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19 world records shattered during $4.8M sporting auction

Not one, not two, but 19 new world records for duck decoy prices were set during Copley Fine Art Auction's recent Sporting Auction.

PLYMOUTH, MA - Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC (, the nation’s premier sporting art and decoy auction house, realized $4.8 million in sales at The Sporting Sale 2017. The sale, held July 27 and 28, saw over 92% sold by lot. Also sold lots achieved an impressive 118% of their high estimate.

Decoys Lead Sporting Art Offerings

Chambers wood duck drake

This wood duck drake claimed top lot and set a new world record for carver Thomas Chambers and a national record for any Canadian decoy sold at auction when it commanded $270,000 during the sale. (All photos courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions)

Sessions I and II of the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys were 100% sold with an average price per lot of over $27,000 per decoy. This smashed the average price per lot from the sale of the Distinguished Collection of Dr. James M. McCleery held in 2000, making the sale of the O’Brien Collection the most successful decoy auction of all time.

All prices include a 20% buyer’s premium.

Nineteen world records were achieved for artists or decoy makers in this historic sale. Eight items sold for six-figure prices, including seven decoys and one painting. There was robust bidding across all categories, including paintings, prints, folk art, and antique and contemporary decoy carvings.

Copley’s owner and principal, Stephen B. O’Brien, Jr., said, “We had two great days of pinnacle works featuring the best the field has to offer. The O'Brien Collection has always embodied excellence and over the coming decades it will continue to symbolize the very best. As a result, buyers showed up in force to our first ever ‘white glove’ sale.”

Wood Duck Drake Claims Top Lot at $270K

Three out of the five O’Brien cover lots more than doubled their average estimates. The top lot and top decoy of the sale was the Thomas Chambers wood duck drake which sold for $270,000, more than doubling its estimate ($80/120,000) and setting a record for the carver and also a national record for any Canadian decoy.

The next highest decoy lot was the pintail drake by John English, which brought $246,000, shattering the old record for the maker and becoming the highest priced decoy ever to come out of the Delaware River region ($80/120,000). The Canada goose by Charles E. “Shang” Wheeler shot to $198,000, smashing the world record for this important carver as well as for the Connecticut region, and the Crowell plover sold for $174,000. Great decoys with strong provenance and exceptional form led Copley’s most successful sale in the company’s eleven-year history.

Crowell-Carved Decoys Draw Intense Bidding

Bronze "Storm Warning"

Bronze sculpture "Storm Warning," circa 1990, by William J. Koelpin, sold for $30,000, setting a new world record.

All five cover lots of the Sporting Sale Sessions III and IV saw competitive bidding, with three landing within estimate and two climbing over their estimates. The preening goldeneye drake by A. Elmer Crowell surpassed its high estimate of $80,000 and sold for $90,000, and the Bunn/Bowman running golden plover rose above its high estimate of $30,000 to $48,000.

The O’Brien Collection got off to a strong start with the first lot, a high-head pintail drake by Illinois carver Charles Walker, rocketing past its high estimate of $40,000 to a sale price of $58,800. The auction room was packed as staff added more chairs throughout the first ten lots. The decoy and folk art collecting community showed up in force, and bidding action came from phones, floor bidding, and internet platforms.

The first nine lots all sold above estimate, a trend that would continue throughout the day. The first world record set, for the Chambers wood duck, saw protracted bidding between a full phone bank. There was plenty of competition for this pinnacle carving which carried over to the following lot, a goose by fellow Canadian, George Warin, selling for $43,200, a record for the maker and well above its $15/25,000 estimate.

English Pintail Drake Doubles Estimate

Several lots later, estimable auctioneer Peter Coccoluto had the energetic room laughing as competition for the English pintail drake gathered steam, ultimately selling to a bidder in the room and garnering enthusiastic applause. A wigeon drake by John Blair, Sr. brought $102,000, surpassing its $50/70,000 estimate.

