The Russ and Karen Goldberger Collection
The Evolution of RJG Antiques
Collecting and dealing decoys for 50 years!
Though we have made the decision to downsize our home, and will no longer have the room to display the collection we have built and enjoyed for decades, we will still remain active in the decoy community. Karen and I have been offering quality decoys for a long time and have built many business and personal relationships that we plan to continu e.
Sa me business, just a new hom e.- Ru ss Goldberger
Born in Massapequa, Long Island, New York to Maurice and Miriam Goldberger, Russ is a 1963 graduate of Rutgers University, with a degree in economics. After serving as Captain in the United States Air Force from 1963-1967, Russ would enjoy a 15-year professional career with Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. Eventually serving as Senior Brand Manager and taking the company’s Charmin brand to record market share, sales, and profits. He would develop and launch multiple consumer products while at P&G. In 1977, while still at Proctor & Gamble and five years before relocating to Pittsburgh to join SmithKline Beecham as Senior Director of Brand Management, Russ would establish a part-time mail order antique decoy business, called RJG Antiques. The decoy business would remain a part-time endeavor until, in 1989, Russ and Karen moved to New Hampshire and committed to the decoy business full-time, adding the complementary folk-art business under the name “Russ and Karen Goldberger/ RJG Antiques”.Russ and Karen Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Russ and Karen would become familiar faces at the major antiques and decoy shows across the country, selling at 20+ shows a year. They were the first decoy dealers and one of the first antique dealers to commit to a full-blown Internet marketing platform, including a major e-commerce website and digital database, matching collector’s interests with available inventory. Russ’s marketing background would be invaluable in growing Russ and Karen Goldberger/ RJG Antiques to become the largest decoy retail business in the country. Between purchasing inventory for their business and representing many collectors at auctions, for a large part of the 1990’s, Russ and Karen became Guyette and Schmidt’s largest buyer of decoys at auction.
In 1993, Russ and the late Alan Haid co-authored the definitive book on Mason decoys, since updated and revised twice. Russ and Karen have operated a large gallery in Rye, New Hampshire for over 30 years and have offered a large and ever-changing inventory of quality decoys and folk art. A highly regarded dealer, author, counselor and broker, Russ has been instrumental in the formation of some of the finest decoy and folk art collections in the country.
A Personal Note from Russ and Karen…
As decoy and folk art dealers for nearly 50 years, we have had many opportunities to acquire great objects.
Heritage is important. Being from Long Island, schooled in New Jersey, living in the Midwest, and in New England for the past 30 years, we sought great examples by the best decoy makers.
Why did we decide to keep some, upgrade or sell others?
• Decoys, as 3-dimensional objects, had to appeal to us “in the round”. Form is always important to us, and decoys needed to be as created, and in original paint.
• We love a dry surface, usually coming with exposure to the elements and age. Unless varnished at the making, we tended to shy away from more shiny examples.
• Any restoration has to be minimal, ideally none, and only if it was required to restore an otherwise original form.
RJG Antiques Testimonials Throughout the Years
“Thank you for working with me to get the decoys. You have been a big help and a class act about the whole process.”
“I have a great deal of respect for your opinion, and so you taking time to let me know what you think is especially appreciated. We’ve known each other a long time, and during that time I have never heard anything but ‘good things’ about the Goldbergers. That is saying something for both you and your wife.”
“I really appreciate the work you do and very impressed and happy that you have made a living, and left your mark on the world while doing something you are passionate about. You are living the American dream - keep going. Thanks again.”
“I would like to thank you for your personalized thank you and offer to follow up with discussion and any questions. These days such personal commitments are more and more becoming a thing of the past.”
“If I were an antique dealer I would operate with the same honesty and willingness to share as you have always done with me. There is a reason for your success and my respect.”
“Thanks, you are by far the best and most understanding dealer I have dealt with.”
“Thanks again, I’ve never had such a pleasant and easy exchange before, U rock.”
The items from the collection of Russ and Karen Goldberger have been marked with the Goldberger collection ink stamp, a design inspired by their logo of the last 30+ years.
Harry V. Shourds
Charles “Shang” Wheeler
Charles Perdew Robert Elliston
Mason Decoy Factory
1896 – 1924 | Detroit, Michigan
Other decoy factories existed earlier but perhaps no one name is more well-known and almost synonymous with the working wooden decoy, than “Mason”. The company was the brainchild of William James Mason, (1846 – 1905) who emigrated to Detroit from Scotland with his parents in 1852. Early in his life, he developed a deep-seated love of the outdoors and became an accomplished hunter and fisherman, plying the waters and marshes around Harsen’s Island and the St. Clair River Delta. His outdoor experiences qualified him for employment, in 1872, as a clerk in the John E. Long Sporting Goods store near the Detroit waterfront. Eventually he, along with partner George E. Avery, took over that business and greatly expanded it to include the wholesale and retail sale of guns, fishing equipment and sporting goods of all kinds. The partners apparently had some differences of opinion and the firm closed in 1888. It is believed that it was at about this time that Mason began to carve his first decoys for sale to fellow sportsmen at Harsen’s Island and around the St. Claire Flats. Early U.S. Patent Office applications indicate that Mason had applied for a trademark on his “Premier” and “Challenge” monikers as early as 1894. Various references indicate that he was producing decoys full time in 1896 out of a small shop behind his home at 49 Tuscola St. Early advertisements in “The Sporting Goods Dealer” show that the Mason Decoy Factory was well established by 1889 and Mason is listed in the 1900 US census as a “decoy maker”. It is
widely assumed that, initially, his decoys were entirely hand made products, although some have stated that he may have had a few lathe turned bodies supplied by the Jasper Dodge factory, also in Detroit. Local sales, as well as mail orders, greatly increased resulting in his move into a mechanized, two story leased facility behind the Nicholson Lumber Co at 456 – 464 Brooklyn, Ave in 1903. The duplicating lathes and other woodworking equipment were located on the first floor, with the office, painting and shipping occupying the second floor. Throughout its existance, Mason decoys were entirely hand painted and the quality of this aspect of the operation has always been its hallmark. By this time, William’s son Herbert had joined the company and supervised most of the daily operations. A number of “grades” of decoys were produced from the elaborate “premier”, through a slightly less refined “challenge”, and a variety of “standard” configurations. Obviously, this made their product appealing to sportsmen and clubs at all economic and/or social levels. The number of species of ducks produced increased, and geese, swans, shorebirds and crows became standard offerings in the catalogs. Always the sportsman at heart, William died in 1905 from pneumonia he developed while sketching ducks in a favorite marsh. After his death, his sons, Herbert and Frederick inherited the business and moved the
factory to upgraded modern facilities at 5971 – 5975 Milford ST, adjacent to the railroad. Sales continued to originate from direct mail order but outlets were expanded to include individual sporting good stores and national chains, both large and small, throughout the country. The company remained very successful, although seasonally. Herbert, always the businessman, hoping to rectify this, expanded the company to include paint – a move that, again, proved profitable. Herberts growing interest in the line of pain ts, however, and competition from less expensive decoys, resulted in the decoy company closing its doors for the last time in 1924.
Certainly among the most stylish of Masons were his mergansers. The rare, c1910, rigmate pair offered in this sale are immortalized on the cover and on page 73 of Russ and Alan Haid’s reference “Mason Decoys – A Complete Pictorial Guide”. Likewise, the c1905 Challenge blue-winged teal in the collection is a rare example featuring the highly desirable “double blues” on the back. It is pictured on page 58 in the same reference. Of all the shorebird species produced by Mason, the long billed curlews, including the remarkable example being offered, are, as stated by Russ and Alan “- - - the crowning achievement(s) of the Mason factory” . And, “They represent an anchor of many shorebird collections” . Of the enormous number of Mason decoys handled by Russ and Karen, these examples were selected for display in their personal collection in their home.
Very rare rigmate pair of American mergansers, Mason Decoy Factory, Detroit, Michigan, 1st quarter 20th century. Challenge grade with incised bill carving and extended crests. Extra feather detailing on drake’s wings. The unusual white-throated hen is an accurate depiction of an American merganser. A signed Limited Edition copy of “Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide”, Russ J. Goldberger and Alan G. Haid is included with the decoys. Measure 17” long. Original paint with very minor gunning wear; small dent on underside of drake; tight drying cracks in underside of hen.
Provenance: Ex Dick Clark collection. Ex Dave Shobe collection. Purchased privately in 1990. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide”, Russ J. Goldberger and Alan G. Haid, cover, exact pair pictured. Pg. 17 (exact drake) and 73, exact pair pictured. (30,000 - 50,000)
Collector’s Note: The Mason Factory did not typically differentiate between hen American and hen red breasted mergansers. This hen merganser, with its white throat and breast, is painted distinctively as an American merganser.
Bluewing teal, Mason Decoy Factory, Detroit, Michigan, 1st quarter 20th century. Challenge grade model with early snakey head and incised bill carving. Thick swirl paint with double blue paint pattern. A signed Limited Edition copy of “Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide”, Russ J. Goldberger and Alan G. Haid is included with the decoy. Measures 12.5” long. Excellent original paint with very minor rubs; minor flaking around a small knot in back; hairline drying cracks in underside; hairline separation on one side of neck seat.
Provenance: Purchased from a private New England collection. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide”, Russ J. Goldberger and Alan G. Haid, pg. 58, exact decoy pictured. (12,000 - 18,000)
The Challenge blue-winged teal drake is “the best in the world” as far as we are concerned. It has everything we want: desirable species, snakey head style, “double blue” wing patches, and essentially mint condition.
The long-billed curlew is a replacement for the example in our book which we sold (an offer we could not refuse!). We always loved this form, and this one is almost as good. We should have a Mason curlew in our collection, It’s half of our logo.
Large curlew, Mason Decoy Factory, Detroit, Michigan, 1st quarter 20th century. Large body with applied head and iron bill. Measures 17” long. Original paint with minor crazing and wear; a couple of tight surface cracks on back from when the decoy was made; small spot of touchup where bill meets face; professional repair to a chip at the front of neck seat.
Provenance: Purchased from Alan G. Haid. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (15,000 - 25,000)
1862 - 1952 | East Harwich, Massachusetts
The name Crowell resonates with decoy collectors and lovers of decoy history. His life story is well known. Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862 – 1951) of East Harwich MA, initially worked as a market hunter, then cranberry grower and, eventually, head gunner and shooting stand manager. It is this last occupation that caused him to become one of the most celebrated carvers of all times. The Massachusetts/southern New Hampshire and northeast Rhode Island shooting stands were quite elaborate affairs, usually involving a substantial financial commitment. Some were managed by groups of sportsmen, but some were the private domain of affluent individuals. These men had much in common. They were successful businessmen, industrial leaders, doctors, lawyers, and other professional men. They were educated with ivy league credentials running deep in their blood. They tended to live in the same communities or summer enclaves scattered along the coast. They belonged to the same yacht, golf, and tennis clubs and were members of the same social or fraternal organizations and they gathered in the same private men’s clubs where they would meet for lunch or afternoon cocktails. The “old boy” network was alive and well. It was through these men that Crowell’s name spread, and he became recognized for the exceptional quality of his wooden decoys. His early customers were accustomed to the finer things in life and, when it came to their sporting goods, they demanded, and could afford, the very best. Factory or otherwise commercially available lures existed but, while some were rather nice, most were merely adequate. Soon, orders began to flow into Crowell’s small shop on the outer tip of Cape Cod. It was during this early period that Elmer is credited with producing his finest working ducks and shorebirds, decoys of a quality rarely seen elsewhere at the time. Eventually, as the demands and workload increased, he was forced to abandon some of his earlier carving details and plumage
applications, and his work transitioned to a still wonderful, but slightly less refined and a more purely functional item. His creative urges, however, could not be contained and, ultimately, his production of working decoys greatly diminished and was all but eliminated. He returned to focus on beautifully sculptured and painted work that, this time, was meant to be simply admired rather than stuck on a stick or thrown overboard.
Today’s advanced collectors can thank Crowell’s early patrons, men such as Phillips, Cunningham, Ashley, Hardy, Long, Whittemore and others, with starting Elmer down the path that would eventually earn him the title of “The Father of American Bird Carving”. To this list we can now add the name of Frank Gilbert Hinsdale.
Frank Gilbert Hinsdale (1874 – 1940) was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts near the border with New York. His father, James, was a successful woolen manufacturer. F Gilbert, or simply Gilbert, (his preferred names) entered that trade as a young man. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University, class of 1898. While at Yale, he was active in a number of organizations including several literary groups. After graduation, he returned to the textile business, becoming extremely successful, influential, and, very wealthy. He became Director of the highly regarded linen firm of Clarence Whitman & Son in downtown New York, and also became the treasurer of the large (1400 employee) Wilkes – Barre Lace Manufacturing Co. in Pennsylvania.
