A CUTTING COLLECTION
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Art Around Florida
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