Jim Casada

March 15, 2008

Collecting 'stuff' a passion for outdoorsmen

My long-suffering wife calls it "stuff." That catch-all term refers to all sort of collectibles, mementoes, books, and other items from the world of the outdoors which, for various reasons, catch my fancy. Rest assured I'm not alone in my passion for stuff. I regularly perform evaluations for folks who collect sporting books, and all you have to do to appreciate the level of interest which exists in a wide range of sporting collectibles is do a bit of browsing on eBay.

Similarly, mention of 'treasures in your attic' or 'finds' of considerable value at yards sales or flea markets are commonplace. The Antique Road Show is a fixture on television, and the memorabilia of sport is an integral part of the antique scene. Ours is a society captivated by the past, and material objects associated with life in yesteryear often fetch premium prices. In recent years, the sporting world has become fascinated by such memorabilia.

In some fields, such as autographed baseballs, there is a great deal of fraud and deceit, but to date relatively little of this has occurred in the antiques of outdoor sports. However, as prices and demand for old fishing lures, bamboo fly rods, vintage turkey calls, classic books and the like increase, more spurious items are likely to emerge.

That is reality, and the outdoorsman, whether a serious collector or merely an individual who cherishes an old gun which is a family heirloom, owes it to himself to be aware of growing values for sporting goods. This is doubly so if you intend to collect in one field or another. Similarly, if you are the fortunate owner of some collectible items, it is to your distinct advantage to have a sound idea of what they are worth.

To that end, whether you are a serious collector, someone who casually purchases an old lure or decoy from time to time, or simply the 'keeper' of a treasured Parker shotgun which has been passed down through the family for generations, knowledge is strength. There are several ways of acquiring such knowledge.

If you are in the market to sell, there are experts -- appraisers, auctioneers, and consultants -- who can tell you what you have and what it is worth. Of course, that will normally come at a price if you want much in the way of detailed information. On a personal level, for example, I have studied, collected, and written about old sporting books for most of my adult life, and seldom does a week go by when I don't get some sort of inquiry. I always gladly talk to the caller or emailer, but if much more is involved, I just give information on my rates. Any reputable person in the business will take a similar approach.

If you are collecting, as opposed to selling or thinking about selling, it is important to recognize authenticity, understand the importance of condition in about any type of sporting collectible, and to realize that in the final analysis any item is worth precisely what someone is willing to pay for it. Much knowledge of this sort comes through experience, including browsing catalogs, attending sales and auctions, following bidding on eBay, talking with fellow collectors, and, sadly, making some mistakes.

However, there are a number of books which can be invaluable in terms of general guidance, and for anyone seriously interested in the antiques of outdoor sport, some reading in them is highly recommended. A fine example is 'Sporting Collectibles' by Dr. Stephen Irwin.

The author, with a bit of assistance from experts in specialized fields of collecting, touches a lot of bases. Among them are sporting rifles and shotguns, shell boxes, and powder horns, cans and flasks, and posters in the firearms field; duck decoys, calls, stamps, and prints for waterfowling enthusiast; fish decoys, lures, rods, reels, and fly fishing paraphernalia in the angling world; sporting books; and more.

Extensive as this list may seem, it omits about as much as it covers. Turkey calls, for example, have become highly collectible, and in the last decade at least five books have been published on the subject. Old sporting magazines are a fascinating and wide ranging field, and sporting art and sculpture has long had great appeal (and in many cases involved big bucks). In truth, almost anything associated with sport in days gone by -- from old hunting and fishing licenses to memorabilia linked with great names in sporting history -- has collecting appeal.

Irwin's book is a fine introduction to this fascinating world, and there are many other volumes which afford interesting guidance. Among these are Ralf Coykendall, Jr.'s 'Sporting Collectibles Price Guide,' Jerry Patterson's 'Antiques of Sport,' Howard Harlan's books on duck calls and turkey calls, numerous bibliographies dealing with sporting books, the annual editions of 'Shooter's Bible,' 'Gun Trader's Guide,' and others. Each issue of 'Sporting Classics' magazine carries articles and columns on one type of collectible or another. If you are sufficiently serious, there are even organized groups in many fields of collecting. For example, the Remington Society is a quite active group comprised of folks who collect Remington guns along with the many other items -- posters, calendars, shotshell boxes, and the like -- associated with "Big Green."

There is no question that collecting the antiques of sport can provide a great deal of joy. Knowledge will increase that joy, and it will also help avoid the heartache of spending too much for a piece of what is essentially trash or receiving too little for a true treasure. In short, in the collecting of sporting memorabilia as in so many areas of life, in knowledge there is strength.


Mid-March, in this part of the world, is a time of eager anticipation combined with a welcome chance to shake off winter's cabin fever. It's time to be in the woods doing some scouting for the turkey opener, dancing jigs in front of crappie as they move into the shallows, or casting jigs-and-pigs or spinnerbaits to bass doing the same. It's also a fine occasion for a walk to look at the first wildflowers in bloom, notice the birds which seem almost hyperactive as they commence courtship, or just to savor a fine spate of spring weather.

Related content