. A huge tackle chest from the estate of the legendary Zebulon Pike -- containing no less than 11 Ed. vom Hofe reels and a bunch of other Victorian tackle -- sold for a reasonable $3850 or just $350 per reel.

Nostalgia is well and good for its own sake, but sometimes it's good to recall seminal events such as the 1988 Oliver's Auction, which ushered in an unbroken stretch of remarkable growth for the hobby of tackle collecting that ended only in 2001.

Are we on the edge of another seminal event such as this with the upcoming Lang's auction? That's the great thing about Lang's Week … there is excitement everywhere and there is always the chance than ten years from now, you can look back and say "I bought this lure/reel/rod/book at THAT auction!"

-- Dr. Todd


Unknown said...

This was an interesting read. I live in a town where everybody loves to fish and I think they would probably understand the significance of this auction more than I do. I'm less of a fisher and more a fish consumer!
Claudia Rosenburg | Wilcox Bait Tackle

Anonymous said...

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