By: Rob Newell

Jett's collection of limited production Case knives that he bought from Case Cutlery's first Plant Manager, James Giles. Included in the photo is a copy of Giles book, The First 100 Years of Case, and the paper work which certifies the rare Case knives.

In the antique lure trade, Lloyd Jett is well known for his extensive collection of rare Florida lures. He retains his private collection of antique lures at his home in the rolling hills of North Florida near Tallahassee.

Observing Jett's lure collection provides more than a lesson in old fishing lures; it's a lesson in Florida's unique art history. Each handcrafted wooden piece is a historical sneak peek into the innovative minds of turn-of-the-century pioneers who plied Florida's waters for game fish.

However, while perusing Jett's lure collection it's easy to get distracted by the myriad of antique knives he has on display alongside his lures. Shiny eye-catching knives of varying makes, models, shapes, sizes, colors, and textures line display cases throughout his showroom.

Like his antique lures, each knife has a history and a value. But unlike his lures, Jett does not know the history or values of the knives.

"I have hundreds of knives a lot of them antique knives but I have no idea what I really have here," says the 67-year-old Florida native. "I know all about antique fishing lures. I've spent a better part of my life studying and trading antique tackle; I know it inside and out. But I really don't know a thing about all these knives."

Jett contends that he never intentionally set out to collect knives. Knife collecting happened quite by accident a spin-off from his lure collecting.

"I've always been fascinated by lures and knives," he says. "I can remember going down to Buddy's Hardware in Tallahassee in the early 50's and spending hours looking at lures and knives in display cases. I couldn't afford the wooden lures back then so a buddy of mine and I would copy them. We would carve lures ourselves, put hooks on them and catch fish on them."

Over the course of the next decade, Jett, who was also an avid bass angler, accumulated several tackle boxes of wooden lures. Some lures he had bought, some were given to him, but many were his own handcrafted lures.

But in 1965 he lost all of his tackle to a thief.

"I was in a bad car accident," he recalls. "I had all of my tackle in the car at the time of the accident. When I finally got out of the hospital and went to get my things out of my car at the body shop, my tackle boxes had been stolen."

Friends and family knew Jett was devastated by the loss of his beloved lures. Consequentially, a few folks donated their old tackle boxes full of tackle to him. From those boxes sprung a tackle collecting passion. One man's trash is another man's treasure and nothing could be truer about Lloyd Jett and old tackle boxes. 

Little Treasure Chests

"People were looking to get rid of tackle boxes back then," laughs Jett. "Wives didn't want the old things sitting around the house because they were full of dangerous stuff hooks, knives, scalers, stringers women wanted those things out of the house. Plus, if the tackle box was gone, then the husband would be less inclined to fish. So old tackle boxes were easy to find."

Tackle boxes full of ancient "worthless" wood lures became more plentiful in the 70's when lure manufacturers began mass producing cheaper modern lures from plastic. It was during those years that Jett made a bull run on old tackle boxes across the country. He began buying tackle boxes from antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales.

A collection of fish scalers recovered from the same old tackle boxes that produced his lures and knives.

As an Insurance Regulator for the State of Florida, Jett's work kept him on the road checking Florida insurance records in other states. But insurance was not the only thing he was checking up on.

He would purposely line-up insurance visits to coincide with big antique sales or flea markets. Even if nothing big going on, he would comb the local classifieds for garage sales and estate sales.

"Folks at these sales wouldn't sell you just one lure you had to buy the whole tackle box," he says. "And I bought dozens and dozens of boxes."

With each box Jett uncovered a small treasure chest full of fishing collectibles.

"At the time, I had no idea that any of this stuff had any value," he says. "I was just enthralled with the old handcrafted wooden lures. And every tackle box had a fishing knife it was an automatic."

Jett often kept the best looking lures and threw the knives and other stuff in a junk box or gave them away to friends.

He kept scavenging archaic fishing tackle and in the mid 1980's he learned that an antique lure market was quickly gaining momentum across the country.

Jett began studying books about antique tackle. He joined the NFLCC (National Fishing Lures Collectors Club) in 1987 and began attending antique lure meets and conventions. He obsession with antique lures hit a frenzied pitched in the 80's.

It was not until the early 90's that Jett discovered that some of those, "old fishing knives," that had been thrown into the corner of the garage might also have some value.

"I took a handful of old knives up to my hunting camp to give to some of my friends," Jett recalls. "One of the guys who had dabbled in collecting said that one of the knives was a rare Case knife and that it was comparable to an antique Heddon lure in the tackle business. That's when I became a little more interested in knives."

A Chance Meeting

Like any good collector, Lloyd Jett has the uncanny ability of being at the right place at the right time. His gift for good timing had paid off handsomely while buying up old tackle boxes across the country in the 70's and 80's.

But it was Jett's complete chance meeting with a gentleman named James Giles in 1992 that inspired him to take knife collecting to another level.

"I was in a hardware store in Sarasota," Jett recounts. "And like always, I stopped to look at some of the knives in the display case. This fellow walked up to me and asked, 'Do you like knives?' And I began telling him about my collecting and all of the knives I had acquired. He introduced himself and we hit it off immediately"

Another one of Jett's favorite displays. This case includes: turn-of-the century knives from Marble; Puma knives with metal "Priests"; K-Bar's Zane Grey series; and some rare Case, Kinfolk, and Remington knives.

Remarkably, Giles had been the first Plant Manager at the Case Knives factory in Pennsylvania. Since retiring to Florida, he had become the official Case Knives historian and even authored a book entitled Case The First 100 Years.

"He invited me to his house that very night," Jett says. "We stayed up for hours discussing knives."

Before Giles retired from the Case factory, he was given first pick of knives in the company's vault. The collection included many prototypes, limited productions, and first time production knives from Case's early years. Giles had certified each knife with Case letterhead describing the materials the knife was made from, its production process, and its intended use.

As if running into Giles was not a windfall of good fortune in itself, Giles then offered Jett an opportunity to purchase some of the rare Case Knives, including the certified paperwork. Jett jumped at the chance. Now an original Case Knives display case with the certified one-a-kind knives is the crown jewel of his knife collection.

Collector Lloyd Jett shows off his "George Washington" knife by Imperial.

In addition to the Case collection, he has sorted through hundreds of his other knives and assembled several antique knife collections in display cases.

            He has old knives from Case, Marble, Kinfolk, K-Bar, Puma, Remington, Camillus, Colonial, Imperial, Queen, and L.L. Bean. Each knife bears its own set of features.

"The traditional fishing knifes had a main blade, a fish scaler, and a hook disgorger for removing hooks from a fish's mouth," Jett says as he points to knives in his collection. "Others had features like a built in sharpening stone or a small gaff. These big metal balls on these Puma knives are call priests which were used to knock the fish out before hoisting it aboard."

            As he shows off his knife collection, he explains other specialties in his collection. "These with a wooden handle and a fixed triangular blade are turn-of-the-century knives made by Marble," he points out. "These are K-bar limited edition Zane Grey knives with Zane Grey's signature on the blade. And these are rare Case knives where the blade slides into the handle like modern day utility knife."

            "You'll like this he says," producing a rather large pocketknife from a drawer, "This is called the "George Washington" by Imperial. It has a hatchet on it."

"I have so many different knives and I really don't know what their values are. If I ever get my knives straight then I can see if those worth are worth anything," he chuckles pointing to a large display case full of antique fish scalers. "You'd be surprised what you can find in old tackle boxes."

About the authors:

Rob Newell is a freelance writer from Tallahassee, FL.

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