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Crowell's turned-head "Dust Jacket" plover decoy finishes at $156K

It's rare to explore an auction featuring decoys and not see A. Elmer Crowell represented. Not only was Crowell's work represented, his "Dust Jacket" plover rose to $156,000 during Copley Fine Art Auctions' Winter Sale.

CHARLESTON, SC - Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC (, the nation’s premier decoy and sporting art auction house, realized over $1.8 million in sales at the Winter Sale 2018. The sale, held Feb. 16, contained 345 lots. The sale saw 97% of lots change hands.

Robust and Diverse Sell Thru

Turned-head "Dust Jacket" plover,

Turned-head "Dust Jacket" plover, A. Elmer Crowell, sold for $156,000. (All photos courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions)

Thirty-nine items sold for five-figure prices, evenly dispersed between decoys and paintings. Robust bidding took place across all categories, including paintings, prints, folk art, and antique and contemporary decoys.

According to Copley’s owner and principal Stephen B. O’Brien, Jr., “Our commitment to realistic and conservative estimates continues to pay dividends in terms of our consignors’ successes. Many offerings from the Winter Sale were fresh to the market and came from private single owner collections or estates and were sold without reserve. We distinguish ourselves in the industry by providing thorough condition reports and accurate post-auction reporting. This gives our clients a great deal of confidence when making important selling and buying decisions.”

The top lot of the sale was the A. Elmer Crowell Turned-Head “Dust Jacket” Plover. Paddles on the floor competed with five phone lines on the lot, which made for lively bidding. The plover soared past the $75/$95,000 estimate, landing at $156,000. The next highest decoy was a standing black duck by Ira D. Hudson, which brought $96,000, a world record for a decorative carving by the maker. The Canada goose by Charles A. Safford proved one of the better buys of the auction, coming in at $48,000, below its $60,000 low estimate.

Natural Paintings Compliment Decoys

Copley once again shattered world records for multiple artists, and proved that works with hunting dogs in action remain favorites. An oil on canvas of setters on point by Gustav Muss-Arnolt set a world record for the artist, soaring well above its high estimate of $24,000 to land at $33,600. Muss-Arnolt specialized in the depiction of field trial dogs. He worked as a judge in dog shows, served on the board of the American Kennel Club from 1906-1909, and demonstrated an incredible knowledge of a variety of sporting breeds in his paintings. A second Muss-Arnolt oil of dogs in action brought $28,800, oustripping its high estimate of $18,000.

An English setter by Edwin Megargee got the auction off to an auspicious start, more than doubling its high estimate and selling for $7,500. After the strong start to the sale with the Megargee, the painting session maintained its energy with a world record being set for a sporting painting by William Henry Machen of Grouse and Quail. The hanging game painting saw brisk action on all bidding platforms, and went to a phone bidder for $8,400, nearly tripling its high estimate of $3,000. The Megargee and Machen both came out of the collection of Davison B. Hawthorne (1924-2018), noted decoy carver, collector, and art and antiques dealer.

Momentum continued when works by Harry Curieux Adamson, California’s most important waterfowl painter, crossed the block. Both paintings by Adamson brought well above their high estimates, as the pintails sold to a phone bidder for $21,600 on a $10/$14,000 estimate, and Sanctuary - Wood Ducks soared to $20,400, well above its high estimate of $14,000. Autumn Grouse Shooting, a watercolor on paper by Ogden M. Pleissner, sold for $42,000, within its $40/$60,000 estimate.

Gobblers Top $22,000

Wild Turkey oil painting

"Wild Turkey" oil on canvas by C. Ford Riley, sold for $22,800.

The sporting audience was wild for turkeys, with contemporary artist C. Ford Riley’s oil on canvas of gobblers establishing a world record after active bidding on the floor. It eventually sold for $22,800, more than doubling its low estimate of $10/$15,000. Additionally, a Maynard Reece depiction of turkeys brought $7,800, nearly doubling its high estimate of $4,000.

Copley continued its charitable and conservation-oriented efforts, with an acrylic bonefishing painting by Chet Reneson selling for $7,800 to benefit the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT). Reneson was named BTT’s Artist of the Year for 2018, and 50% of the proceeds of the sale will go directly to BTT to support research on bonefish, tarpon, and permit, along with their sensitive ecosystems. A bronze by sculptor Walter T. Matia was designated to benefit the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. Tides that Bind brought $4,800 on a $2,500/$3,500 estimate, and 100% of the proceeds will go to ABC.

Tarpon, the top-selling Lynn Bogue Hunt of the sale, leapt well over its high estimate of $8,000 to land at $11,400. Other works by contemporary artists performed well, such as Peter Corbin’s Permit Flats, which doubled its high estimate of $2,500 and sold for $6,600. November Skies by Brett James Smith brought $9,600, well above its high estimate of $5,500.

Painting Draw Interest

The often traditionally minded sporting art collectors responded to a touch of modernism, as Dutch painter Ewoud de Groot’s dynamic oil of a snowy owl in flight had four phone lines pitted against several active bidders on the floor. Snow Hunter (Snowy Owl) more than doubled its high estimate and set a world record for the artist, ultimately selling to a phone bidder for $26,400 on an $8/$10,000 estimate. The previous de Groot world record mark had been Oystercatchers, set by Copley just a year earlier at $13,200. A second work on offer by de Groot, Three Pintails, also doubled the high estimate of $10,000 and brought $20,910.

Noted American illustrator Arthur Burdett Frost’s watercolor and gouache entitled The Farmer’s Pride saw active bidding from the floor against the phones. This work ultimately sold to a phone bidder and more than doubled its high estimate of $8,000, hitting $21,600 all in. George Browne’s Following the Shore shot through its high estimate of $14,000 and brought $16,800. Robert K. Abbett’s portrait of his Labrador Retriever - Bo sold for $9,600 on a $5/$7,000 estimate.

Dynamite Decoys

In addition to the decoy highlights of earlier, the sale saw more record-setting activity, such as:

Miniature canvasback

Miniature canvasback, A. Elmer Crowell, sold for $2,400.

• Canada Goose by Capt. Charles C. Osgood, set world record selling for $72,000.

• Running yellowlegs decoy, set to appear in new book, by A. Elmer Crowell, saw $45,000.

• Swimming red-breasted merganser commanded $14,400.

• Crowell turned-head "Dust Jacket Yellowlegs" brought $57,000.

• Black-bellied plover and yellowlegs, rising to $57,000 and $14,000, respectively.

• Ward Brothers green-winged teal commanded $12,000.

• Running curlew by Capt. Robert Andrews landed at $45,000.

• Miniature canvasback by Crowell hit $2,880.

Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is preparing for its Sporting Sale 2018 which returns to Plymouth, Massachusetts, on July 18-20th. Session III of The Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection will headline this sale, which also will feature items from the Hawthorne, Sharpless, and Swanson Collections. Consignments accepted until April 15th or full.

For a free confidential auction estimate, call 617-536-0030 or email, and for more general information, visit

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