Decoys As Art

Duck hunting has never been easy on the wallet. Add up the cost of guns, shells, dogs, calls, clothes, dekes, a boat and a truck to tow it and pretty soon you're talking real money. But if you're at all interested in collecting duck decoys, the price of all that can seem like chump change. The top collectible decoys are trading at auction for well over half a million dollars each.

Just this last April, at an auction held by Guyette & Schmidt, a Maine-based company that is the world's largest dealer in antique decoys, a standing Canada goose by Elmer Crowell sold for $605,000. Of course, that price was a couple of Ferraris shy of the $801,500 commanded by a Crowell carving of a preening pintail drake that sold in January 2003. Crowell's drake, the highest-priced decoy on record, is an "exceptional work," according to Gary Guyette, president of Guyette & Schmidt. "It is particularly refined."

Crowell was a Massachusetts guide who made decorative decoys (many of them done around 1910 or so) for special clients. While virtually anybody can buy a Crowell hunting decoy, only a millionaire can touch his decorative works.

Fishing collectibles are seeing a similar surge in values. Last November, Tracey Shirey paid a record $101,200 for a 10-inch Haskell Minnow, made in 1859.

The folk-art component in decoys sets it apart in price from fishing collectibles. "It is the kind of art that is distinctive to North America," says John Freimuth, a suburban Chicago collector.

And designed for deep pockets.--Dale Bowman

1 $801,500CARVER: Elmer Crowell DECOY: Preening pintail drake LAST SOLD: January 2003 WHEN CARVED: 1910s COMMENT: Top decorative decoy

2 $684,500 CARVER: Elmer Crowell DECOY: Preening Canada goose LAST SOLD: January 2000 WHEN CARVED: 1910s COMMENT: Early market-setter

3 $605,000 CARVER: Elmer Crowell DECOY: Standing Canada goose LAST SOLD: April 2004 WHEN CARVED: 1910s COMMENT: Most recent top sale

4 $470,500 CARVER: Lothrop Holmes DECOY: Ruddy turnstone LAST SOLD: January 2000 WHEN CARVED: 1860s COMMENT: Top hunting decoy

5 $464,500 CARVER: William Bowman DECOY: Long-billed curlew LAST SOLD: January 2000 WHEN CARVED: 1880s COMMENT: Hunting decoy

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