In 1904, he wed his wife, Martha, in a small service in the coastal Massachusetts city of New Bedford. His wife’s maiden name was Means and, after the service, the couple received guests at her mother’s summer house in nearby Mattapoisett. Her father had died in 1891 and her mother, Sophia, had recently built the home in 1902. The Means familyAnthony Elmer Crowell and “the Hinsdale Rig”
were prominent, wealthy members of Boston’s Brahmin Society (read - “old money”) with roots going back to the family patriarch, John, who arrived in Boston in 1718 from Ireland. Hinsdale’s business acumen led to his acquiring the wealth and prestige that allowed him to fit in well with the Mean family. By 1912, he was residing at a coveted Manhattan address with his wife, son and three servants. Martha’s mother died in 1917 and, at some point, the Means gained control of her home at 20 Water St in Mattapoisett, naming it “The Piers”. Eventually, they would split their time between their Mattapoisett and Manhattan addresses.
The Hinsdale’s quickly adapted to their Mattapoisett community and became well known and active in that town’s social and civic affairs. They would eventually donate tracts of land on the waterfront for use as a Town Park which still exists today. F. Gilbert became a respected collector of both art and whaling memorabilia including scrimshaw, logbooks and whalecraft (the harpoons, lances, blubber spades, etc.) used in the once prominent whaling industry in the nearby port of New Bedford. Whaling made New Bedford one of the wealthiest cities in the country by the time the industry peaked in 1857. The “fishery”, as it was known, stubbornly lingered on until the last whaling vessel made a voyage from the port in 1927. Obviously, Hinsdale was well positioned in time and location to amass an enviable collection. Some of his best pieces reside in the New Bedford Whaling Museum today. His infatuation with whaling led to his becoming an avid swordfisherman. He befriended noted whaling artist Clifford Ashley and commissioned him to paint himself at the pulpit (throwing platform) of his boat, the Eliza B Benner, in 1918, about to stick (harpoon) one of the large fish. He became so enamored with the sport that he went on to invent a number of darts (harpoon heads), some of which are still in use today. He commissioned the construction of a large swordfish to serve as a weathervane at the end of the town dock that, after multiple restorations, remains in use there today.
Members of the Means family were known sportsmen and hunters. Some became recognized for their bird carvings while others shot over decoys by noted
New Hampshire carver, George Boyd. They also were associates of other well-known Boston sportsmen, such as Dr. John C. Phillips, and gunned at his stand at Wenham Lake on Massachusetts’ north shore. Hinsdale must have gunned with some of these individuals, for the book, “My Guns” (pub 1941) by William Gordon Means, begins with the posthumous dedication:
To the Memory of F.Gilbert Hinsdale
Whose good sportsmanship and keen sense of humor Enhanced so many days afield
It is not known how or when Hinsdale became aware of Elmer Crowell, perhaps it was through the Means/ Phillips connection. What is clear, is that he placed an order for a small rig of decoys with Elmer. Crowell is recognized as first using his now famous oval stamp in 1912. The Hinsdale rig are unmarked, indicating that they probably date to a c1910 vintage. The mergansers may have been floated near his home in Mattapoisett, or due to his interest in boating and knowledge of the local waters, they may have been used elsewhere in Buzzards Bay. The usual excellent condition of the decoys in the rig would indicate that they were used with great care, and today offer not only a glimpse into the wide-ranging sporting life of F Gilbert Hinsdale, but also represent the type of exceptional work which A.E. Crowell produced for his earliest influential customers.Note: Guyette and Deeter would like to thank Jim Cullen and Ted Harmon for the information they provided.
Our rigmate pair of Crowell mergansers are as good a pair of early, working decoys by the master carver that you can find. Hens from this rig are particularly scarce.
4 Extremely rare rigmate pair of red breasted mergansers, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Pre-brand, having been made before Crowell began using his oval brand. From the rig of S. Gilbert Hinsdale, Mattpoissett, Massachusetts. Both with slightly tucked and turned heads, with feather rasping on breast and back of head. Excellent wet on wet feather blending on tail areas and hen’s head. Measure 16.75” and 17.25” long. Outstanding original paint with virtually no wear; fine hairline crack in one side of each neck seat; hairline separation at the wood grain around top of drake’s head and bill; tiny dent on top of drake’s head; these birds were obviously used very little and are in outstanding original condition.
Provenance: Purchased from Ted and Judy Harmon in 2001. Exhibited at the Peabody Museum, the Fuller Craft Museum, the Heritage Plantation Museum, and the Osterville Historical Society 1998-1999. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “The Songless Aviary”, Brian Cullity, pg. 66, exact pair pictured. (120,000 - 180,000)
5 Large mallard drake, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts. Slightly turned and lifted head. Fine feather paint detail. Crowell’s nearly complete oval brand on the underside. Crowell made very few mallards in his early years. Measures 17.5” long. Several small spots of touchup on both lower sides; a little on the top of head as well; structurally excellent.
Provenance: Purchased at Guyette & Deeter 2021. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (20,000 - 30,000)
The mallard drake was part of a group of a dozen drakes of different species I “picked” out of a northern Maine collection. All have nearly complete oval brands; all are unrigged and mint except for some minor paint pulls, from being stacked together, that were touched up. We had sold this one with the others and later bought it back to keep the memory.
Early miniature hooded merganser, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Wonderful exaggerated crest of head feathers and raised wingtips. Identified and numbered 19 on the underside. Also with the faint remnants of Crowell’s “MFR” ink stamp. Measures 3” long. Excellent paint detail remains bright with virtually no wear; excellent structurally.
Provenance: Purchased at Guyette & Deeter 2013. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (2,000 - 3,000)
7 Early miniature pintail, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Raised, slender neck and raised wingtip carving. White painted underside of base with “Pintail 18” and the faint remnants of Crowell’s “MFR” ink stamp on underside. Most of Crowell’s early miniature pintails show damage or repairs to their slender neck and tail sprig. Measures 5” long. Tiny paint flake on tip of tail sprig, otherwise excellent and original.
Provenance: Purchased from Joseph H. Ellis. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (2,000 - 3,000)
8 Running black bellied plover, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Outstanding, fat body example with relief wing carving and raised wingtips. Measures 11.75” long. Excellent original paint with very minor wear; tiny chip in raised wingtip; small spot of paint flaking where bill meets face has been darkened; small blood or rust stain on one side of face.
Provenance: Purchased at Julia & Guyette, 1990. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (150,000 - 250,000)
The running black-bellied plover was our first serious/expensive auction purchase. We’ve owned it for over 30 years. It’s early, in rare running pose with carved primaries, and in excellent condition. Only a handful of these overly plump, carved wing Crowell’s exist, including a feeder that sold for a world record $830,000 at Guyette & Schmidt in 2006. This plover would be an anchor for any decoy collection!
Collector’s Note: The turned-head plover we purchased privately from a picker/dealer. How many working, Elmer Crowell shorebirds with a turned head have you seen?
9 Very rare turned head black bellied plover, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. With slightly turned and cocked head, which is a very rare feature for Crowell shorebirds. Raised wingtips and fine feather paint detail. Measures 10” long. Excellent original paint with virtually no wear; paint rubs on tip of raised wingtip and edge of tail; some flaking from the hardwood bill and to filler around one eye.
Provenance: Purchased from a New England dealer 2014. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (50,000 - 80,000)
The flying goose weathervane bridges our interest in decoys and folk art. Few of these Crowells survived in good condition since they weathered outdoors. Ours is in excellent original condition.
Very rare flying Canada goose weathervane, Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Made from a .75” board with applied wings and large brass tack eyes. Inserted copper gusset in stick hole. Measures 29” long. Original paint with minor to moderate flaking; very minor roughness at bill tip; shallow dent in one side.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (20,000 - 30,000)
Shorebird Hunting on Long Island
The hunting of migratory shorebirds is not unique to Long Island but, as Bill Mackey observed:
“Since Long Island, without a doubt, means wildfowl decoys to more people than any other spot on earth, that’s the place to start”.
The white man has been pursuing shorebirds on the Island for well over 400 years. New York, first settled by the Dutch in 1609, has the distinction of being one of the very first areas in the New World to be permanently inhabited by Europeans. Other regions were settled shortly thereafter, but none grew as rapidly as did the areas around Manhattan, NY and Boston, MA. Soon, thousands of mouths had to be fed, and wild game, fish and shellfish formed a significant portion of the people’s diet. The early inhabitants often wrote about the abundance of game of all sorts, and certainly, the annual migration of hordes of ducks, geese and shorebirds did not escape their notice. Initially, this bounty was harvested by family members for their own consumption but, as the population grew and urban numbers began to outpace the rural, the occupation of market hunting began to emerge – hunters who would harvest wild animals purely as a commercial venture.
“It was Long Island that supplied the New York game markets for over a century”(JoelBarber
Wildlife of all sorts, including shorebirds, were a staple in food markets everywhere. For this venture to be financially viable, it was necessary that the market hunters secure the largest amount of game at the least expense and with the minimum of effort. Game laws were practically non-existent or, at best, poorly enforced. Devices and methods of all sorts were utilized to obtain the game including traps, nets, bait, night shooting, and bigger and bigger guns. Flock shooting was commonplace and large numbers of birds could
be killed with a single shot or barrage. In addition to food, tens of thousands of birds were sacrificed simply to supply the feathers needed to satisfy the fashion whims of the Victorian millinery trade. The widespread slaughter had to eventually take its toll on the animals. Other factors were also involved but, over time, wildlife numbers declined, some due to extirpation and a few to the point of extinction. As this decrease was occurring, agriculture was rapidly improving and expanding. Domestically raised animals and commercially grown fruits and vegetables became more abundant and readily available. Vastly improved transportation could now quickly deliver crops and animals produced at a distance to the burgeoning urban centers. These occurrences were deciding factors that would result in the eventual passing of the market gunner. Life along the coast, too, was changing. Commerce and industry were growing. The economy was improving, and people possessed the means to purchase the domestically produced foods. They also had the leisure time and money to look at game in a new light – that of hunting for sport. This gave rise to the golden age of shotgunning.
Long Island stretches for over one hundred miles from Manhattan in the west to Montauk Point in the east. Along its southern shore, numerous bays, large and small, are found for practically the entire length. Jamaica, Great South, Shinnecock, Moriches, Peconic and other protected bodies of water were surrounded by beaches marshlands and meadows that provided ideal habitat for the, once, clouds of migrating shorebirds – “Snipe” in the New York vernacular. The area attracted a myriad of avian species ranging from the various tiny sanderlings (collectively called “peeps”) to the large willets and curlews. The hunters were far from trained ornithologists and the birds acquired numerous local colloquialisms, such as doughbirds, beetleheads, Calico-backs and an array of other colorful titles. These provided fine sport and some, not all, like those destined for a “peep pie” or a dinner of roasted golden plover, were considered a particular delicacy. The birds would arrive in the Spring and would not leave until the Fall. This provided the new breed of gunners with what became known as the “genteel sport”. It was not necessary to endure the wind, rain, cold and snow with elaborate, expensive rigs. One could arm themselves with a basket of shorebird decoys,
a whistle, shells and lunch and rest behind a very simple blind on a pleasant day and wait for the gullible birds to come to him or her. If one was coming from the city, as many were, the railroad provided easy, comfortable access to the best shooting grounds over the entire length of the Island.
“Hundreds of Manhattan sportsmen were on the South Bay marshes at daybreak today for the legal opening of the snipe shooting season on Long Island.” (N.Y.Times, July 3, 1906)
The urban sportsman/woman needed decoys and guides to take them to the best locations. Many would need food and lodging if on an extended stay. This meant income for many of the baymen that may have been prior market hunters themselves or the children of market hunters. Many of these men produced the needed shorebird decoys that were either sold locally or in the many sporting goods stores in New York City. Individual homes, simple hotels and grand clubs catered to the needs of the visitors. A few distinct styles of decoys for the birds developed on the Island and each of these had its iconic carvers that were in demand at the time, and equally so by collectors today. The total number of decoys produced probably comfortably totaled in the thousands.
All the while, the human population was continuing to grow. Open and available land continued to give way to development. The once abundant habitat began to be degraded, shrink in size, or disappear entirely. Bird populations also continued to decline. Eventually laws were put in place to offer the shorebirds some degree of protection. An emerging group of conservationists were successful in getting a closed season in New York, making
it illegal to shoot shorebirds from January 1 through June 30. Slowly in the 1900’s, the season was pushed back, first to July 15th, then to August 1st, and finally August 15th.
