On February 12, 2016, Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC, the nation’s premier sporting art auction house, successfully sold over four hundred and eighty items of the finest antique and contemporary decoys and American, sporting, and wildlife art in Charleston, South Carolina. Held in conjunction with the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, the auction’s sell-through rate of 90% and sale total of over $2 million furthered Copley’s dominance in the field. Copley’s latest Winter Sale saw their largest attendance in six years. Over 90% of decoy lots sold, and it was the most successful decoy and sporting art auction the South has ever seen.
With its reputation for honesty, integrity, and accuracy, Copley continues to set benchmarks in the field. Decoy and sporting art dealer and Copley co-founder Stephen B. O’Brien, Jr., recalls, “After only a few years as a buyer at decoy auctions, I realized the industry was ripe for improvement. Quality decoys and their collectors deserved better than what was being offered. This realization was a great motivator in founding Copley.” O’Brien has placed an emphasis on publishing informed catalog descriptions, setting record prices, and posting accurate sales results.
And in just ten years, the market has placed Copley as a clear industry leader. Copley has dominated the high-end decoy market since 2009, having sold 14 of the top 24 decoy lots at auction, more than all other firms combined. In this sale, all ten of the top decoy lots found buyers. The top bird carving was George Boyd’s swimming Canada goose, which sold for $90,000 on its $50/70,000 estimate. The second highest was the Ward Brothers’ Canada goose, landing at $69,000, within its $60/80,000 estimate, and A.E. Crowell’s Ruffed Grouse brought $63,000, well above its $35/45,000 estimate.
Perennially balanced between decoys and fine art, Copley continued its stellar results with American, sporting, wildlife, and western art. Nine of the top ten paintings were launched, with Carl Rungius’ Bull Moose oil leading the way at $180,000, within its $150/250,000 estimate. Copley continued its strong results for works by this important wildlife artist, having now sold sixteen of seventeen offerings.
American paintings also found eager buyers, with Andrew Wyeth’s Pot Buoys selling for $90,000 on its $70/80,000 estimate and A.B. Frost’s classic watercolor The Music for the Dance bringing $60,000, double its high estimate. The oil painting Dory and Lobster Traps by important Impressionist Willard Metcalf sold after the auction for $60,000, and Jack Lorimer Gray’s imposing oil In The Southern Ocean brought $33,000. Robert Abbett’s quail hunting oil titled Wild Covey brought a strong $36,000 on a $20/30,000 estimate, landing within $800 of the current record price for the artist.
Single owner collections performed exceptionally well, with Session Three of the William H. Purnell Decoy Collection achieving a 100% sell-through rate. In addition, The William B. Webster III Sporting Art Collection was also 100% sold, landing well above its high estimate.
The highest performers from the Webster Collection included works by American impressionist and sporting artist Aiden Lassell Ripley. The watercolor Ruffed Grouse and Apples brought $25,200, above its $15/20,000 estimate, the classic southern hunt scene Quail Country brought $39,000, at the high end of its $30/40,000 estimate, and the vibrant upland hunting oil Woodcock by the Brook sold for a $60,000, on its $60/90,000 estimate.
Modern sporting art masters saw their day, boosted by Bill Webster’s practiced eye, with David A. Maass’ oil Winter Wonder Ruffed Grouse, selling for $25,200, more than double its $8/10,000 estimate. An oil painting by Wisconsin artist Owen Gromme depicting a Brittany sold for $15,600, well above its $8/10,000 estimate, and Gromme’s striking Horicon Marsh - Canada Geese oil brought $12,000 on a $5/7,000 estimate. David Hagerbaumer’s watercolor Shagbark Hickory - Bobwhite depicting a covey of quail in flight sold for $4,800, above its $2,500/3,500 estimate, and two watercolor works by Canadian artist Allan Brooks exceeded expectations, selling for $5,100 and $3,900, each well above their $1/1,500 estimates.
Wild Bounty - Black Ducks by California artist Harry Curieux Adamson brought $30,000, the third-highest price for the artist and the top result since 2013. Chet Reneson’s work sold well, and the watercolor Early Visit, sold for $4,800, above its $2/3,000 estimate.
Works from contemporary artists also sold well, with an action-filled acrylic by Peter Corbin titled Tarpon’s Tempest bringing $18,000, at the high end of its $12/18,000 estimate. The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s artist of the year Kent Ullberg’s sculpture Silver Ghosts sold for $10,200, well above its $6/8,000 estimate and raised important funds to support the BTT.
Classic sporting art found ready and eager buyers, with Lynn Bogue Hunt’s duck hunting oil Broadbills - The Tenth Bird reaching $15,600 on its $5/7,000 estimate. The artist’s western hunting oil, Big Horn Rams, brought $37,200, within its $35/45,000 estimate.
Ogden Pleissner’s fly fishing watercolor Fading Light brought $37,200, above its $25/35,000 estimate, and a pastoral watercolor by A.L. Ripley sold for $2,520 on a $6/900 estimate. A watercolor by important American ornithological artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes depicting Scaled Quail brought $4,800, almost doubling its high estimate of $1,500/$2,500, and William J. Schaldach’s trout watercolor Mayfly Diet sold for $4,200 on its $1,500/$2,500 estimate. A watercolor of snipe by Robert Verity Clem exceeded expectations, selling for $3,600 on a $1,500/2,500 estimate, and the auction saw solid results for sporting art prints by artists including Frank W. Benson, A. L Ripley, Roland Clark, and Richard Bishop.
