Early 20th century Crowell decoys headline sale at the Cape

HYANNIS, Mass. — Rare and important early 20th century decoys by the renowned carver A. E. (Elmer) Crowell (Mass., 1862-1952), plus other highly collectible decoys, nautical items and Americana from across North America, will all come up for bid at a Summer Decoy Auction slated for July 28-29 by Decoys Unlimited, Inc., at the Cape Codder Resort and Hotel.

Around 900 lots will be offered at the Sunday-Monday sale. “This promises to be a

The expected top lot of the sale is this bufflehead drake by A. E. Crowell (est. $125,000-$175,000). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

The expected top lot of the sale is this bufflehead drake by A. E. Crowell (est. $125,000-$175,000). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

well-rounded auction, with something for everyone and every pocketbook,” said Ted Harmon, owner of Decoys Unlimited, Inc. “We have a large collection of decoys by Charlie Joiner from the Ballard collection, factory decoys by Stevens, Mason and Evans, and of course the Crowells.”

One of the Crowells – an early bufflehead drake, crafted circa 1910-1912 – carries a pre-sale estimate of $125,000-$175,000. “This is the rarest and finest Crowell decoy we have ever been privileged to handle,” Harmon said. “It is essentially flawless, made during Crowell’s prime and carved as a working decoy but never rigged. It basically floated on a mantle for a century.”

It is also the highest-graded bufflehead drake by Crowell ever offered and one of only two known in this premier grade. The decoy was originally gifted by Crowell to his good friend Chester Eldridge. Eldridge’s granddaughter often played on the floor of Crowell’s workshop with Crowell’s granddaughter, Peggy Crowell, while Crowell whittled and the two men talked.

The second and third top lots in the auction are likely not to be Crowell decoys at all, but exceedingly rare hooded mergansers rendered by a member of the Hutchings family Jones Falls, Ontario, Canada. One, a hen, is regarded by many veteran collectors as the finest example of its kind known. With a thin crest that sweeps back to a point, it should command $65,000-$70,000.

The other is a drake, with fully extended crest and a professionally restored front bill (est. $50,000-$60,000). Both mergansers were acquired in 1896 near Chaffey’s Locks (Ontario), from James Smith, who received them by descent from his father, Henry Darling Smith. He acquired them in 1920 from Knox Williams, a local blacksmith who bought them directly from the carver.

An A. E. Crowell piece expected to generate keen bidder interest is a black-bellied plover mounted on a carved “rock” base, executed circa 1912 (est. $35,000-$45,000). “Just when you think you’ve seen the best of the decorative works by Elmer Crowell, an

Hen pintail and drake pintail by Lloyd Sterling (Crisfield, Md., 1880-1964), in original paint (each est. $27,500-$32,500). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

Hen pintail and drake pintail by Lloyd Sterling (Crisfield, Md., 1880-1964), in original paint (each est. $27,500-$32,500). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

amazing example like this comes along,” Harmon said. “The head, the bill and the split tail are all masterfully carved.”

A pair of dowitcher decoys by Crowell are each expected to fetch $25,000-$35,000. Amazingly, they had been kept in a bank safety deposit box for 50 years on the advice of the consignor’s grandfather, who predicted “they would be very valuable someday and well worth putting away.” To say he was prescient would be an understatement. Both are stunning birds.

One is a gunning model dowitcher having a split tail with raised wingtips, excellent original paint and just a few tiny shot strikes. The original bill is completely and miraculously intact. The other is a dowitcher that Crowell posed so it appears to be gazing slightly upward. It also boasts a split tail with raised wingtips, excellent original paint and a completely intact bill.

One other Crowell decoy worthy of mention is a superb, early 1900s life-size woodcock (est. $25,000-$35,000). Purchased directly from the master carver himself (and signed on the base “A.E. Crowell – Cape Cod”), the decoy features dropped wingtips and a perky, upswept tail. It boasts original, thickly applied and blended paint, with wonderful painted feather detail.

An example of decoy folk art at its finest will come in the form of a pair of pintails by Lloyd Sterling (each est. $27,500-$32,000). The first is a hen pintail, quite possibly the only known pintail hen of the period by Sterling. The bird has had some restoration work done, to a thin crack in the back, the very tip of the tail, a small chip in the bill and the left base of the neck.

The second is a drake, in crackled, all-original paint (like the hen), showing light overall wear that is comparable, too, to the hen’s. There are a few rubs to the age-darkened wood, most notably on the right breast. There is a tight, T-shaped crack on the back, with a small crack on the bottom and on the neck. Also, a tiny chip was reset years ago on the left edge of the tail.

Exceptional early 1900s woodcock by A. E. Crowell, with incredible paint (est. $25,000-$35,000). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

Exceptional early 1900s woodcock by A. E. Crowell, with incredible paint (est. $25,000-$35,000). (Photo courtesy Decoys Unlimited)

Also sold will be an excellent antique carving of a sperm whale made from the pan bone, or spoon-like rear portion of the sperm whale’s jaw, the most prized part of the whale (after the teeth) to whalemen (est. $2,500-$3,500). The 29-inch carving is mounted on a newer backboard. It hung for years at the Moby Dick Restaurant (now called The Black Eddy) in Westport, Mass.

Start times will be 11 a.m. (EDT) on Sunday, July 28, and 10 a.m. on Monday, July 29. Previews will be held on Saturday, July 27, from 6-9 p.m.; Sunday, July 28, from 9-11 a.m.; and Monday, July 29, from 8-10 a.m. About 300 lots will be sold July 28; the rest will be sold July 29. Internet bidding will be provided by Artfact.com. Phone and absentee bids will also be taken. Also, there will be a dealer and collector “overflow” sale right after Sunday’s main sale, at 4 p.m.

The Cape Codder Resort and Hotel is located at 1225 Iyannough Road in Hyannis, Mass., on Cape Cod. The website is www.capecodderresort.com. To reserve a room, you may call (855) 861-4370. Decoys Unlimited has been conducting its Summer Decoy Auctions every July at the Cape Codder Resort and Hotel for several years. Other hotel accommodations are also close by.

Decoys Unlimited, Inc., is always accepting quality consignments for future auctions. To consign a single item, an estate or a collection, you may call them at (508) 362-2766; or, you can e-mail them at theodores.harmon@comcast.net. For more information on Decoys Unlimited, Inc., and the July 28-29 Summer Decoy Auction, please log on to www.decoysunlimitedinc.net.

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