In 1918, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibited the killing, sale, or transport of migratory birds without approval of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. This put an end to the (legal) sale of waterfowl and shorebirds. It was the final blow to the market hunter and resulted in the establishment of closed seasons on certain species, including practically all shorebirds. A few, such as yellowlegs and some plovers, retained a highly governed season until 1928 when, finally, it came to an end once and for all. Most of the shorebird decoys were then destroyed or lost to time and the elements.
1813 - 1901 | Seaford, Long Island, New York
Long Island attracted great numbers of shorebirds and thus, it was home to many carvers of decoys meant to attract them. Some of these men produced lures that were only fair, while others, produced exceptional birds. Many would argue that names at the very top of the list would include Gelston, Bowman, Dilley, and Verity. Ironically, of these, only Thomas Gelston has been thoroughly documented. The other gentlemen are either enigmatic or, at best, only vaguely understood. Among the Verity’s, the picture becomes particularly clouded when discussing the man that, today, most consider the master of the style attributed to the entire family, Obediah.
Uncertainty has surrounded the fine, distinctive decoys of this individual since their existence first became public. As early as 1965, writers William Mackey and Adele Earnest, proclaimed them to be the work of Bellport sportsman, Henry F. Osborne. Some Seaford residents already thought or knew differently. In 1969, George Weeks (1884 – 1977) wrote in “Recollections of Seaford” that “Diah was a great carver of decoys of which I have about a dozen”. In the mid 1970’s, Long Island collectors Bud Ward and George Coombs, with his son, George Jr., in an attempt to finalize the attribution once and for all, visited aged bayman“Bay Snipe” by A.B. Frost 1895
and carver Andrew “Grubie” Verity (1881 – 1976) in his nursing home and showed him a basket of shorebirds. He first accurately identified some of them with known carvers and then, picking up one of the (so-called) Osborne birds, he stated: “Diah, Obediah”. Even this news was slow to circulate in the decoy community and, as late as 1982, when they had now been assigned to the hand of Verity, his home was listed, erroneously, as being in Massapequa.
The Verity family in Seaford dates back generations to the 1700’s, beginning with patriarch Samuel who was a Revolutionary War Veteran. By the mid 1800’s, the clan had grown to such an extent that Seaford had acquired the unofficial title of “Verity Town”. Men in the family were mostly baymen or worked in closely allied trades. Research by Richard Baldwin and others has determined that no fewer than 16 of the Verity’s carved decoys, and additional family members acted as guides or boatbuilders. To further add to the confusion, various references have identified either 6 or 7 Verity men with the name of Obadiah or Obediah. After conducting an extensive genealogical research project, Baldwin was able to make a rather convincing case that the Obediah of decoy fame was the
son of decoy carver John Henry Verity (1788 – 1866) and his wife Amy, and that his birth and death dates were (1813 – 1901). Further inquiry established that this Obediah worked his entire life as a slow talking bachelor and bayman, but has been unable to determine much else.
The decoys now credited to Obediah Verity represent some of the finest of the classic Seaford school that he is credited with founding. They are represented in the majority of the finest museums, exibitions and collections of decoys across the country. Obediah can rest with the knowledge that his work is now mentioned in the same breath, and held in the same esteem, as that of Boyd, Crowell, Lincoln, Shourds, Cobb, the Toronto Harbor artists, and the remainder of a very short list of the finest shorebird decoy makers from North America.
I went to high school with Obediah Verity descendants and never knew about their heritage! Years later, long after I left Long Island, I learned about the Verity family’s major contributions to our collecting interests. We have an outstanding feeding dowitcher, perhaps the only known, in untouched original condition. It was found in Canada and offered to me as a package with two Verity Hudsonian curlew (one curlew being a feeder). I had to buy them all, an expensive proposition. I sold the curlews to two advanced collectors and kept the dowitcher. A great trade!
Exceedingly rare feeding dowitcher, Obediah Verity, Seaford, Long Island, New York, last quarter 19th century. Deep relief wing carving and carved eyes. Retains the original hardwood bill that is doweled through the back of the head. Measures 11.25” long. Thin original paint with minor gunning wear; lightly hit by shot; old chip at stick hole; hairline crack in front and top of head with two tiny chips where the bill meets the face; shallow sliver of wood missing on one side from when the bird was being made.
Provenance: Purchased from Howard Waddell in 1995. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Decoys: North America’s Hundred Greatest”, Loy S. Harrell Jr., pg. 49, exact decoy pictured.
(120,000 - 180,000)
Quogue, Long Island, New York
Strangely, two of Long Island’s most celebrated carvers, Bill Bowman and John Dilley, have escaped researchers’ efforts to elaborate on their lives.
The first written record of the shorebirds now credited to Dilley appeared in Bill Mackey’s 1965 “American Bird Decoys”. He related that he had acquired a small rig of very finely painted shorebirds from the widow of Jess Birdsall of Barnegat Bay, NJ. With all innocence, he credited Birdsall with their creation. Fairly quickly, however, due to the quality of the painted plumage, speculation centered around the possibility of Elmer Crowell from Cape Cod as the maker. Within a brief period of time, and with additional collectors entering the search, Mackey had to concede that his initial assumptions were incorrect. This was largely due to the fact that most of the “newly discovered” decoys seem to have been found on Long Island, not Barnegat Bay or Cape Cod and Mackey felt that their origin was, most likely, from the area of Quogue, on eastern Long Island. Early reports started to emerge that some had been found with a green stencil with the word “Dilley” and one collector stated that he had found six in a box with the name “John Dilley” on the box, suggesting that they were commercially available. Perhaps foolishly, some even went so far as to feel that the attribution stemmed from
of Decoy Magazine, he reported that he had also seen one example with the brand of “Henry and Squires, NY” Henry C Squires was a respected sporting goods dealer on Broadway in downtown New York City. With that lead, an entry was finally located in an 1890 version of Squires’ catalog showing that he was, indeed, offering these decoys to sportsmen. At that point, the trail ran cold and nothing of significance, seemingly, has been added to the story.
What remains are the decoys themselves, almost universally acclaimed as being among the very finest of their kind from the entire flyway. Based on form alone, Gigi Hopkins has stated that: “ These decoys are ‘birdy’ – you don’t have to see the paint to know what shorebird is being represented” . The details in the painted plumage, however, are extraordinary and far exceeded the norm for the period. Carved as working vs mantel birds, the minute detail and perfectly blended surface clearly identifies each intended species.
John Dilley can rest with the confidence that his work is now so widely admired and accepted as the pinnacle of excellence in a working shorebird.
“The Best shorebird he (has) ever seen”
-Cleon Crowell, son of A.E. Crowell
Very rare ruddy turnstone in spring plumage, John Dilley, Quogue, Long Island, circa 1900. Carved wing model with glass bead eyes and detailed paint pattern. Measures 9” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; typical flaking on the hardwood bill; excellent structurally.
Provenance: Ex Jim Cook collection. Purchased from Jim Cook in 1989. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(60,000 - 90,000)
Collector’s Note: We have two John Dilley shorebirds, a rare ruddy turnstone and a black bellied plover, both in spring breeding plumage. The turnstone is ex Jim Cook collection. I sold the plover to a customer some years back and when he asked us to help him reduce some of his collection years later, we opted to keep it.
“Whoever he was, Dilley had intimate and detailed knowledge of the complex and often confusing seasonal plumage phases of shorebird species. No other painter depicted as many different plumage phases, and no one else lavished such attention to detail. Dilley’s paint was applied layer upon layer in thin strokes with an extremely fine brush to create an extravagantly complex surface.”
- Robert Shaw – Ex Curator Shelburne Museum
Black bellied plover, John Dilley, Quogue, Long Island, circa 1900. Carved wing model with glass bead eyes and excellent paint detail. Measures 10.5” long. Outstanding original paint with virtually no wear; shallow dent with roughness on one wing, otherwise excellent structurally.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (40,000 - 60,000)
Long Island, New York and Maine
Beautiful decoys, especially shorebirds, by the hand of an extremely talented, but unidentified, carver had been known in the decoy community since the early days of Joel Barber (1876 – 1952). The work was of such a high standard that the only other known carver of the day with those abilities was Elmer Crowell and, thus, some early writers attributed the decoys to him. Not satisfied with these assumptions, authority, historian, and author Bill Mackey made it his quest to identify the carver. In 1966, his search led him to the law offices of the Herrick family in New York where he discovered a large, diversified, previously unknown, group of the shorebirds. Harold Herrick Jr proudly, and with certainty, identified them as belonging to his grandfather, Harold Herrick (1854 - 1933), a wealthy insurance executive from Far Rockaway. Mackey was informed that Harold Sr had two sons, Harold H and Newbold L and the Herrick family had used the birds in their shorebird rig while hunting in Lawrence, Long Island. Harold Sr was an avid sportsman belonging to the Linnean Society as well as the Century, Down Town and Rockaway Hunting Clubs. Attorney Herrick apparently either told or led Mackey to believe (perhaps through family oral history) that the birds were carved by a Bill Bowman and provided proof of the existence of the individual by pointing out two entries in Harold Herrick Sr’s hunting journal:
August 21, 1890: “Old Bill Bowman who gave me the place had killed four before I arrived”
August 31, 1891: “Bowman has been in tent for a month has not got over six birds any day”
Bowman was described as a cabinet maker from Bangor, Maine who traveled to Long Island annually to hunt shorebirds. He was somewhat of a hermit, residing in a tent on the beach or in a local fishing shack, venturing out only when funds or his favorite beverage ran low. He is reported to have stopped coming to the Island in the early 1900’s. Since that initial visit of Mackey with Herrick, multiple researchers have tried to track down the elusive Mr. Bowman. It was discovered that there was, indeed, a William Bowman who lived, not in Bangor, but 12 miles NNE in Old Town, Maine. Both Bangor and Old Town are on the banks of the widely traveled Penobscot River. This William Henry Bowman (1824 – 1906) was a sawmill worker as opposed to a cabinet maker. He and his wife, Bertha (1826 – 1885) had a son William who died young at age 12. In the 1870 census
he had real estate valued at $1800 and personal property valued at $600, certainly not wealthy but above that of his immediate neighbors. The 1880 census shows that he and Bertha had taken in her aunt who is listed as being a “domestic servant”. Speculation has suggested that these meager facts support his being the William Bowman of decoy fame. He apparently had somewhat sufficient funds and, since the mid 1880’s, having lost both his son and wife, had the freedom to travel to hunt. His death is blamed on “senility and heart failure” and occurred within the dates which Herrick indicated that Bowman had stopped coming to Long Island. Despite the fact that this information seems to somewhat correspond with the Herrick narrative, there is still no certainty that this is the same “Old Bill Bowman” that “ - - has been in tent for month” in Lawrence during 1890 and 1891.
Fast forward to 2003 when Long Island researchers, Jamie Reason and David Bennet, published in Decoy Magazine, a photograph labeled “Charles Bunn with his duck decoy display at the National Sportsman’s Show in New York c1920” . Charles Sumner Bunn (1865 – 1952) was a guide and a member of the Shinnecock tribe of eastern LI. The duck decoys in the photo certainly appear to be identical to those previously attributed to William Bowman. This led them to suggest that, because these decoys seem to have been carved by Bunn, then, the shorebirds attributed to Bowman must, also, be by Bunn. They and others have since offered additional information in support of their Bunn attribution.
Perhaps no other single controversy has so widely, strongly, and sometimes bitterly, divided the decoy community and opinions are rigidly held on both sides of the argument. We encourage further research and civil discussion.
One fact remains undisputed. The decoys stand on their own merits, and the
Collector’s Note: There are two styles of Bowman plover and this is the more desirable one. It was acquired from Richard Oliver in a private sale. I traded him a couple of lesser decoys and some cash. A good trade.
14 Golden plover, William Bowman, Lawrence, Long Island, last quarter 19th century. Deep relief wing carving and raised wingtips. Measures 11.25” long. Original paint with very minor flaking and wear; a few tiny dents and shot marks, approximately half of the bill is an early professional replacement
Provenance: Purchased at Richard Oliver Auctions 1991. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (40,000 - 60,000)
outstanding quality of the shorebirds involved unquestionably and justifiably places them in the category of some of the finest of their kind ever created. Jane Townsend of the Museums at Stony Brook aptly describes the birds as follows:
“The decoys of William Bowman are tours de force of remarkable realism. They combine a craftsman’s absolute control of his medium and a naturalist knowledge of the physical structure and behavior patterns of birds”.
