Copley’s 2009 Sporting Sale to Feature Something for Everyone

  • PLYMOUTH, Massachusetts
  • /
  • June 25, 2009

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Swan by John “Daddy” Holly (1819-1892) or James T. Holly (1855-1935), Havre de Grace, MD, c. 1900 ($150/200,000)
Copley Fine Art Auctions

On July 15 and 16, Copley Fine Art Auctions will present its annual Sporting Sale, showcasing 660 lots of decoys, paintings, prints, and books. Remarking on the building excitement for the upcoming sale, Chairman and CEO Stephen B. O’Brien, Jr. says, “Many of the important works in this landmark sale originate from the country’s earliest and best sporting art collections, including those of Harry V. Long (Cohasset, MA), Henry P. Megargee, Jr. (Brigantine, NJ), Joseph and James West (Bordentown, NJ), Barrie and Bernice Stavis (New York), William J. Butler (Washington, DC), Samuel Wakeman (Cohasset, MA), and Peter Brams (New York). I do not think it is an overstatement to suggest that many of these pieces are the best of the best.”

In addition to the well-publicized seven works by A. Elmer Crowell originally commissioned by Harry V. Long, the auction will offer a magnificent array of 440 lots of decoys, folk art, and related objects. Notable items include a swan by John “Daddy” Holly (1819-1892) or his son James T. Holly (1855-1935) estimated at $50/100,000. Recently discovered, it is one of only four or five Holly swans known to exist. Also by the Hollys is a pair of canvasbacks that many decoy experts consider the best pair of Upper Chesapeake Bay decoys ever to come to market ($150/250,000). Originally gifted by New Jersey carver and collector Walter Bush to the Staten Island Museum, these iconic Maryland decoys have been published in numerous books and articles and were in the distinguished collection of Dr. James M. McCleery.

Frank W. Benson, “Canada Geese,” 1928, watercolor, 19 ¼ by 23 ¾ inches, framed ($60/80,000)
Copley Fine Art Auctions

Complementing the Crowell Seven, an exemplary ruddy turnstone by the carver reveals his attention to detail and ability to express species’ attitude ($30/60,000). Another Crowell highlight is an early complete set of twenty-five waterfowl miniatures from c. 1915 ($75/125,000). The charming set includes a surf scoter drake and an eider drake, species rarely found in any set. Other miniatures and decoratives in the auction include an important private collection of twenty seven works by James Lapham, who was greatly influenced by Crowell’s hand. This particular collection represents some of the maker’s best work.

Representing contemporary works, the auction will feature the best of Mark McNair’s early decoys from the Stavis Collection. Estimates for McNair’s highly skilled carvings range from $500 to $5,000.

From the Megargee Collection, Copley offers a flying brant by Ellis Parker ($10/15,000). With its original canvas, folky design, and historic provenance, the New Jersey brant hunting decoy is amongst the best of its kind.  Maine decoys will be well represented with an Augustus Aaron Wilson (1864-1950) merganser estimated at $10/20,000 and an Orlando Sylvester "Os" Bibber’s (1882-1970) oldsquaw hen estimated at $20/50,000. The latter is the only hen of the species that Bibber is known to have carved. The auction will also include a William Hart hooded merganser drake from the carver’s personal gunning rig ($20/40,000). It is one of two known original paint examples of this species by the maker.

Black-bellied plover by William Humphrey (1821-1880s), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, c. 1850 ($25/35,000)
Copley Fine Art Auctions

For shorebird collectors, the sale will offer many fine works, including William Humphrey’s over-sized plover ($25/35,000). This preeminent shorebird is featured on the preface page of Patricia Fleming and Thomas Carpenter’s Traditions in Wood: A History of Wildfowl Decoys in Canada. George Hinkley’s yellowlegs with “minnow in throat” stands is perhaps the maker’s finest work ($12/18,000). A mere dozen of Hinkley’s decoys are known to survive, and a rigmate carved from the same piece of wood resides in the permanent collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. Kicking off the sale of important decoys will be fifteen shorebirds out of the Wakeman collection estimated from $500-$1,500.

Once again the sale will feature works by numerous leading sporting artists including Harry Curieux Adamson, Frank W. Benson, Richard E. Bishop, Paul Desmond Brown (two), George Browne, Roland H. Clark, Robert Verity Clem, William H. Foster, Arthur Burdett Frost, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Lynn Bogue Hunt (two), Roy Martell Mason (two), Edmund H. Osthaus (three), Alexander Pope, Ogden M. Pleissner (seven), Aiden Lassell Ripley (four), and William J. Schaldach (three). A rare self portrait of John Martin Tracy shorebird hunting completes the group. Top contemporary sporting works will comprise of paintings by Thomas Aquinas Daly, Luke Frazier, Chet Reneson, Brett Smith, and John Swan.

Included on the schedule of events is a lecture by Joseph H. Ellis entitled “In His Footsteps: A. Elmer Crowell and America’s Miniature Bird Carvers” on July 14 at 4 pm. He will also be available for a book signing of his newly released Birds in Wood and Paint: America Miniature Bird Carvings and their Carvers, 1900-1970. After Ellis’ lecture, a cocktail reception and preview will continue the presale events. On July 16 at 10 am, Robert R. Anderson will deliver a second lecture entitled “A Sporting Autumn,” a photographic journey of wing shooting, fox hunting, angling, and golf.

The auction catalog, accompanied by the 95 page fully illustrated and hardbound Harry V. Long Collection catalog, is now available for $58 and may be ordered online at or by phone at (617) 536-0030.

Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is at 268 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116.


Emily Fisher


Copley Fine Art Auctions
65 Sharp Street
Hingham, Massachusetts
About Copley Fine Art Auctions

Copley Fine Art Auction experts provide a host of services for collectors: Appraisals, including trusts and estates; auction, gallery, and private sales; collections management; custom framing and restoration. Whether you're a new or seasoned collector, we are happy to discuss options for the formation, development, or sale of a collection encompassing our specialties. We work with private collectors, museums, and corporations nationwide, and have helped form many leading collections. In addition, we offer advice regarding personal property for trusts, estates, and private clients to aid fiduciaries, executors, advisors, and collectors.

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