I’m sure that by now just about everyone involved in lure collecting has at least heard of Oscar W. Peterson (1887-1951) of Cadillac, Michigan and his extraordinary spearing decoys. I’m equally sure that most, however, are not fully aware of the full range of Peterson’s plug production.
Production is somewhat of a misnomer as he never produced them in any real quantity. Even though Peterson intended to mass produce his “Bumble Bee” lure which he patented in 1927 (see illustration A), he never did as he was unable to raise the necessary capital. Apparently, given his reputation for imbibing, there was a lack of confidence among potential investors.
The most common Peterson plug is the patented model commonly referred to as the “bumble bee”. (Peterson himself referred to this paint pattern in the patent papers as “yellow jacket”). All of the known examples are hand carved and painted prototypes mostly acquired from family and friends. A few unpainted blanks are also known from Peterson’s estate. Most are about 3” long, although, being hand carved, they vary slightly in length from 2 5/8” to 3 1/4”. They are diving baits intended to be trolled or retrieved by casting and are through-wired and lead weighted. In addition to the yellow jacket paint pattern a few other color variations have been found. (see Figs. 1, 2, 3 & 4) Be aware that there are some similar plugs that have erroneously been attributed to Peterson, most notably the plug illustrated on page 84 of the March/April 1985 Sporting Classics magazine and another from the same group that showed up as lot 312 in the July 3rd, 1987 Richard Oliver Auction. These are not Peterson’s but rather the product of wishful thinking. Closely related to the yellow jackets are three Peterson plugs carved in the form of various insects; cicada (locust), chrysalis (pupa) and June bug. All have the same construction as the former. (see Figs. 5, 6 & 7) I am aware of only these three examples at the present time. There are undoubtedly others, possibly representing other insects. Each appears to be a one of a kind carving .
There are two nearly identical examples of this type known. Both have front and rear brass props, two side treble hooks and a tail treble. The smaller of the two (2 1/2”) also has a buck tail and a trailing single hook. (see Figs. 8, 9 & 10). Instead of being decorated in the typical Peterson polychrome paint these were painted in the manner of Peterson’s natural sides fish decoys, even having the typical white splotches on the black backs. Like the two hookers, they are similarly through-wired and weighted. (The two 3 hook plugs shown at the bottom of Page 100 (Plate 73) of Michigan’s Master Carver.... by Ron Fritz are in my opinion doubtful. Although it has been widely reported that Peterson could and did copy just about any plug on order, I have not personally seen any that were definitive.)
Finally, there is the five hook muskie bait. (see Fig. 11) Only one known. This plug is patterned after the natural sides fish decoy except that it has no curve to the body, being perfectly straight. Fish shaped in form, it has a black back with white splotches. It’s made from white ash and is through-wired and weighted the same as a decoy. It has brass pectoral and pelvic fins but no adipose, anal or dorsal fins. The screw eye line tie in the back appears to be a later addition.
All Peterson plugs are rare. In total, I am aware of not more than a couple dozen lonely survivors. Until recently it has been difficult to assess their value, but on September 5, 1999 at a major sporting collectibles auction held in Cadillac, Michigan by Century Auction a bumble bee two hooker and a three hook natural sides brought $2300 and $2000 respectively. Undoubtedly there are other heretofore unrecognized examples out there in collections or lying around getting rusty in some old tackle box. If anyone would like help in identifying potential Peterson plugs they can write and send pictures (good sharp close-ups please) to me at:
Gary L. Miller
4088 Westridge Dr.
Williamsburg, MI 49690
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
THE NFLCC Gazette, (September 2002)
Permission to reprint granted by Gary L. Miller 2/28/06