Thomas Gelston was born into wealth. His father George S. was a jeweler by trade and apparently very successful, for the family, even after the death of the patriarch, always enjoyed the services of assorted maids, servants and cooks. Thomas did not follow in the family business and occasionally held a variety of jobs ranging from working in a grocery store to serving as an Inspector in Civil Service. For much of his life, however, he seems to have relied on the family monies and he repeatedly lists his occupation as having his “own income”. In 1875 he married his wife Elizabeth and they had one son and one daughter. Unfortunately, his wife passed away sometime prior to 1910. His leisurely lifestyle seems to have allowed adequate time to hunt and perhaps fish. As a boy, he hunted around Sheepshead Bay and later near Quoque, NY. One of his limited financial ventures was selling so me of his decoys through the firm of Abercrombie and Fitch in downtown , New York. Today his carvings are considered to be among the best of the shorebirds produced on Long Island.
Large curlew, Thomas Gelston, Quogue, Long Island, 1st quarter 20th century. Deep relief wingtip carving and tucked head. Measures 17” long, and 3.5” wide. Original paint with moderate crazing and minor wear; curlew appears to have rubbed against other birds from the rig when the paint was wet; lightly hit by shot; hairline crack through neck; minor flaking to filler on underside of breast where a strengthening nail was added from when the decoy was made.
Provenance: Purchased from Alan Haid. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (12,000 - 18,000)
The Theodore Rogers Rig
Jamaica, New York
A well-known rig of appealing, plump, tucked head, Long Island shorebirds proudly bear the bold brand of “T Rogers”. These delightful decoys have been traced to the rig of Theodore Rogers (1831 – 1903) of Jamaica.
Mr. Rogers’ parents died when he was not yet seven years old and, by the time he was 17, he and his brother and four sisters were listed as boarders in the home of Ruben (a NY city furniture maker) and Marie Rogers. Educated at the Union Academy, he soon entered into the world of banking, first as a messenger and teller at the American Exchange Bank in NY, then moving to the National Shoe and Leather Bank and, finally, becoming head teller at the Bank of the Metropolis in NY. At that institution he rose through the ranks to ultimately assume the role of President and, after his retirement due to ill health, President of the Board of Directors. His position and business acumen allowed him to amass a sizable estate of 3 million dollars by the time of his death.
He never married and, for many years boarded on the large farm of Mr. and Mrs. William Williamson in Jamaica. He also maintained a cottage of his own at Three Mile Mill on the shore of Jamaica Bay where he entertained his guests and spent his leisure time. As noted in his many obituaries from as far away as Ohio and beyond, he was active in a number of local organizations both in New York City, as well as Jamaica, and other points on Long Island. In the City he was a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the Aldine Association, a private men’s club on Fifth Avenue where he dined on “oysters, turtle soup, and roast or broiled brant duck” . His obituaries note that he was “one of Jamaica’s leading men - - - -. He (also)
served as Justice of the old village and -- - was one of the original organizers of the Jamaica Rod and Rifle Association”. “He was a good live shot and was never happier than when on a gunning expedition” . He owned 3000 acres of land in South Carolina which would ultimately become the famous Pilentary Hunting Club in Carteret County. Other noteworthy sporting activities included membership in The New York State Association for the Protection of Fish and Game, the private Wyandanch Club of Smithtown, the Carman’s River Fishing Club of Brookhaven and the Bellport Gun Club of Great South Bay, all on Long Island.
His shorebird decoys were carved by at least two different makers, and he marked those in his personal rig with his now, well-known brand. It is unknown if he actually made any of the decoys himself or they were by the hand of one or more other individuals. His “appealing, plump, tucked head” models, however, are now considered icons among the finest of the many Long Island shorebirds.
The Theodore Rogers rig dowitcher in spring plumage is not only a rare decoy (there are many more examples in duller fall plumage), but it also carries the Fosdick brand in addition to the Rogers’.
Rare and excellent dowitcher in spring plumage from the Theodore Rogers rig, Long Island, last quarter 19th century. Large carved eyes.
“T Rogers” branded on the underside. Also branded “S. Fosdick”. Measures 11” long. Original paint with minor flaking and wear; under a thin coat of varnish; small knot in underside has risen slightly; small chip at stick hole.
Provenance: Ex George Coombs, Jr collection. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (8,000 - 12,000)
John Sheldon Fosdick
1969 | Jamaica and Massapequa, New York
The “J.S. Fosdick” brand was identified as that of John Sheldon Fosdick by his nephew, Steven Fosdick (1942 – present). Stephen is the son of Willis Fosdick, John Sheldon’s brother. Unfortunately, not a great deal is known about J.S. Fosdick. He was the son of attorney John B. Fosdick of Jamaica, New York, a noted sportsman of his day. John S followed in his father’s chosen profession and, he too, became a practicing attorney. He married Isabelle (“Belle”) Helen Jackson in 1907 and they had 4 children (J. Sheldon Jr, Gwendolyn, Louise, and Willis). For many years the family resided at 50 Bergen Avenue in Jamaica, and he became quite successful. In 1920, the family had 2 servants and, in 1930, his home was valued at $100,000, at least double the value of any of his immediate neighbors. By 1940 he had moved, and his new home was on the water, near Jamaica Bay with its islands and marshland at 165 Ocean Avenue in Massapequa, NY.
For much of John’s life, shorebird hunting on the Bay was a popular pastime. He could have hunted a wide variety of species through 1918 (he would have been 37) but became limited to basically yellowlegs and black bellied plovers from then until 1928, when all shorebird hunting was outlawed. He made his own shorebird decoys, and these carry his familiar “J.S. Sheldon” rig brand.
Other decoys, those from the well-known Theodore Rogers rig of Jamaica, NY (Theodore Rogers, 1831- 1903) also carry his brand. These could have been used to simply fill out his rig, even though they included some species outlawed in 1918. It is also possible that he somehow acquired the Rogers decoys and simply kept them in his collection as a remembrance of earlier days and branded them with his working identifier. Exactly how he came into possession of these decoys (T. Rogers), however, is uncertain.
It is rather doubtful that he received the decoys directly from Rogers – Fosdick would have been only 22 when
Rogers died at age 72. He may have acquired the Rogers decoys in a variety of ways. Perhaps he simply found them or purchased them from someone locally. The most plausible explanation, however, is that he inherited them from his father, John Baylis Fosdick (1855 – 1898) or even his grandfather, Morris Fosdick II (1814 – 1892).
Both of these men were professionals who were active in local affairs and contemporaries of Rogers but, of the two, John Baylis Fosdick shared the most similarities with Rogers. According to J.B. Fosdick’s obituary, he was “- - - - also instrumental with others in organizing the Fulton Sharpshooters (in Jamaica) who for several years held annual target shoots in the village on Thanksgiving Day. He was (a) favorite among the sportsmen who visited Jamaica Bay and his Sea Breeze cottage at the Three Mile Mill was a favorite resort”. Theodore Rogers was president of the Jamaica Rod and Rifle Club and perhaps the two clubs competed on Thanksgiving. In addition, Rogers, like J.B. Fosdick, “Had a cottage at Three Mile Mill” . In an 1882 “History of Queens County”, Fosdick’s grandfather, Morris Fosdick, was described as a wellknown professional in Jamaica. He was a surveyor, lawyer, and educator. He, too, was active in the affairs of the community and “ - - - has devoted his attention to the affairs of the Jamaica Savings Bank, of which he has been the treasurer since its organization in 1866”. Rogers was President of a large N.Y City bank and in small Jamaica, NY in the late 1800’s. It is very probable that the two men knew one another through their mutual interest in banking.
As mentioned earlier, we will probably never know how a portion of the Rogers rig ended up in Fosdick’s possession. Descent within the family, however, especially from his father, would seem a very real possibility.
17 Yellowlegs from Long Island, New York, last quarter 19th century. Branded “J.S. Fosdick, Massapequa L.I.” on the underside. Measures 9.5” long. Excellent and original.
Provenance: Ex Hal Sorenson collection. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(2,000 - 3,000)
Collector’s Note: The Fosdick yellowlegs was our first “expensive” decoy purchase. This was back in the 1970’s. We had a business trip to Minneapolis, diverted to Chicago on the way home to Cincinnati, and caught the National Decoy Show at Oakbrook, Illinois. I was blown away! I met Hal Sorenson who had this interesting shorebird with a very skinny neck. I liked it, but the clincher was its maker’s brand “J.S. Fosdick, Massapequa, LI”. That’s where I grew up and my best friend was Steve Fosdick, grandson of the brand’s owner!
Lemuel Travis Jr (1896 – 1984) | Steven Wesley (1895 – 1976)
The mere mention of the word “Chesapeake” stirs the imagination of duck hunters across the country. Names such as Havre de Grace, “The Flats”, “The Eastern Shore” and others are legendary. The bay was a magnet for multitudes of migrating waterfowl annually. In turn, the ducks have attracted man for centuries, first for food and then for sport. Their pursuit of the ducks was relentless. They hunted the birds day and night using tools now outlawed such as night lights, bait, and the famous (or infamous) sinkbox. The guns ranged from fine sporting doubles to multi barreled “battery guns” and what were, basically, boat mounted small canons designed to spray immense charges of shot into a resting or startled flock. The massive numbers of ducks drew comparable hordes of men. Some formed large, comfortable club houses for the elite and affluent, groups of locals built simple shanties scattered across the marshes, and others made do with simple solitary blinds on remote points and inlets. All of this activity required decoys – lots and lots of decoys, and men throughout the Bay area rose to the task and began to carve. Obviously, some were more talented than others.
At the southern end of Maryland’s eastern shore, in Crisfield, the “town built upon Oyster shells”, two brothers, Lem and Steve, followed in their father’s footsteps and became barbers. Obviously not a get rich quick scheme in a small waterfront community of working baymen. Like many of their neighbors on their remote peninsula, they hunted ducks. This required decoys and they, like others, carved their own. Theirs, however, were different – they were better- much, much better. Word of the quality of their work began to spread, first among their neighbors and soon, far beyond tiny Crisfield. Orders for decoys began to flow in from both stores such as VL&A, clubs, and individuals, to the point where the barbershop was abandoned and transformed into their workshop.
Their work is remarkable in a number of ways. It was always outstanding but unlike other carvers, the men seemed to never be satisfied. Most makers would develop a style of their own and then stick with that
design with perhaps only minor modifications for the remainder of their careers. Not so the Wards. They possessed boundless creativity and over time, they carved a dizzying array of styles, each intended as an improvement on past efforts and always seeking the perfect decoy. These have been categorized in a number of ways, some based on form such as “fat jaw”, “Knot head” or “humpback”, others by the style created for a particular club such as “Bishop Head”, and some by the time frame in which they were made, with their “classic 36” being a good example.
With the passage of time, “modern” materials greatly diminished the demand for the working wooden bird. Fortunately for the Wards, this happened at a time when their reputation and talent was reaching its apex. For them, it was a simple process to transition from decoys meant for the water to birds destined for the mantel. This was largely due to the rapidly growing number of collectors who were now flooding the men with orders. Fortuitously, this gave the Wards the opportunity to create some of their finest and most stylistic and dynamic works. Carvings began to emerge from their small shop that were basically unknown by others at the time. The Ward’s began to produce birds in forms previously only glimpsed in nature.
The two men possessed a number of additional talents. They both loved to sing, write and recite poetry, and both were proficient with flat art. For all their lives, however, the brothers remained reserved and humble.
They would often be seen riding their bicycles around Crisfield insisting that they were simply “two dumb old country boys” . The wider decoy community, however, knew better. They were often called upon to act as judges for the growing number of decoy carving contests nationally and, in 1974, the brothers were given honorary doctoral degrees by Salisbury State College. In 1979 Governor Hughes made Lem Ward a living state treasure for the contributions he made to American Art. He was recognized in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and, in 1983, Lem was named a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow. Today, a fine museum with a national reputation has been established in their name.
Lem was married to Thelma G Coulbourne and they had a daughter, Ida. Steve was a devout bachelor. Steve died in 1976 after a bout with cancer and Lem, heartbroken, slowly began to succumb to a number of significant, debilitating health issues, joining his brother in 1984. The two men rest today in Crisfield.
Pintail drake, Ward Brothers, Crisfield, Maryland. Long body, beaver tail style with slightly humped back and wide upswept tail. Measures 19.25” long. Original paint with moderate gunning wear; very minor roughness at tip of tail and one side of bill; minor separation at a small knot in one side; two small post beetle holes in one side; very minor flaking and separation at neck seat; drying crack along the underside.
Provenance: Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 1992. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (60,000 - 90,000)
Collector’s Note: We had admired a beaver tail style pintail in the collection of Alan Haid and when this one became available over 30 years ago, we had to have it. One of our favorites.
Contrast this Ward pintail with our Charles Walker pintail (lot 27). Same species, different carver, different gunning area. The Ward is beefy and designed for use in rough salt water. The Walker is sleek and hollow with elaborate feather paint, intended for use in fresh, inland water. We are fascinated by the different artists’ interpretation of the same species.
