Decoy market educating hobby’s future collectors


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These three mallard drakes illustrate the evolution of carving from simple decoys to pieces of art. (Clockwise from right) The winner of the 1948 National Decoy Makers Contest, this sleeping mallard by Lem Ward showcases the sculptural aspects of decoy carving; left, this handsome gunning stool from 1951 is typical of the Ward brothers' working decoys; center, the standing mallard by Lem Ward from 1952 takes the full leap into a decorative art form.

Four years ago, Gary Guyette sold a decoy of an A.E. Crowell black bellied plover for $830,000, setting a new world record. To put that value in perspective, the sale price of the Crowell decoy is but a fraction of the $120 million worth of decoys and assorted wildlife art the Guyette & Schmidt firm has sold during the past 25 years.

Guyette & Schmidt, Inc. (www.guyetteandschmidt.com) is the world’s largest antique decoy auction firm. They hold three large-scale decoy auctions per year in St. Charles, Ill.; Portland, Maine; and Easton, Md., specializing in antique duck, shorebird, and fish decoys, fish carvings, waterfowl paintings and prints, duck calls and ammunition advertising.


duck decoys

Guyette said the decoy market is just now emerging from a three-year downturn that affected the price paid at auction, but did nothing to hamper the interest in important decoys.

“Things went up steadily and the first time I noticed something was happening was in our 2007 auction,” he told Antique Trader. “The prices just started to soften a little. It was still a record year for us but by the late fall it had gone down – maybe 20 percent, which is not as bad as in other areas.”

Guyette said the dip in prices was a result of decoy dealers not being able to turn inventory as fast as expected. Prices remain high for top quality decoys at their sales because the firm finds rare examples in excellent condition; and roughly 90 percent of all lots are bought by collectors. Collectors and investors also are holding onto pieces in anticipation of the market improving.

The collections coming to market are more likely those of people who must sell to settle an estate or bring closure to a recent death. Such is the case with Guyette and Schmidt’s April 22-23 sale of the Joseph French collection at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill.

The firm has a standing agreement with art auctioneer Christie’s, to create a strategic association to maket and promote the decoy market. Guyette said esteem and respect for decoys as art is also a result of educational programs taking place at institutions such as the Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art in Salisbury, Md.

“We had a small auction in March in Ohio and we’re seeing decoys sell almost at their high estimate,” Guyette said, “so we’re seeing some positive indicators. We’re seeing some things happen.”

Guyette & Schmidt, Inc., 24718 Beverly Rd., St. Michaels, MD 21663, 410-745-0485, www.guyetteandschmidt.com. ?





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