HYANNIS, Mass. – A classic carving of a hissing Canada goose by the esteemed carver Joseph W. Lincoln (Hingham, Mass., 1859-1938) soared to a new record price of $299,000 at a Summer Decoy Auction held July 22nd by Decoys Unlimited, Inc., at the Cape Codder Resort and Hotel in Hyannis (on Cape Cod). The auction was held in conjunction with a show for decoy enthusiasts.
The hissing goose boasted superb, dry, original paint and was in impeccable condition, showing off Lincoln’s best painted feather detail. The serpentine neck terminated in an expertly crafted head. The $299,000 was the most ever paid for a Lincoln decoy at auction, and the highest price paid for any decoy at auction so far in 2016. It was also easily the top achiever in the Decoys Unlimited, Inc. auction that saw more than 650 lots come up for bid and grossed about $860,000.
“I was very pleased with the results of this sale, which did better in all areas than our summer 2015 sale, and it just confirmed what I’ve known for some time – that the market is super strong for decoys at all levels,” said Ted Harmon of Decoys Unlimited, Inc., based in West Barnstable, Mass. “Decoys selling for $1,000, $10,000, $75,000 and up are all in demand among collectors.”
Harmon said the top-tier birds – those selling for more than $10,000 – are the ones that have the easiest time attracting buyers. “The numbers of collectors is not dwindling, it’s on the rise,” he said, “and those at the high end, the people with the most money to spend, are eager to purchase what they like because they’re not just collectors, they’re businesspeople, making investments.”
About 300 people attended the auction in person (with some of those people free-flowing back and forth between the auction and the adjacent show), while another 600 or so registered to bid online, via Invaluable.com. There were also an estimated combined 300 phone and absentee (or left) bidders. “I’m not kidding when I say this could have easily been a $2 million auction, if I’d had more high-end decoys to offer,” Harmon said. “That’s how strong the top of the market is.”
Following are additional highlights from the auction. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.
Other decoys carved by Joseph W. Lincoln included a rare wigeon hen made desirable by the detailed individual painted feather detail on the breast and back, not typical of Lincoln’s work ($10,350); a “sporting grade” yellowlegs, made circa 1900, in near-mint condition, with the original paint ($6,612); and a colorful, scarce example of a miniature shoveler drake ($2,300).
While Lincoln’s hissing goose may have grabbed all the attention and headlines, the rest of the list of top lots was dominated by A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952), the master decoy carver from East Harwich, Mass. Crowell specialized in shorebirds, waterfowl and miniatures and his decoys are widely regarded as the finest and most desirable ever made. They also bring the most money.
The top-selling Crowell bird in the auction was a life-size, semi-palmated plover, a rare specie, in superb condition, mounted on an expertly carved and painted quahog shell base that was hand-signed, “A. E. Crowell – Cape Cod” ($17,250). Next in line was a rare miniature dunlin on a carved and painted “rock” base, with a split tail and the correct, downward curved bill ($3,738).
Other Crowell examples in the auction featured a miniature preening pintail drake with raised wingtips, extended slender tail ($3,450); a miniature cock pheasant, posed in a running stance and with tiny carved tufts on the rear of the head and a long, thin extended tail ($2,875); and an arctic tern, about one-third life-size and with split tail feathers with raised wingtips ($2,587).
Not every decoy needs to be attributed to a carver to fetch high dollars. The runner-up top lot of the sale was a common tern decoy (circa 1870-1890), pulled from the Skala rig and discovered in an attic on Long Island ($25,875). The graceful, elongated carving with a thinly carved tail measured 12 ¾ inches from bill to tail and still had the bone dry, salty, ancient original paint.
Other decoys by unknown makers included a glass eye blue-winged teal drake, made in the late 1880s by the Stevens Decoy Factory (Weedsport, N.Y.), and one of only 14 known blue-winged teal from the glass eye period ($10,350); and a fine, early black-bellied Duxbury plover from the south shore of Massachusetts, circa 1890-1910, solid carved and with the original paint ($8,050).
A classic and important greater yellowlegs by John Henry Verity (Seaford, Long Island, N.Y., 1788-1866), a carver from the earliest days of North American shorebird hunting and a veteran of the War of 1812, sold for $9,200; while a mallard drake by Charles “Napoleon” Armstrong (Pilottown, La., 1887-1954), for years a lighthouse keeper on the Mississippi River, hit $2,875.
Decoys carved by Robert Morse (Ellsworth, Me., 1910-1959) included a miniature pheasant with nicely carved head, an elongated tail, a downward gazing stance and excellent, dry original paint ($1,150); and a miniature pintail drake having an upright head with fanned tail and extended tail feather, and signed on the base by Morse with the original purchase price of just $7.50 ($1,150).
Decoys Unlimited, Inc.’s next regularly planned auction will be held sometime later in the year, almost certainly one and possibly two events, but with no firm timetable or dates set yet. One is likely to be held in November, but watch the website for details, at www.decoysunlimitedinc.net.
Decoys Unlimited, Inc., is always accepting quality consignments for future auctions. To consign a single item, an estate or a collection, you may call them at (508) 362-2766; or, you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Decoys Unlimited, Inc., and the firm’s calendar of upcoming events, log on to www.decoysunlimitedinc.net. The firm offers free appraisals for anyone wanting to know the potential value of a decoy or a related item.
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