We bought our Ward Brothers ‘36 bluebill privately. We had always wanted one, and with its pristine condition and exceptional paint detail, this was the one for us.
Excellent bluebill drake, Ward Brothers, Crisfield, Maryland. 1936 style with slightly turned head and thick stipple paint. Extra feather detailing where black of breast meets the body. Also on the back near tail area. Faint collection ink stamp on the underside of tail. Decoy was never rigged or weighted. Measures 15” long. Excellent original paint with only minor paint rubs on the extremities; separation at filler on top of head where it has risen slightly with a small flake off of one side
Provenance: Ex Bobby Richardson collection. Ex Rennie Walt collection. Purchased from Rennie Walt 2016. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(30,000 - 50,000)
In 1933, the Ward Brothers received a decoy order from the Bishops Head Gun Club in Dorchester County, Maryland. This was not an unusual occurrence for them, but for some reason, whether at the request of the club’s owner, or perhaps creative inspiration, they decided to make several of the species in this order different from others carved in that time period. The pronounced apron under the tail, the distinctive head and bill carving, and the squared off tail are all identifying characteristics that separate this club’s special order from other Ward decoys made in the 1920s and 1930s.
Canada goose, Ward Brothers, Crisfield, Maryland, circa 1933. Rare, Bishops head gun club style, with slightly forward head pose and typical hump under tail. Measures 26.75” long. Original paint with moderate gunning wear; tight drying cracks in breast; small dents and shot marks; tight cracks at neck seat with a spot of old filler on back of neck seat; spots of touchup to black on head and neck; professional repair to the bottom third of bill by Grayson Chesser.
Provenance: Purchased from Grayson Chesser in 1989. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(30,000 - 50,000)
About the time of my 50th birthday, Grayson Chesser came up with our Ward Brothers Bishop’s Head Gun Club belligerent goose. We had always admired its unique style from the first time we saw another in Alan Haid’s collection. Thick original paint typical of the Wards and with only a minor bill chip repair, which Grayson fixed for us. Unable to improve upon it, we have kept it all these years.
Ira Hudson 1873 - 1949 | Chincoteague, Virginia
Perhaps as a sign of the times in which Ira Hudson lived or because of the remoteness of his world, the family did not know the exact date of his birth. While it is assumed to be between 1875 and 1877, most references show it to be 1873. He apparently thought he was born in Delaware. He was actually born in Bishopville, Maryland to Ananias Hudson and Mary Elizabeth Beebe and was reportedly given the middle name of the family’s favorite minister. His family was accustomed to working with their hands and earning a living around the water. In a 1900 census, his father was listed as a “house carpenter” and his uncle as a “lighthouse keeper.” These family occupations apparently influenced Ira’s choice of careers for he is listed as a “waterman” in 1900 and as an “oysterman” in 1910. He married Eva Bowden and the couple raised twelve children on Chincoteague.
Ira never achieved any level of great financial wealth, however, the family never seemed to be deprived of a comfortable existence. Family was very important to Ira and, even in his later years, he enjoyed getting together with them on Sundays. His success was due in part to Hudson’s willingness to do whatever was necessary to provide for their well-being. He clammed, fished, oystered, and raised his own chickens. He built boats, took on carpentry projects, and he carved decoys. It is this last endeavor that brought him some degree of fame during his life, and even higher acclaim after his death.Ira and Eva Hudson
This little dowitcher was part of a small rig of Ira Hudson shorebirds and ducks found by John D. Showell on a farm he purchased in Taylorville, Maryland in the early 1970’s. Although the rest of those found were sold to early collector Bill Purnell, Mr. Showell decided to keep this one, the smallest example with the most prominent raised wing and fullest belly. Upon Mr. Showell’s death, sum 40+ years later, the dowitcher was sold at a small estate auction on the eastern shore of Maryland with the balance of his personal estate.
Exceptionally well carved dowitcher, Ira Hudson, Chincoteague, Virginia, 1st quarter 20th century. Fine form with raised “V” wingtip carving. Measures 7.5” long. Original paint with minor wear; very lightly hit by shot; short thin crack at back of head; small amount of wear to wood at wingtips; the original bill was professionally resecured.
Provenance: Purchased from Dick McIntyre. Private Texas collection. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (30,000 - 40,000)
Harry Vinuckson Shourds
1861 - 1920 | Tuckerton, New Jersey
Arguably the most important decoy carver from the Garden State, Shourds’ work sets the standard by which all other decoys from the State are judged. The son of a “waterman” and “yachtsman”, Harry was born in Egg Harbor along with his seven siblings. Through at least 1900, he had no listed occupation, but he undoubtedly found ways to exist in a waterfront community of oystermen, fishermen and baymen. By 1880 he had moved to Tuckerton and, in 1884, he wed Mary Agnes Bartholomew and the couple raised their four children on Water St in that town. The family relocated to Ocean City, NJ by 1915, but returned to Water St on Tuckerton Creek where they remained for the rest of his life. From 1910 until his death, he considered himself either a “carpenter” or a “painter”. Oddly, he never appears in the print of the day as being the major decoy maker which he was. Bill Mackey wrote in 1965 that he felt that “Nuck did not make the first decoys used in these parts, but he did make the most, and in my judgement, as fine a stool as anyone before or since”. “Harry - - - did not make any significant changes in decoy design or construction. He simply made them as good or better than the other makers”. Although no concrete number has been established, he undoubtedly produced more decoys than any other carver of the time. Quoting Mackey again, “he- - - made hundreds of dozens of decoys per year and this continued for over twenty years” and “the only statistic available is that he was the largest shipper on the railroad in Tuckerton”. He is said to have guided and, in addition to his carpentry, painting, and decoy carving, his grandson relates that “he gunned (market hunted), shot ducks, picked them, packed them in ice, and shipped them on the railroad in barrels. They would save the feathers and my grandmother would make pillows and feather beds out of them”. His grandmother must have been a hard-working woman as well for in addition
to keeping house, raising four children, picking ducks and sewing pillows, she also found time (c1910) to work as a “washwoman”. When their daughter Maggie died of diphtheria in 1912, Harry and his wife raised her two children.
Shourds’ decoys closely followed in the established carving tradition of coastal New Jersey. The widely popular Barnegat sneak box (hunting boat) influenced the choice of decoys. This was a small (usually 12’ or less) shallow craft with limited freeboard and storge space on its decks. The preferred decoys were normally standard size with inlet weights to maximize the number of decoys that the hunter could carry as well as being hollow carved to reduce the weight of the load. Harry became quite adept at producing his decoys and it has been said numerous times that he would sit down in a barber’s chair and whittle out a finished duck head by the time his haircut was finished. His painting background allowed him to apply an attractive, effective, and durable finish to his birds. The majority of his carvings are of geese, brant, black ducks and bluebills with lesser numbers of other species. His mergansers are considered scarce, and represent some of his finest work. With all the labor involved, he sold his finished decoys, ready to hunt over, for a mere $6.00 per dozen. Largely through word-of-mouth, his reputation resulted in the decoys finding their way into rigs from as far away as Maine and Georgia. He passed on his carving skills to his son, Harry Mitchel, who in turn passed the tradition to his son,
Harry V 2nd. The family finally received its due recognition in 1989 when Harry 2nd received an award from The National Endowment for the Arts.
Without a doubt, he is widely acclaimed as being one of the true decoy carving greats from anywhere in North America and certainly represents the pinnacle of the New Jersey decoy caving community during its golden age. His work has been included in practically every major decoy exhibition in the United States and is an indispensable addition to any quality regional collection.
We have always had an affinity to New Jersey decoys, perhaps because they are carved in the round, hollow, or because I went to Rutgers! Harry V. Shourds was the creator of this style, so we gathered great examples of his work. The mergansers we purchased in two separate auctions, years apart. Amazingly the mergansers could be rigmates with similar wear patterns. Harry V. Shourds bluebills are extremely rare in strong original condition. The Canada goose came in a private sale from Gary Guyette over 30 years ago.
Pair of red breasted mergansers, Harry V. Shourds, Tuckerton, New Jersey, last quarter 19th century. Hollow carved with extended crests and tack eyes. Relief bill carving and inlaid lead weights on the underside. Drake is stamped “103D”. Measure 16” and 17” long. Original paint with minor to moderate flaking, mostly on one side of drake; very minor separation at hen’s body seam; hairline crack to underside of drake’s tail; drake’s bill was cracked down and reset with two small nails a long time ago.
Provenance: Hen was purchased at Richard Oliver Auctions 1991. Drake purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 1995. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Classic New Jersey Decoys”, James R. Doherty, pg. 48, exact hen pictured. “The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys”, Joe Engers, pg. 118, exact drake pictured. (75,000 - 125,000)
Bluebill drake, Harry V. Shourds, Tuckerton, New Jersey, last quarter 19th century. Hollow carved with raised neck seat and painted eyes. Inlaid lead weight on the underside. Also with initials “T.F.P.” carved on the underside for the rig of “Bud” Terrence F Parson of Tuckerton, New Jersey. Measures 14” long. Excellent original paint with very minor wear; fine hairline cracks and minor roughness on edge of tail; crack in neck was tightened.
Provenance: Purchased from a private Texas collection 2013. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(15,000 - 20,000)
Excellent Canada goose, Harry V. Shourds, Tuckerton, New Jersey, last quarter 19th century. Hollow carved with raised neck seat and tack eyes. Relief bill carving and inlaid lead weight. Measures 24” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; very minor roughness on edge of tail; slight separation at body seam; tight crack on bottom piece under tail; professional neck crack repair; small amount of touchup on tip of bill; tight drying crack along back and tail
Provenance: Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 1991. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (30,000 - 50,000)
Charles “Shang” Wheeler
1872 - 1949 | Stratford, Connecticut
A number of stories exist about how Charles acquired his odd nickname. Some say a group of old oystermen, after being the brunt of one of his practical jokes, labeled him after the “Shanghai” oyster, a bivalve known because of its particularly crusty nature. Others, due to his 6 ft height, named him after the “langshangs”, a particularly tall breed of chickens. Still others claim that his schoolmates called him that after B.T. Barnum’s Chinese giant named “Chang”. Whatever the origin, the name stuck for life.
His mother died when he was very young and, seemingly, he was passed around in the family in his youth. Somehow, he managed to acquire a high school education. As a young man, he ended up largely “fending for himself”, working variously as a farm laborer, market hunter, Grand Banks fisherman and tugboat worker. By 1907, he found his life’s calling, working for and eventually, becoming manager of, the Connecticut Oyster Farms in Stratford. Here, he remained until he retired in 1947, when a grateful employer allowed him to retain his desk at the company docks.
Shang was not only tall in stature, he was also a towering figure on the sporting scene of his day as well. As a young man, he enjoyed boxing, breeding sporting dogs and cock fighting. Most of all, he was an avid outdoorsman,
thoroughly enjoying hunting, fishing, and camping, most often on the Connecticut shore and in the forests of Maine or Canada. He became an ardent conservationist, leading him to become a political cartoonist addressing environmental issues. These causes became so deeply engrained in his nature that he became a State Senator, member of the State Fish and Game Commission and Chairman of the State Shellfish Commission. He never married and spent the vast majority of his life as a boarder in the home of fellow oysterman, Ed Bond and his wife Fannie at 272 Johnson Ave in Stratford.
His artistic efforts were many and, seemingly, entirely self-taught. He was an accomplished artist and carver of both waterfowl and fish. His decoys were particularly exquisite for their day. He followed the lead established by his predecessors, Albert Laing (1811 – 1886) and Ben Holmes 1843 – 1912), however, it was a classic case of the student surpassing the teacher. He went on to win almost every decoy carving contest of his day, beginning with the Bellport (NY) Decoy Show in 1923 and continuing with a lengthy string of multiple year ribbons at the National Sportsman’s Show in New York City, culminating with his taking the grand prize there in 1947. He voluntarily stopped entering, claiming “it’s time to give someone else a chance”. He became the undisputed leader in the “Stratford School” of carvers that were to follow. Numerous individuals sought his advice and went on to produce many fine decoys in their own right – some are credited with producing decoys equal to that of Wheeler. Shang carved purely for his own enjoyment and is not known to have ever sold a decoy. In fact, he once turned down an offer by auto magnate William Chrysler of $15,000 (worth well over $100,000 today) for thirty pair of his waterfowl. Normally, if a friend admired one of Shang’s decoys, he would give it to them.
He hunted in the early years, but eventually gave up waterfowl and big game, settling primarily on grouse shooting. Despite his fame as a carver of waterfowl, his true passion was fishing. He would make annual trips to the north woods and waters, particularly enjoying the Rangely area of Maine. Here, he gifted a fly (streamer) to the wife of his guide Wallace Stevens - she was Carrie Stevens. She gave Shang full credit for her entry into the world of fly tying and went on to become, arguably, Maines’s most famous tyer of flies. Carrie honored Shang with at least three different patterns in his name, all of which are still fished today.
