Bob Kester cherishes the old traditions of hunting and fishing in Pennsylvania, and he’s sad to see them disappear.
But the Clarks Summit resident is doing his part to make sure reminders of days gone by are preserved forever.
Kester collects antique hunting and fishing paraphernalia, licenses, lures, reels and patches, if it’s old and related to the Pennsylvania outdoors, he’s interested.
And Kester isn’t the only one.
Collecting antique hunting and fishing items has become increasingly popular, and the degree to which the items are pursued varies by the sport and even geographic location.
Kester collects hunting licenses from his home county of Lackawanna and other counties where he hunts, such as Wyoming and Pike. He also collects old shotgun shell boxes, fishing lures, hunting magazines, posters and anything else pertaining to hunting, fishing, trapping and the outdoors.
“Some of the hunting traditions, like deer camps, are slowly disappearing,” Kester said. “Collecting these items is a way to preserve that tradition.”
But there’s a method to Kester’s collection. Many collectors, himself included, seek licenses from their home county. And not just any license, either. Kester focuses on the metal hunting licenses that date back to the early-1920s and fishing license buttons that date back to 1923.
Even before the metal fishing buttons and the tin hunting licenses, Kester said there are varieties that are even rarer.
The first license issued by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was in 1922 and it was paper, Kester said.
“They’re very hard to find and one in near mint condition could be worth $1,000,” he said.
The first Pennsylvania Game Commission hunting license was issued in 1913 and they were made of canvas. In 1924, they were made out of aluminum. Most of them didn’t hold up and were bent or cracked, making them hard to find today.
Even some of the hunting licenses in later years seldom are found. In 1942, the PGC began making hunting licenses made out of cardboard, and the antlerless licenses issued in 1946 are hard to find because doe season was only open in a few counties.
Antlerless licenses from 1953 are also hard to find because there weren’t many issued due to the Korean War, Kester said.
What impresses Kester even more than the rarity of the old licenses are the stories behind them. Some of the licenses in his collection have handwritten notes on the back where the hunter recorded his harvest that particular season.
“That’s what I enjoy about collecting licenses,” he said. “There’s a history behind each one.”
Old ammunition boxes are another of Kester’s favorite collectibles. Those made by Peters, Remington and Winchester top the list, and old shotgun shell boxes with ducks or hunting dogs bring top dollar. If the box is complete with the shells inside, even better.
“The boxes with the nice graphics are typically prior to the 1950s. They’re hard to find because most guys threw them away and even the ones that exist are worn and damaged,” Kester said.
Graphics mean everything when it comes to some items, particularly magazine covers. Kester is fond of old issues of Pennsylvania Game News from 1935 to 1948 and said the larger-size covers are more collectible.
Issues with artwork by Ned Smith on the cover are in high demand, along with covers from the 1940s that had a patriotic theme during World War II.
One of the staples and most popular items among collectors remains old fishing lures.
“A lot of people ask me to look at their old lures they found, and 90 percent are used beyond repair,” he said. “But that’s what they were meant for. It’s just hard to find them in good shape.”
Old Heddon lures made out of wood, some of which were hand-painted, are quite valuable, and Kester said the River-Runt in gold is among the rarest of them all.
“If you have the box it puts the value over the top,” he said.
There’s also a local angle when it comes to collecting old fishing lures. The Heinie Spinner from the 1930s and 1940s was made in Scranton by the H.W. Reinhart Company and its successor, Jermyn Brothers.
“When it comes to a lot of these collectibles, many are hard to fund because they were thrown away over the years as hunters and anglers passed away,” Kester said. “But you can still find items turn up in antique shops, flea markets and house cleanouts. I really enjoy finding things that are old. These items give you a glimpse at what hunting and fishing were like decades ago.
“It’s like walking back in time.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky