August 30, 2009

Early Grand Rapids Fishing Tackle Manufacturers: By Terry McBurney

Michigan has a long reputation as a manufacturer of fishing tackle with the first patent issued to George R. Pierce in 1875, a master gunsmith from Grand Rapids, for his metal “spoon-hook for fishing”. Several other Grand Rapids lure designers figured prominently in the state’s fishing tackle history. Two of the earliest lure makers, Franklin Alger and Frank Nixon, produced baits that are highly coveted by fishing lure collectors today.

The first wood baits produced in Grand Rapids were made by Franklin A. Alger, who was born on May 8, 1862. The 1887-1888 Grand Rapids City Directory listed him as a “carpenter, beds at 515 S. Lafayette”. Later city directories listed his occupation as “clerk”, "carver”, “broker”, and “contractor”.

Alger was an innovative woodworker/craftsman who created at least fifty different lure designs for his friends and for his own enjoyment. He designed inventive diving lips, propellers and blades, hook hangers and other original hardware, and even a lure that would rattle upon retrieve.

There were just two Alger wood baits that were commercially produced by Alger. The first of these was the “Alger’s Getsem”, which he patented in 1916. This 2-¼ inch “chunk-style” wood bait was intended to be virtually weedless when casted. The Getsem was apparently popular because shortly after he began marketing it himself, Alger sold it to the Hastings Sporting Goods Company of Hastings, Michigan. The only production color for either the Alger’s Getsem or the Hastings version is white with five red dots painted on the back of the lure, although Alger painted up different colored Getsems for his own use. The value of an actual Alger’s Getsem is $200-300 in very good condition. If you were lucky enough to find the rare box, you could add at least $1000. The more common Hastings’ Getsem version would be $75 or less.

His second commercially manufactured bait was a 3-½ inch surface bait with a great name, the “Alger’s Tantalizer”. This floating bait came with front and rear spinners. The value of an Alger’s Tantalizer would be $300-400 based on which version it is and condition. Add at least $1000 if it has the very rare box.

The next Grand Rapids lure was manufactured by Frank T. Nixon. Not much is known about him except that he manufactured, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful lures ever made. The only certain production date for Nixon lures is “1914” because this copyright date is printed on the extremely rare cardboard box of “The Aristocrat – Persian Ivory Under-Water Casting and Trolling Minnow”.

Nixon was first listed in the 1903 Grand Rapids City Directory as “brush maker, Grand Rapids Brush Company”. The company most likely was his source for the “Persian Ivory” material from which he made all of his lures. “Persian Ivory” was a fancy name for “Ivoroid”, a creamy ivory-white form of celluloid, the first successful thermoplastic.

The best-known Nixon lure is the “Aristocrat”, an underwater casting and trolling minnow, which came with two unmarked props, a single belly weight, three treble hooks and flawless glass eyes.

Nixon made other styles of his “Persian Ivory” lures, but the Aristocrat minnow is the only Nixon lure that has shown up in a printed box or with paperwork. All Nixon lures are rare, but those with the cardboard box are the rarest. The lures will run from $500 and up based on the condition and the model offered. The value of a Nixon Aristocrat minnow in its cardboard box could go as high as $3,000 and more!

The information above was contributed by Terry McBurney, contributing author, magazine writer and avid collector of antique fishing tackle. During the Grand Rapids Antiques Market, January 2 -3, 2010 at the DeVos Place, he will answer questions and offer free appraisals on all kinds of fishing tackle - lures, reels, rods and other related fishing items. So bring down that “old tackle box” handed down from Grandpa or tucked away in the attic…it might contain some valuable surprises.

#1 Photo - An early wood bait made in Grand Rapids - Alger's Tantalizer.


#2 Photo - The Nixon Aristocrat Minnow was made of celluloid, and early thermoplastic in about 1914.

Visit Terry McBurney January 2-3, 2010 at the Grand Rapids Antiques Market in booth 127. Terry is eager to talk to show goers about their old fishing tackle and interested in buying selected pieces for his collection.