Each State has its signature carvers, those people whose work represents some of the best ever produced within its boundaries. Connecticut can proudly boast of its native son, Shang Wheeler.
No one would argue that Shang Wheeler made some of the best decoys known. Our black duck was made on a working decoy pattern with an unusual but attractive side-reaching content head. It was exhibited along with decoys from the Mackey collection at the IBM gallery in Manhattan in 1966 and was from the George Thompson collection.
25 Outstanding black duck, Charles “Shang” Wheeler, Stratford, Connecticut, 2nd quarter 20th century. Hollow carved with turned and slightly down looking head. Scratch feather paint detail on head. Decoy was never rigged or weighted. Measures 17.5” long. A few tiny paint rubs; excellent and near mint
Provenance: Exhibited in 1966 at the IBM Gallery of Arts and Sciences Waterfowl exhibit in New York City, which featured decoys from the collection of William J. Mackey Jr. Exhibited in 1987 at the Smithsonian/ Ward Foundation exhibit. Ex George W. Thompson collection. Purchased at Harmon Auctions 1990. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Decoy Magazine”, Summer 1985, pg. 29, exact decoy pictured. (40,000 - 60,000)
Charles Henry Perdew 1874
“He has to be considered one of the very finest, an equal among an elite group of only three or four premier carvers.”-
Every region of the country has its iconic decoy carvers, men and women who represent the very pinnacle of perfection for that area’s accepted carving tradition. The Illinois River school is well represented by Charlie and Edna Perdew. The son of a farmer, Charlie was born in Magnolia Township and as a young man is reported to have hunted for the market and found work as a carpenter in the construction of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. By 1900, he was residing in Henry as a boarder in the home of Miss Emma Masterson and listing his occupation as “machinist – general repair”. Henry would become his home for the remainder of his life, and he would capitalize on his many talents involving working with his hands. He built his own home on a high bluff overlooking the Illinois River, hauling tons of stone from the river by hand to construct its massive foundation and fireplace. In 1902 he brought his young bride, the former Edna Haddon, into the home where they would remain until Charlie’s death. In the wedding announcement in the Henry newspaper, it appears that the couple had been “in a courtship for quite a long time” and Charlie is described as “ - - of an inventive and mechanical turn, of industrious, steady habits - - (and)qualified for a successful career - - “ . He would utilize these “mechanical turnings” for the remainder of his life. He was widely recognized for his ability to build or repair almost anything from bicycles to gunsmithing, even to, in 1955, making his own set of false teeth after being told by the local dentist that a pair would cost $100.
Of his many skills, he settled on producing items for the sportsmen of his day. Other than a brief period during WWI where he opened a broom making facility, decoys, duck calls and a few other associated items required by hunters would become his livelihood. His decoys were inspired by the work of earlier successful style setters, Henry Ruggles (1830 – 1897) and Robert Elliston (1847
– 1915). He hand carved his hollow creations and they were then painted by Edna - it was truly a joint artistic venture (see note 1). Their superb craftsmanship soon gained them an enviable reputation for the quality of their decoys and calls, first among the local hunters and prestigious clubs such as the Hennepin, Princeton, Senachwine, and Swan Lake, but soon spreading to his achieving National acclaim. Charlie sent a pair of mallards to be judged in the 1924 “Exhibition of Wild-Fowl Decoys’ in New York. They were erroneously placed in the machine-made category where they won a second place which infuriated him. He placed advertisements in the widely read sporting journals of the day and printed a number of his own promotional items. His mail order business flourished, and his decoys were soon also being sold by large national outlets such as Eddie Bauer and VL&A.
His efforts set the standard by which all future carvers of the region would be judged, and he is now considered a leading member of the elite Illinois River carving triumvirate of Elliston, Perdew and Graves. In summarizing his work, noted author and collector Alan Haid wrote: “Charles and Edna Perdew’s early hunting decoys are benchmarks for comparison with the finest decoys of other classic makers from all parts of North America”.
Joe FrenchCharles and Edna c 1950’s Perdew home and workshop
26 Early rigmate pair of mallards, Charles Perdew, Henry, Illinois, circa 1920s. Hollow carved with comb feather paint detail on drake. Both retain the original unmarked lead weights. Excellent paint feather detail by Edna Perdew. Measure 16.75” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear under a thin coat of original varnish; tight crack in one side of hen’s neck; minor roughness on edge of drake’s bill and tip of hen’s bill; shallow dent in one side of drake.
Provenance: Ex David Galliher collection. Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 2009. The Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Perdew, An Illinois River Tradition”, Ann Tandy Lacy, pg. 132, exact pair pictured. (40,000 - 60,000)
“Perdew was not only a fine craftsman, but also a true artist who deserves the respect and admiration of each of us.”
- Hal Sorenson – Decoy Collectors Guide
1847 – 1915 | Bureau, Illinois
Recognized as the originator of the “Illinois River Style”, Robert Elliston was born in Ballard County, Kentucky. The family moved to the Midwest in 1852, settling near Indianapolis, Illinois where Robert gained a reputation as an expert rifle shot. His creative and woodworking talents began to emerge when, at age 18, he was residing in South Bend, Indiana, working as a buggy and carriage maker for Studebaker. He must have been very accomplished for he changed location several times, moving to positions in New York, Philadelphia and St Louis, Missouri where he became the hearse designer for the McLaren Hearse and Coach Manufacturing Co.
In 1875, while in St Louis, he married Margaret Cummiskey and one year later the couple had a son, James. Robert then moved the family to Lacon, IL to work for the Brereton Buggy Shop. Tragically, in 1876, Margaret died unexpectedly and her younger sister, Catherine, moved in with Robert to help raise the young boy. This living arrangement would have been deemed socially inappropriate at the time and, as a result, Robert married Catherine in 1879. Heartbreak struck again, however, when, in 1880, young James too passed away. The union of Robert and Catherine resulted in the couple initially having three children, all of whom died in infancy (they would later have three sons and a daughter that survived into adulthood). Robert and Catherine moved again, this time to Lacon to take up residence at the Undercliff Hotel located on Lake Senachwine in Bureau County, Il. The hotel was a major drawing card for well-heeled sportsmen of the Midwest. These individuals would, undoubtedly, have sought out Elliston for their decoys. Robert’s experience in the buggy and carriage trade enabled him to also produce a number of fine boats for the same sports and other visiting guests at the hotel. In late 1889, the family had outgrown the accommodations at the Undercliff and Robert was successful in renting a plot of land on a bluff overlooking the Lake where he built a home and workshop, surrounded by a sizable plum orchard and a large apiary.
It is unclear exactly when Robert began to produce decoys, but an advertisement dated 1880/3(?) notes that by that date, he had a “factory” in Henry, IL and prior to that, in Putnam, IL. When the Hotel Underwood opened in 1882, it was noted that “R.A. Elliston, a decoy carver of some fame attended the opening ceremonies”. He was clearly in full time production when he appears in the 1900 Federal census listed as a “Decoy maker”.
The decoy production was a family affair, Robert crafted the decoys and Catherine was responsible for the exquisite wet on wet painted plumage. The quality of the Elliston decoys set the standard by which all other lures of the time and region were judged. Two of the most famous Illinois River carvers to succeed Elliston, Charles Perdew and George Bert Graves, were strongly influenced by the man considered their mentor.
Upon Elliston’s unexpected death by a heart attack while pumping water for the family cow, Catherine sold their remaining inventory to Graves, but she agreed to continue to paint for him for a period while teaching Grave’s sister “Nellie” to assume that responsibility on her own.
Now considered the founding father of the Illinois River style, his influence on the region’s decoys cannot be overstated. He is, today, rightfully considered to be
27 Bluebill, Robert Elliston, Bureau, Illinois, last quarter 19th century. From the same pattern as those from the Dupee rig, which features a deeper and wider body style than typical Elliston decoys. With fine comb feather paint. detail and feather blending at wingtips. Retains the original Elliston weight. Measures 13” long. Original paint with minor wear; some roughness and an early narrow chip in one side of bill; very fine hairline crack in one side of neck; untouched original condition.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (30,000 - 40,000)
Charles Burr Walker
1873 – 1953 | Princeton, Illinois
Charles was born in Princeton and would remain there for his entire life. His father, George, was a blacksmith and young Charles must have developed an early affinity for horses for, by the time he was 26, he was employed as a “hostler (in a) Livery stable”. In 1900 he wed Maria (Mary) Ann (Anna) Brems and, by 1910, the couple had four children. Since his marriage, he listed his occupation over the years variously as; “painter”, “paper hanger”, “house carpenter”, gardener” and, “interior decorator”. His wife passed away in 1944 and, by 1950, he was living with his son and his wife and was recorded as “widowed” and “unable to work”. He had, apparently, been ill for some time and was treated at home by a doctor after he decided not to go to the hospital. He and his wife are buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Princeton.
Early biographers have stated that he only became interested in duck hunting after his son took up the sport. In truth, he greatly enjoyed hunting and, in 1902, purchased share #32 in the prestigious Princeton Fish and Game Club. Annual dues were $10/year and Charles chose to leave the club in 1910 only when the dues were raised to $100/year. He did, however, continue to hunt there often as a guest.
A contemporary of Charles Perdew of Henry, both men were strongly influenced by the earlier work of Robert Elliston of Bureau, IL. Using only the simple, common, hand tools of his day, Walker carved his decoys in a small shop at his home on Pleasant St. and they were sold, almost exclusively, to members of the Princeton Club. Whether it was a constant process of evolution or a deliberate attempt to subtly identify each owner’s rig, most orders was carved ever so slightly different. He used paints from the Parker or Herters companies and developed his own methods of application to achieve a soft, realistic surface. He produced a very high-quality product, but quality came with a cost and buyers had to pay a premium to enjoy his craftsmanship. He sold his decoys for $100/doz at a time when nearby competitor, Charles Perdew, was charging only $36.
Numbers vary, but it is estimated that Walker only carved between 300 and 400 decoys in his lifetime – probably closer to the 300 number. Not many of his decoys have survived to this day to be enjoyed by serious collectors. The membership at the Princeton Club were rather affluent. As they returned after a hunt, damaged decoys from their rig were simply tossed on the dock to be
Pintail drake, Charles Walker, Princeton, Illinois, 2nd quarter 20th century. Hollow carved with relief wing carving. High head and comb feather paint detail. Number 22 on the underside for the Skinner rig. Measures 18.5” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; old repair to a few cracks in the neck; roughness on one side of bill tip; area of inpainting on one side and one wing patch bar.
1871 - 1959 | Tustin, Wisconsin
Sieger’s parents, John and Frederikke, were born in Germany and arrived in the United States in 1853. They travelled to Wisconsin and purchased 100 acres of farmland along Alder Creek and route 2 in Wolf River Township. They must have been hard working and industrious for they eventually purchased an additional several hundred acres of tillable land and marsh, extending their property to the shores of the Wolf River. It was here, on the family farm, that Joseph was born, married his wife Addie, had a son Grant, worked his entire life, and died.
The Wolf River flows past Freemont to the north and Lake Poygon to the south. Freemont was home to the early, well known, decoy maker DeWitt Wakefield (1849 – 1942) and Tustin, directly on the Lake, was home to established carver August Moak (1849 – 1912). Lake Poygan, as well as other local lakes, were ideal for the growth of aquatic vegetation such as wild rice and wild celery, which, in turn, attracted thousands of migrating waterfowl annually. The highly desirable canvasback arrived in such numbers that the region became known as the Chesapeake of the West. Hunting clubs sprang up along the local waters and the demand for shooting sites along the river and lake became a valuable commodity. Joe was aware of this demand and was quick to capitalize on it by leasing out portions of his land for gunning.
For his own part, Sieger enjoyed the outdoors and he set out to produce a decoy rig of his own. He was probably aware of Wakefield’s carvings, but we know that he became friendly with Moak and the two men often hunted together. Moak’s designs must have appealed to Sieger, for they certainly appear to be the inspiration for his own decoys. It proved to be the case of the student exceeding the master.
About 1920, Sieger constructed a rig of canvasbacks. His production was extremely limited and reportedly numbered no more than two or three dozen. They adhered to the basic local design tradition, being full bodied and hollow carved with alert high heads. His finished product resulted in the most pleasing, finely finished, and graceful rig floating on the local waters.
When Joe passed away at age 88, his son, Grant, assumed the daily operation of the now generational farm and the decoys were carefully stored away in a small shed on the property. There they remained, undisturbed, until, fortuitously, they were unearthed by local decoy collector/historian/hunter Dave Spengler in the early 1970’s.