The turned-head “dust jacket” black-bellied plover by Crowell saw active bidding on the floor and phone banks until it eventually sold on the phone for $174,000 ($125/175,000). Interest in Crowell’s works continued with several miniatures selling well and a semi-palmated plover landing at $39,000, tripling its $10/15,000 estimate when it sold to a buyer in the room.

th the Mackey-Wheeler goose landing above its $80/120,000 estimate at a record $198,000 to a phone bidder, followed by highly competitive bidding from the full phone bank that led to a preening black duck hen by Louis C. Rathmell selling for a record $51,000, quadrupling its low estimate ($12/18,000). Another black duck by the maker, this one a high-head drake, sold for $45,000, significantly above its $12/18,000 estimate.

Ruddy Duck Soars Past $230,000

Bidding for the Barber-O’Brien ruddy duck ($80/120,000) was active, with an internet bidder battling

Mackey-Wheeler goose decoy

This Mackey-Wheeler goose wood decoy, by Charles E. "Shang" Wheeler, circa 1935, set a world record, realizing $198,000.

phones and the floor to drive the sale price to $234,000. The next lot, a redhead drake by the North Carolina carver Lee Dudley, shot to $66,000, outstripping its $20/40,000 estimate.

Copley solidified its status as a leading seller of historic ornithological art when William Broderick’s oil on board, titled Three Hobbies on a Branch, brought $15,600, well over its estimate of $4/6,000 and setting a world record for this British artist and hawking expert. Copley continued to produce excellent results for sought-after bird work when Virginian Partridge, a Havell edition after John James Audubon, rose to more than three times its high estimate of $20,000 and sold for $63,000.

Waterfowl Watercolors See Appeal

The stately barn owl gouache by Edwin Penny, sold for $6,000, five times more than its high estimate of $1,200. A watercolor of sanderlings and piping plovers by Massachusetts painter Robert Verity Clem more than quadrupled its high estimate of $1,500 and brought $6,600. Arthur P. Singer brought twelve times the high estimate with his work Tanagers and Euphonia, selling for $4,800 on a $3/$400 estimate. Hummingbirds, a watercolor and gouache by John P. O’Neill, brought close to seven times its high estimate and sold for $2,040 on a $200-300 estimate, setting a world record for the artist.

Day two and Sessions III and IV of the Sale hit the ground running with a collection of carvings by Mark S. McNair. The cormorant doubled its high estimate of $1,800, bringing $3,600. A hollow golden plover performed well, nearly doubling its high estimate of $1,800 and selling for $3,300. McNair’s feeding yellowlegs saw active bidding both on the floor and on multiple phones and ultimately brought $3,000, double its high estimate of $1/$1,500.

A series of lots by A. Elmer Crowell showed that this famed maker's carvings are still in demand with the majority falling within their estimates. Notably, the preening goldeneye drake rose to $90,000, surpassing its high estimate of $70/$80,000. A golden plover by the East Harwich, MA, carver brought $13,200 on its $7/$10,000 estimate.

Wildlife Paintings Add to Auction Activity

'Supper in Camp' painting

"Supper in Camp," gouache and watercolor, circa 1901, by Arthur Burdett Frost, realized $168,000 during the auction.

A preening black duck by Samuel Smith Toothaker surpassed its high estimate ($9/$12,000) and sold for $15,600. The ruddy turnstone by John McAnney met its high estimate and brought $9,000. A golden plover pair carved by Joseph W. Lincoln of Accord, MA, soared above its high estimate of $8,000 and sold for $14,400.

Hunting dog paintings continued to find active buyers, as Gustav Muss-Arnolt’s oil of setter and pointer performed well and sold for $21,600, above its estimate of $12/$18,000. Percival Rosseau’s oil of two setters landed between the estimate and brought $25,200 on $20/$30,000. Lyne Bogue Hunt’s Honoring the Point rose up to $21,600 on a $14/$18,000 estimate.

Supper in Camp, an important work by Arthur Burdett Frost, led the final session when it more than doubled the average estimate of $80,000 and brought an impressive $168,000, the second-highest result for the artist and topped only by Copley’s sale of Quail - A Covey Rise in 2015 for $180,000.

Seeking Consignments

Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is preparing for its Winter Sale 2018 which returns to Charleston, South Carolina, in February, in conjunction with the Southeastern Wildlife Expo, with consignments accepted through November 15 or until full.

For more information, visit, email, or call a 617-536-0030.