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Final pieces of esteemed decoy collection to sell July 19

A storied collection of waterfowl decoys will headline Copley Fine Arts' Sporting Sale slated for July 19-20.

HINGHAM, Mass. – Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC will host their annual preview party and two action-packed days of auctions on July 19-20 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. An extensive decoy collection — the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys, Session III — will lead off this year’s Sporting Sale on July 19. This will lead strong offerings from other single owner collections on July 20.

Decoy Collection Contains 150 Lots

The balance of the famed O’Brien waterfowl decoy collection is scheduled to hit the auction block one year after Copley’s Sporting Sale that realized $4.8 million in sales and saw 19 auction records fall. A 1971 Sports Illustrated feature on O’Brien states, “His prize-winning collection of decoys seems out of this world.”

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Copley founder Stephen O’Brien, Jr. reports, “Everyone at Copley is abuzz about this historic auction which will feature the final session of the O’Brien waterfowl decoy collection. Donal’s collection has such depth. It's a thrill to have the chance to view, handle, and research this powerful line-up. To present our clients with the opportunity to own these iconic decoys is exciting.”

Approximately 150 O’Brien lots are slated for the sale, making Session III of the O’Brien Collection the biggest yet. Furthermore, sporting art, Audubon prints, bronzes, and books will round out the items offered.

Collector's Path to Prize Decoy Collection

Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. (1934–2013), served as chief legal council for the Rockefeller family from 1960-2011. During those five decades, he worked very closely with world-famous collector and philanthropist David Rockefeller (1915-2017).

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O’Brien’s discriminating taste brought him to collect top works by individual makers, and many of his decoys are pinnacle works for their regions. Headlining the sale is one of Adele Earnest’s greatest finds: The Earnest-Gregory Dovetailed Goose (circa 1880), often identified as “Grande Dame” of American folk art.

One of the top two examples in strong original paint by this maker known to exist, O’Brien’s goose, along with its mate, are considered the preeminent Dovetailed Geese. With the other Earnest-Gregory goose topping $632,500 at auction in 2014, O’Brien’s assertions could prove spot on.

Additionally, signature Ward Brothers 1936 model canvasbacks will hit the block once again. Other standout pairs to be offered include a perfectly matched rigmate canvasback pair by John B. Graham (1822–1912) of Cecil County, Maryland, which are among the finest decoys from the Upper Chesapeake Bay.

Bidding Options

In addition, online bidding will be accessible through Copley’s app, CopleyLive, and through Bidsquare.

For more information, call 617-536-0030 or email

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