Obviously Sieger was an accomplished craftsman, producing many of his own sporting necessities and a number of fine violins, but it is his decoys that have given him his widest, and well deserved, recognition. His carvings are considered among the cornerstones of the some of the finest collections, not only in Wisconsin, but throughout the United States.
Collector’s Note: We’ve always thought that Joseph Sieger made the best Wisconsin bullneck canvasbacks and that they are decoy classics. We bought this one privately from a Wisconsin decoy collector and do not believe it has ever been to auction.
Classic canvasback, Joseph Sieger, Tustin, Wisconsin, 1st quarter 20th century. Hollow carved with .75” bottom board and lifted, reared back head. Measures 15.5” long. Original paint with minor to moderate crazing and wear; very minor roughness on one edge of tail and bill
Provenance: Purchased from a private Wisconsin collection 2009. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (30,000 - 40,000)
1888 – 1967 | Detroit, Michigan
Bach was born in Switzerland and is reported to have been trained as an architect and draftsman although he listed his education as ending after three years in high school. This is a relatively insignificant detail, since art and creativity, as was to become apparent, can often be innate. After serving 6 years in the Swiss Infantry, he left his homeland and traveled to Denmark where he boarded the Hellig Olav and set sail for the United States. He was fluent in several languages, but not English and, upon his arrival to the States, he settled briefly in a German speaking community in Pennsylvania. Here, he polished his English and bought his first book in this country – one on the American Indian. This formed a fascination with the Native Americans that would remain with him for his entire life.
By 1917/18, he had migrated to Michigan where he is listed as a “draftsman”. Here he began to live in two separate and distinct worlds. He yearned for, and dreamt of, a life in the rugged north woods. However, even though he wielded a pen and not a wrench, for the remainder of his working life, he would be embroiled in the smoke and grit of Detroit’s renowned “motor city”. He found employment, first as a draftsman, and ultimately, head designer for a number of that city’s largest automobile manufacturers in their heyday including Studebaker, Rickenbacker, Chrysler and Dodge. In 1929, he married Margaret K Watson and lived in a very blue-collar neighborhood with her parents. They had a son, also named Ferdinand, but the union was dissolved in 1936 with Margaret being granted an (uncontested) divorce on the grounds of “nonsupport and extreme cruelty” . Ferdinand had to briefly pay alimony until Margaret remarried later that same year. Strangely, they must have remained somewhat friendly since she is listed as the person to notify in his 1942 WWII draft registration. Until this time, Bach had been living as a “lodger” or “boarder”. By the late 1940’s, however, he had purchased his own suburban home on Kramer St in St Claire Shores, a suburb of Detroit, and only a stone’s throw from Lake St Clair. Here he transformed his surroundings into a miniature interpretation of a north woods cabin, complete with its own tiny birch and evergreen forest. He had always enjoyed the outdoors, including hunting and fishing. Early in his life he traveled to the West to study the Native Americans and later, would annually make an extended pilgrimage to Golden Lake, Ontario to live among the Pikwakanagan members of the First People. He mastered a number of rural skills such as snowshoe making and basketry, but he particularly excelled at the construction of Birch Bark Canoes. He died unexpectedly when his body was found floating in the waters near his home.
His decoy carving was limited but, as one would expect from someone with his design background, always of the highest standard, both in terms of form and finish. As early as the 1920’s, he carved a small rig of detailed black ducks for a local policeman whose territory included the Detroit riverfront where the men may have met. He would later carve at least one other rig for an automotive associate. Other than these two known rigs, Bach carved only for his own use. His first rig was finished by the 1930’s but these were all lost in a tragic boat house fire. Undeterred, he set out to carve a second rig for himself and these have since been crowned his “classics”. These are muscular with and without detailed wing tips and designed to be visible to high flying flocks. He achieved a great deal of realism in this rig by utilizing 44 different head patterns in their construction. His work is usually identified with his name either signed or carved with a flourish on the bottoms, often with a conjoined
Canvasback drake, Ferdinand Bach, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1920s. Wide body with deep relief wing and tail feather carving. Wide head is tucked and reared back. “FB” carved in the underside for the personal gunning rig of the maker. Formerly in the collection of Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. and so stamped. Measures 14.74” long. Original paint with very minor gunning wear; a few tiny shot marks; small amount of flaking at a small knot in back; crack through front part of weighted keel
Provenance: This exact decoy set the world record for Ferdinand Bach when it sold at Guyette & Deeter April 2011 for $54,625. Ex Donal C. O’Brien Jr. collection. Purchased at Copley Fine Art Auctions July 2018. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Great Lakes Decoys Interpretations”, pg. 160, exact decoy pictured. (25,000 - 35,000)
We’ve always felt that Ferdinand Bach canvasbacks, with their unique broad shoulders, carved primary feather detail, and deep keels, are decoy classics! This one being from the collection of Donal O’Brien is a superb example.
1830 – 1905 | Toronto, Ontario
George was a young man in his twenty’s when his family immigrated to Canada from England. The group, including George’s brother, James, and his wife Sarah, settled in Toronto. In need of work, they found ample opportunities on the city’s thriving waterfront, teaming with business’s catering to the boating industry. Large commercial craft plied the waters of Lake Ontario and recreational boating was extremely popular. Smaller boats were in demand by canoeists, fishermen, sailors, and hunters. Racing of all sorts was a particularly fashionable pastime. By 1868, George is found in the city directory, listed as a “boat builder” (his younger brother James is similarly listed as early as 1863). Both men were talented craftsmen, and this trade would sustain them for the remainder of their lives. Both found employment with a boat building company owned by Bob Renardson and, by 1876, they had bought the company from him while retaining Renardson as an employee. The new company became “G & J Boatbuilders”. Both brothers applied for, and were granted, a number of Canadian patents for various improvements they made in the industry, George for a “Warin’s shooting skiff” and James for an “Improvement in oars” among others. George himself was a very talented rower and was the person who taught Ned Hanlon who would go on to become five-time world champion. Hanlon was subsidized by well-known Toronto decoy maker David Ward (1838 – 1912), so Warin was very likely familiar with him and his decoys.
George was, for the longest time, a bachelor who boarded with his brother, his wife, children, and a “servant”. When James died in 1884, George married Sarah a short three years later. He was 57 and she, 33. Sarah had five children with James and would go on to have an additional five with George, resulting in the obvious necessity of the large home which they owned on 116 Seaton St.
George was an avid duck hunter and, apparently, a very good one. He became one of the founding members of The Saint Clair Flats Shooting Company in 1874 and, in 1901, was selected to guide, and supply the decoys for, the Prince of Wales (who became King George V) and his party on a trip to Lake Manitoba. Unfortunately, one of his hunting trips involved an accidental gun discharge resulting in the loss of his left hand and portion of his lower forearm.
Being a master woodworker and boatbuilder, Warin obviously possessed the skills, tools, and materials necessary to carve his own decoys. He sold a few of his decoys locally, but most found their way into the rigs of wealthy sportsmen at the prestigious clubs of the day, such as the Saint Clair Flats Club and the Long Point Club. His birds closely adhered to the accepted local standard, both in form and construction. His, however, with their finely applied painted surfaces, are considered among the best.
His success allowed him to enjoy a comfortable life. In addition to his large, nicely appointed home in Toronto, he maintained a fine retreat at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island in Toronto Harbor where he enjoyed his later years. He named his home on the Island, “Fort Warin” and it was there that he passed away.
Excellent Canada goose, George Warin, Toronto, Ontario, last quarter 19th century. Hollow carved with .5” bottom board and beautiful wet on wet feather blending on body. Believed to be the only Warin goose without a tail or bill chip repair. Measures 23.75” long. Original paint with minor to moderate flaking and wear, mostly near bottom board under tail; areas of appealing crazing; tight drying crack along one side; minor roughness at tip of bill; professional repair to a tight crack in neck.
Provenance: Ex Hugh Turnbull collection. Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 1991. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Decoys: North America’s Hundred Greatest”, Loy S. Harrell Jr., pg. 57, exact decoy pictured. (40,000 - 60,000)
George Warin’s Canada geese have always intrigued us. Stylized form, extremely lightweight construction, and the best paint patterns this side of Crowell. 32 years ago, Gary Guyette came up with this one out of the Hugh Turnbull collection, describing it as the only one known without a bill chip repair. There was some controversy at the time with Canada’s heritage protection laws, and I bought it subject to release. 8 months later FedEx delivered it. We’ve enjoyed it since.
Jasper Newton Dodge
1829 – 1909 | Detroit, Michigan
Jasper was born in Jefferson, NY and, for many years, earned his livelihood as a grocer. In 1856, he married Charlotte A. Wright in Watertown, and the couple eventually made their way west, settling by the late 1860’s in Kalamazoo, MI. At some point shortly thereafter, he felt the need to change occupations and eventually found employment working for the prominent sporting goods dealer, John E Long & Co, in Detroit. He remained in that position through the late 1870’s to the early 1880’s. Unfortunately, in 1879 he lost his wife, and he is listed in the 1880 census as “widowed”, living with his two children and a 16-year-old servant girl.
While at the sporting goods store, he worked alongside future decoy magnate William J. Mason. The store certainly sold decoys and the industrious Jasper must have seen the opportunity to supplement his clerk’s salary by producing similar items. The 1883 Detroit City Directory indicates that by that date, he was living at 79 Pine St in Detroit and producing decoys at that address. He describes himself in the directory as “Decoy Duck Mnfr” . The business prospered and he purchased a lathe to increase production. His major rival at the time was local decoy manufacturer, George Peterson, who had been producing decoys in Detroit since about 1873. Jasper apparently decided that rather than compete with Peterson, he would eliminate his rival and simply buy him out. This process apparently started in 1883 when Jasper acquired the business and equipment, and he went on to purchase the factory and land in 1890.
Initially he would have sold his decoys through local outlets such as the John E. Long Co (which by then had been acquired by William Mason), but he would quickly expand his sales through an ambitious advertising campaign in numerous sporting publications of the day, such as “American Field’, “Forest and Stream” and the “Sporting Goods Dealer”. He obtained orders from large national outlets such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and his decoys were offered through numerous independent gun and sporting goods stores. He published an elaborate 33 page “Catalog and price
list” which detailed his multiple grades of duck, goose, shorebird and swan decoys, as well as essays on the use of his decoys. This piece of literature received national distribution.
He continued to prosper and grow his inventory to increase sales. The Company eventually became the Detroit Canoe and Oar Works. In a 1902 ad in “The Sporting Goods Dealer”, Jasper stated that “The canoe and oar business, however, is only a side-line to the manufacture of decoys” . By 1908, Jasper, now age 79, phased out his business and domination of the decoy market was to be assumed by William J Mason.
The Dodge factory achieved its place in the history of the American decoy through the quality and widespread distribution of its product. While all of the species it produced were attractive to both hunters and their quarry, the outstanding design of certain examples have elevated them to the ranks of exceptional folk art. The sweeping lines of the goose being offered here are extraordinary, and this very decoy is pictured in photo 5-88, page 169 of “Detroit Decoy Dynasty by Sharp and Dodge, where they describe the bird as a “- - - stunning example” and “Perhaps the longest – necked factory goose extant - - - ” . It must be considered a jewel in any advanced decoy collection.
As the predecessor of Mason, we wanted one good Dodge, and we picked a dandy! The Canada goose, in our view, is the best factory “folk art” decoy made. For its age the condition is impeccable and it has a great brand on the base. It came out of a New Hampshire antique auction almost 30 years ago.
Excellent Canada goose, Dodge Decoy Factory, Detroit, Michigan, last quarter 19th century. Excellent form with reared back and lifted head. Large and deep brand on the underside reads “A P&S W.S”. Measures 20” long. Original paint with very minor wear; hairline crack along back; drying crack along the underside; small amount of filler restoration at base of neck and at seam where head and neck are joined; some filler and old touchup to puppy chews on the bill.
Provenance: Purchased from Ron Bourgeault in 1996. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: Literature: “Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide: Expanded Edition”, Russ J. Goldberger and Alan G. Haid, pg. 158, exact decoy pictured. (15,000 - 25,000)
Weedsport, New York
Harvey A. Stevens (1847 – 1894) | George Stevens (1856 – 1905)
When one thinks of early decoy makers, a small inland town north of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York is not the first place that normally comes to mind. However, it was here, in rural Weedsport, beginning about the time of the Civil War, that Harvey Stevens, reportedly a finish carpenter/cabinet maker, is believed to have made his first decoy. He enjoyed hunting and was an accomplished trap and live pigeon shooter. Within a few years, he decided to enter the world of commerce, producing decoys for sale and the first documented date for his doing so was an 1876 ad in the August issue of Forest and Stream magazine. The decoys produced by Harvey are often referred to as “factory decoys”. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no doubt that his birds were offered for sale as a commercial venture but, like the work of some his contemporaries, Robert Elliston (1849 – 1915) and Harry Shourds (1861 – 1920), who also sold decoys, their construction was entirely a handmade product. Tools were only the most basic and the entire operation was carried out in a small shed behind his home less than 10’ x 10’ in size. All aspects of the operation were, initially, done by Harvey including the design, production, painting, marketing and shipping of the finished product. His younger brother, George, a gardener by trade, would eventually assist in the operation and it is probable that another brother Fred would also occasionally help. For most of the years in business, however, the name of the company was simply “Harvey A. Stevens”.
