American Wildfowl Decoys

by Patricia Martin, Home Farm Antiques
at the Antiques Market Place

America is fortunate to have a rich heritage of collectible wildfowl decoys. About halfway through the 1800s, a great surge in wildfowl hunting began and lasted for over ¾ of a century. Improvements in guns, expansion of the population which needed feeding, and what seemed to be an unending supply of waterfowl encouraged the proliferation of hunting. With this came a vast increase in creating decoys.

Both duck and shorebird decoys enjoy immense popularity among collectors, and their values have spiraled over recent years. Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter, leading decoy appraisers and auctioneers, sold an Elmer Crowell black bellied plover (shorebird) for $830,000 in 2006, followed by a Lothrop Holmes red breasted merganser hen (duck) decoy for $856,000 in 2007. Even a factory produced Mason wood duck drake decoy sold for $354,500 in 2000.

What makes a decoy so valuable? Several reasons: the condition and wear patterns, the age, the carver or maker, and the documentation and provenance. A decoy should be in original condition with its original paint, or traces thereof. Wear patterns should hold true for an aged, working decoy. (A decoy that is in pristine condition is a decoy to worry about.) In general (but not always), the older the decoy, the better. The first recorded decoys were discovered at an archaeological site in Nevada. The decoys, 11 of them, were made by Native Americans and were dated to circa 200B.P. They were made of rushes and duck feathers. Chances of finding any like these, unless you’re an avid archaeologist in addition to being an avid collector, are pretty slim. However, early decoys are desirable.

Many of the decoys were made by hunters for their own use. Others came from master carvers who developed reputations for their skills. Some of the names to look for are: A. Elmer Crowell, Lothrop Holmes, Madison Mitchell, Harry V. Shourds and Ira Hudson. There are also modern decoys that are very desirable. Carvers to look for are: Mark McNair, Reggie Burch, Frank Finney, and Contemporary Antique Division carver Chris Gunney Andrews.

Make sure to stop by the Antiques Market Place, located at 1066 Rte. 9, Queensbury, to see our handsome array of duck and shorebird decoys!