Throughout the sale, bidding was balanced between attendees in the room, telephone bids, and bids executed through the Bidsquare online platform. Auctioneer Peter Coccoluto kept the sale going at a steady, brisk pace over the course of the day. Five hours into the sale, the crowd in the room was still active and involved. Long stretches of the sale went without a single lot unsold and brisk bidding propelled the action.
The decoy portion of the sale got off to a strong start, with contemporary carver Marty Hanson’s swan selling for $5,535 to a Bidsquare buyer, above its $3/5,000 estimate. Soon thereafter, the sale saw strong prices set for miniature carvings, with a pair of mergansers by George Boyd leading the way at $4,800. These were followed by an A.E. Crowell tern which sold for $3,300 and five delicate songbirds by Crowell, which all exceeded their $5/700 estimates, landing at $1,320 each.
Life-size decorative carvings by Massachusetts carver A.E. Crowell were among the top lots of the sale, with the ruffed grouse launching to $63,000. Collectors agreed with Copley’s specialists regarding the rarity and quality of this bird, propelling the rare upland game bird carving above its $35/45,000 estimate. The finely detailed bobwhite quail brought $24,000 in a post-auction sale.
A rare offering of exceptional Canada goose decoys by George Boyd from the Howard Batchelder rig demonstrated the intricacies of the decoy market. The swimming Canada goose brought $90,000, while the Canada goose with its head turned slightly to the right sold for $15,600, over its $10/15,000 estimate, and the Boyd goose with its head turned slightly to the left sold for $7,000 after the auction.
In the shorebird market, a running plover by early Massachusetts carver Elisha Burr sold for a strong $15,600, almost doubling the low on its $8/10,000 estimate. Three of the better Nantucket shorebirds were scooped up by astute bidders, as a feeding golden plover brought $2,760, a golden plover brought $3,600, and a hollow golden plover sold for $3,300.
Contemporary carver Mark McNair continued his strong results at auction, with a merganser pair bringing $2,400, within its $2/3,000 estimate, a feeding yellowlegs bringing $1,800, above its $1/1,500 estimate, and a dowitcher pair selling for $2,280, well above its $6/900 estimate. Works by William Gibian performed well, with a vibrant Mandarin duck bringing $2,280 on a $8/1,000 estimate and a yellowlegs pair landing at $2,040, above its $8/1,200 estimate. New York carver Chauncey Wheeler’s flying goldeneye hen and drake each sold for $8,400, and Captain John Schweikart's canvasback hen brought $7,200, above its $4/6,000 estimate.
Decoys from the William H Purnell, Jr. Collection were very well received, with his plover by Virginia maker Nathan F. Cobb, Jr. leading the way, going well above its $10/15,000 estimate to hit $21,600. Twenty-two carvings from Purnell’s collection were 100% sold, with seventeen selling within or above estimate. William Purnell started collecting decoys very early in the era of William Mackey, Jr, Donal O’Brien, Jr., and Adele Earnest. Over the last half-century, Purnell acquired some of the finest Southern decoys known, and bidders once again responded to offerings from this revered Southern collection.
Decoys carved by North Carolina maker Lee Dudley have been held in the highest regard by collectors from the earliest days of decoy collecting, and a canvasback drake sold for $42,000, within its $40/60,000 estimate. Shortly afterward, a Caines brothers mallard drake brought $18,000 on its $10/15,000 estimate. A hooded merganser hen by Delbert “Cigar” Daisey sold for $4,800, near the high of it's $3/5,000 estimate, and a Canada goose by Bob McGaw sold for $4,200 on a $2/3,000 estimate.
Copley offered three Canada geese by the Ward Brothers of Crisfield, Maryland, each from a different era of their carving. A 1930s Canada goose created for the Bishops Head Gun Glub sold for $69,000 on a $60/80,000 estimate, a 1970s cedar carving brought $2,706, above its $1,5/2,500 estimate, and the third goose, carved circa 1936, sold for $4,613, above its $2,5/3,500 estimate.
Rounding out the results for top decoy offerings were two good buys for Connecticut carver Shang Wheeler’s birds. A goldeneye pair brought $36,000 and a rare wood duck hen sold for $13,200. Additionally, a sleeping mallard hen by Charles Perdew landed at $51,000, and a mallard drake by the same maker sold for $5,400, within its $4/6,000 estimate.
Folk art highlights include a rattle snake cane, which soared past its $5/800 estimate before striking $3,900. A horse and jockey weathervane brought $4,200, within its $3/5,000 estimate, and a pair of wood duck andirons landed at $1,230 on a $5/1,000 estimate. Significant book results included Herbert Stoddard’s The Bobwhite Quail from 1931, selling for $1,845, and volumes one through five of Adam Paff’s Etchings and Drypoints by Frank W. Benson, selling for $2,214, both to Bidsquare buyers.
Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is preparing for its 2016 Sporting Sale, which returns to Plymouth, Massachusetts in July, with consignments accepted through April 15 or until full. For a free confidential auction estimate please call 617.536.0030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A full list of official prices realized from Copley’s 2016 Winter Sale will be available at www.copleyart.com. All prices include a 20% buyer’s premium (23% for online bidding), and all record prices cite AskArt.com.
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About Copley Fine Art Auctions
Copley Fine Art Auctions is the world's leading American sporting art auction company. Located in Boston, Copley specializes in antique decoys and 19th- and 20th-century American, sporting, and wildlife paintings.