Ten Things You Didn’t Know: Duck Decoys


1 Today decoy carving is considered one of the earliest forms of American folk art.


Important “dust jacket” black bellied plover, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts circa 1890’s, sold for $214.000 (including buyer’s premium) during an Aug. 1-2, 2013 auction, surpassing the low estimate of $125,000. (Photo courtesy Guyette, Schmidt & Deter)

2 An early bufflehead drake decoy, circa 1910, made by renowned carver A. E. Crowell, fetched $207,000 during Decoys Unlimited’s 2013 Summer Decoy Auction. This drake decoy is believed to be one of only two in such pristine grade to exist, and it was built to be a working decoy but was never rigged.

3 Every April thousands of people gather for the Midwest Decoy Collector’s Show. Regularly held in Chicago, the number of decoys on display at the show routinely tops 20,000. In 2013, the show marked its 47th anniversary.

4 Initially, decoys were created to draw birds in closer to the shore, and awaiting hunters. Archeological research has shown early decoys made by Native Americans were made of grass and mud, as well as skin and feathers of other birds. European settlers brought the idea of carving decoys from wood, and by the mid-19th century, the practice was widespread.

5 Two magazines popular with decoy carvers and collectors alike are Decoy Magazine and Wildfowl Carving Magazine.

6 During Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter’s Summer Decoy Auction, Aug. 1-2, 2013, a Near

Flying tern decoy

This flying tern decoy, measuring 22 inches from wing tip to wing tip and carved by A.E. Crowell, earned $17,250 (with buyer’s premium) during the Aug. 1-2, 2013, Summer Decoy Auction at Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter. (Photo courtesy Guyette, Schmidt & Deter).

Mint “dust jacket” black bellied plover carved in the late 1800s by A.E. Crowell, earned top lot fame among 627 duck decoy lots, when it sold for $190,000.

7 The waterfowl market hunting business of the late 1800s and 1900s brought “factory decoys” into the mainstream, putting decoy companies like Dodge, Peterson and Mason on the map. In 1918 things changed with the approval of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which outlawed the hunting of waterfowl for sale.

8 While various museums across the country feature decoys among their exhibits, two of the most popular destinations for decoy lovers is the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace, Md. (www.decoymuseum.com) and The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art at Salisbury University, MD (www.wardmuseum.org).

9 In addition to the “traditional” criteria for determining the value of most antiques Oldsquaw-in-summer-plumagefw(condition, rarity and grade) when assessing duck decoys, species and sex matter because the majority of decoys made were drakes versus hens. In addition, if the decoy is in an uncommon position (sleeping, swimming, preening or the like), it adds value.

10 While factory-made decoys are often identified by brand, traditional hand-carved decoys are categorized by schools – which are based largely on geographic region, such as the Maine School and Canadian Maritime Provinces, among others.

Compiled by Antoinette Rahn

10Things-logoSources: “Warman’s Duck Decoys” by Russel E. Lewis, Thousand Island Museum (www.timuseum.org), Decoy Magazine (www.decoymag.com), Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter (www.guyetteandschmidt.com), Decoys Unlimited (www.decoysunlimitedinc.net.