HYANNIS, Mass. – An extremely rare miniature great blue heron made by renowned American carver A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) sold for $31,050 July 15-16, 2012.
It was an auction record for a Crowell miniature, breaking the previous mark set about five minutes earlier, when the lot immediately preceding the blue heron – an American egret standing 8 1/2 inches tall and boasting the superb original paint – changed hands for $25,875, breaking the previous record of $25,300 (set at a 2004 auction, also held by Decoys Unlimited Inc.). Where it took eight years for the egret to enter the record books, it took minutes for that record to fall.
The great blue heron, at just over 8 1/2 inches tall, was about twice the size of a typical Crowell miniature bird of this species, which no doubt drove up the price. It was mounted on a carved “rock” base with subtle undulations and the piece was signed on the base in Crowell’s hand (“Blue Heron”). The surface of the decoy was flawless, with nicely blended feather detail.
“All the Crowell carvings in this sale were strong, as were miniatures by A.J. King and George Boyd,” said Ted Harmon, owner of Decoys Unlimited Inc., based in Barnstable, Mass. He added, “The market is much stronger than it was in 2008 and 2009. Things are bouncing back.”
While the name Crowell was chanted frequently throughout the 1,021-lot auction, one of his decoys was not the top lot. That honor went to an exceedingly rare red knot in breeding plumage, with carved wings and shoulders, by John Dilley (Quoque, N.Y.). The decoy, showing intricately painted feather detail and in untouched, original near-mint condition, hammered for $51,750.
Three other birds topped the $30,000 mark. One was a pintail drake made circa 1910-1920 by Lloyd B. Sterling (Crisfield, Md.); having a broad body style with an elongated, gracefully upswept tail, it brought $37,375. A rare crook neck “hissing” goose by George Boyd (1873-1941) hit $31,625. And a rare upright willet, circa 1900, by noted carver and hunting guide John Thomas Wilson (1863-1940), from Ipswich, Mass., soared to $34,500. It measured 15 3/4 inches in a straight line, from bill to tail, and featured wings nicely carved in deep relief.
All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium. For more information, visit Decoys Unlimited.
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