Harvey did, indeed, produce an extremely good product. He lavished great effort on his construction techniques; his paint was of the highest quality, and each decoy was individually packaged in its own canvas bag prior to shipment. Harvey’s genius, however, was in his marketing strategy. He advertised widely, both in periodicals and in direct mailings, stressing that his decoys were, as he proclaimed, “ - - - superior to anything (being) offered to American Sportsmen” noted that “- - - for style and neatness they are unsurpassed” He purposely sought to attract the upper tier of wealthy sportsmen with statements such as, not try to compete with the cheap machine turned decoys, my decoys are a different style and cannot be turned. They are handmade throughout and therefore the market will not be flooded with them”. A dapper gentleman, he often
travelled to New York where he was able to attract the attention of the city’s most prestigious sporting goods dealers such as Schoverling, Daly and Gates as well as H. C. Squires. Both firms would, ultimately, offer Stevens decoys among their other fine products. The advertising campaign was soon attracting wealthy gunners from the entire country. A typical example would be his correspondence with Charles Wetter Bowen (1851 –1916), the president of a large Physicians Supply Co with offices in Providence, RI and Boston, MA.
Like so many others of his time, Harvey suffered from Tuberculosis and, shortly before his early death at age 47, he turned more and more to his brother George. Beginning about 1891 the two brothers began to alternately advertise the business using their own name. George would eventually assume total ownership of the company, making some minor changes in the design of the product and producing all the decoys under his name alone until his death.
As one would suspect, the brothers catered to the desires of their clients. Species most commonly sought on the east coast comprised the bulk of their production. Some species were, apparently, only offered
Very rare and important widgeon drake, George Stevens, Weedsport, New York, circa 1880s. “GW Stevens, Manufacturer of Standard Decoys, Westport, N.Y.” stencil is on the underside. Pleasing form with alert head pose and elongated, shaped tail. Fine comb paint detail. Measures 16” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; tightly reset crack in neck; paint missing where dowel goes through top of head; worn area on center of underside; fine hairline crack in bill and minor roughness on tip of tail.
Provenance: Ex George W. Thompson collection. Ex Dr. Lloyd Griffith collection. Purchased at Guyette & Deeter April 2015. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Decoy Magazine”, Summer 1985, pg. 29, exact decoy pictured. “Decoys: North America’s Hundred Greatest”, Loy S. Harrell Jr., pg. 15, exact decoy pictured. “Stevens Brothers Decoys,” Peggy and Peter Muller, p. 300, exact decoy pictured. “Stevens Brothers,” Shane Newell, pg. 68, exact decoy pictured. (30,000 - 40,000)
As one great example by Stevens for our collection, we chose this wigeon. It is a rare species, in superb condition, and has great provenance. It is unique in that a pintail hen pattern was used for its creation. Other Stevens wigeon, like the real birds in nature, have rounded tails.
1873-1941 | Seabrook, New Hampshire
Born in coastal Seabrook, George’s life was a simple one. His home was always near the marsh with its adjacent woods and fields, and he spent his youth subsisting largely on locally harvested fish and game, as well as fruits and vegetables raised in the family garden. As a young man, he hunted for the market and, in 1894, married Alice Fowler and the couple began to raise their family, first in the home of her parents and, eventually, in their own small, Cape style, home on Collins St.
Economically, Seabrook was extremely reliant on the predominant local industry of shoemaking. A number of factories existed both in the community and in nearby northern Massachusetts. This was his father’s and fatherin-law’s occupation and, like almost all his neighbors, George would work in this occupation for practically his entire life. He spent time employed as foreman in both the F.E Adams and the A.E. Little Companies. Much of
this industry, however, relied on independent workers laboring out of small “tinker” shops or “10x10’s” at their own homes and George was sure to include one of these tiny outbuildings on his own property.
It is believed that he may have been carving decoys as early as 1895 but these were, undoubtedly, for his own use. By 1910 through 1915, however, he was selling his shorebirds through the elite sporting goods store, Iver Johnson, in Boston. They had a reputation to uphold and only chose the best products for their customers. Elmer Crowell also supplied the store with decoys under the name “Iver Johnson Supreme”.
George enjoyed hunting throughout his life and, although he neither owned nor drove a car, he managed to gun at established stands from Chebacco Lake near Wenham, MA to Great Bay, NH. Through his associations with the prominent sportsmen at these various locations, word of the quality and effectiveness of his working decoys spread. Perhaps more importantly for George, these same men developed a taste for Boyd’s miniature carvings and the demand for these increased to the point where major stores such as Macy’s and
Abercrombie and Fitch began to carry his “little birds”. It was only with the success of his carvings that he basically left the shoe business and was able to exist largely on the income from his carving.
George produced decoys for those species that were actively pursued in the areas where he hunted. Black ducks and geese were primary targets, but a few other species were carved as well. His geese are truly majestic. George’s shoemaking background is evident in the detailed construction of his canvas covered examples and his crook necked versions are widely considered to be among the best of their kind produced anywhere in New England. His teal are certainly among the rarest of Boyd’s work and only a handful in any condition exist in collections.
Ironically, and perhaps sadly, Boyd never mentioned his carvings in any document that required
him to list his occupation, choosing “shoemaker” (or versions thereof) until the 1940 census where the occupation column in the census is simply left blank. His obituary in the Portsmouth, NH Herald only records that he was “- - - employed as a shoe worker” . Although appreciated, his work remained anonymous for many years in the decoy collecting community through 1965, when author and historian, William Mackey, proclaimed his work to be “Finely carved and nicely painted” . Jim Cullen obviously agreed with Mackey’s assessment, and it is through his efforts that much of what we know today about this preeminent New Hampshire carver has been made available.“George Boyd c1905” Courtesy Jim Cullen Boyd with miniatures c1938
Very rare and early rigmate pair of mergansers, George Boyd, Seabrook, New Hampshire, circa 1920s. Both with extended crests, drake with slightly turned head, hen’s head turned 50 - degrees. Measures 16.5” and 18.5” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; small dents; minor roughness on edge of tails with an old chip on one side of hen’s that was darkened; tight crazing on hen; small area of touchup on center of hen’s back; minor separation to back of hen’s neck seat.
Provenance: Purchased Guyette & Deeter November 2015. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (70,000 - 100,000)
George Boyd has always been one of our favorite carvers. His style is recognizably unique and appealing. He lived 15 miles from our home and gunned 5 miles away on Great Bay. The author of the definitive book on Boyd, Jim Cullen, is a friend who lives here in town.
Very rare and important full-size bluewing teal drake, George Boyd, Seabrook, New Hampshire. One of only two full-size blue wing teal known to exist. Slightly turned and lifted head. Fine feather paint detail and good patina. Signed on the underside by the maker, also initials “JF” are on the underside. Measures 11.75” long. Very fine and tight crazing over much of the decoy with some shrinkage on head, otherwise excellent and original.
Provenance: Made in 1938 and sold to sixteen year old Josiah Fisher. Donated by Mr. Fisher to the New Hampshire Nature Conservancy in order to raise funds to enhance and manage waterfowl habitat. Oliver’s July 11th & 12th, 1992 auction. Private Connecticut collection. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Great Book of Decoys,” Joe Engers, Editor, for rigmate. “New England Decoys,” John and Shirley Delph. “Finely Carved and Nicely Painted,” Jim Cullen. (25,000 - 35,000)
George Boyd is only known to have made yellowlegs and black-bellied plover in breeding (summer) and non-breeding (winter) plumage. We collected all three and the plovers are rigmates.
Slightly forward running pose with tack eyes and split tail carving. Rigmate to lot 37. Measures 11.25” long. Excellent original paint with very minor wear; a few tiny shot strikes on one side; small chip in tip of tail was reset with minor roughness at tip.
37 Black bellied plover in winter plumage, George Boyd, Seabrook, New Hampshire, 1st quarter 20th century. Slightly forward running pose with tack eyes and split tail carving. Rigmate to lot 36. Measures 11.25” long. Original paint with very minor wear; spots of dark umber paint on lower side and near tail; a few spots of white paint drips were cleaned off of the breast.
Provenance: From a home in Canyon City, Oregon. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(8,000 - 12,000)
38 Petite yellowlegs, George Boyd, Seabrook, New Hampshire, 1st quarter 20th century. Tack eyes and split tail carving. Measures 11.25” long. Dry original paint with minor gunning wear; lightly hit by shot in breast; fine, tight crazing on much of the bird; minor roughness on tip of tail; fine hairline crack in one side of neck; early repair where front half of bill was reset.
Provenance: Purchased from Boyd by a Mr. Barton of “Cozy Cottage”, West Point, Massachusetts and used on the east branch of the Westport River. The shorebird passed down in Mr. Barton’s family to his grandniece. Purchased at Tim Gould Auctions, Smithfield, Maine 2014. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(5,000 - 7,000)
Rare swimming Canada goose, George Boyd, Seabrook, New Hampshire. Canvas over wood slat construction with tack eyes. One of a few known in original paint. Measures 30 - 1/4” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; lightly hit by shot; 1” tear in canvas behind neck seat; hairline crack in bottom board; the original head was reset at some point with small amount of glue visible at neck seat; minor roughness on edge of bill and tail.
Provenance: Ex Jim and Pat Doherty collection. Purchased at Guyette & Deeter November 2020. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature - “Finely Carved and Nicely Painted”, Jim Cullen, cover, a similar example pictured. (30,000 - 50,000)
1862 - 1960 | Gloucester, Massachusetts
By the 1800’s, Gloucester, located near the top of Massachusetts’ North Shore, had earned its hard-won reputation as one of the premier fishing ports in America. Its schooners and their dories would venture to the Grand Banks and beyond, returning with holds brimming with codfish. As one would expect, many of the industries in town catered to the needs of the fleet. Hart’s father, Francis, was a fisherman, but his son choose not to follow in that dangerous occupation and, by the time Charlie was 17, he was boarding at the home of ice dealer William A Homans and working “at (an) ice house” (presumably Homans’ “Cape Pond Ice Co”).
It is unknown how or when Charlie left the ice business and acquired the skills necessary to become a Stone Mason, but this was his listed occupation from at least 1890 through 1940 when he would have been 77 years of age. In 1900 he married Anette Appleyard and, by 1910, the couple had three children (Robert, Charles Jr and Grace). Since at least 1903, he carried out the mason business out of his home at 159 Essex Ave. in Gloucester
He enjoyed hunting and carved a variety of hollow and solid decoys for his own use. Reports indicate that he also offered some for sale through a prominent Boston store. He carved mostly black ducks, the preferred local target, and he also carved a limited number of other species such as teal and, later in life, whistlers. Perhaps his crowning achievement was an incredible standing black duck with flapping wings which, unfortunately, never seems to have gotten past the prototype stage.
After Rear Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to the Antarctic in 1928-30, Hart became infatuated, some might say obsessed, with penguins. By his own admission he carved over 1500 of the flightless birds in all the species known to him. These ranged in size from a few inches to monumental models measuring around four feet for mantel or porch decorations. Many of these were sold out of his home on Essex Ave. which, by 1935, had gained the local reputation as “The Penguin House”. One of his proudest moments came in 1935 when he presented Admiral Byrd with one of his carvings. His decoys are considered among the finest to be carved on the North Shore, but it is his endearing penguins which have, perhaps, garnered him his widest reputation. They are actively sought by both decoy collectors as well as the larger, folk art and Americana community.
He lived out his final years in the family home on Essex Ave. with his youngest child, Grace, listed as head of household and he being recorded as “unable to work”. Artistic to the very end, one of his final works was carving his own headstone and corner markers that adorn his grave in Beechwood Cemetery, Gloucester.
We have sold over 100 Charles Hart penguins over the years! From 2” tall paperweights to a pair of 32” and 36” outdoor gate post sentinels. We elected to keep these because they represented the 5 species Hart knew of (there are 17 penguin species known today!), and they’re pristine. All 5 were exhibited and published by the Ward Museum.
40 Large size miniature king penguin, Charles Hart, Gloucester, Massachusetts, circa 1930. Standing on wooden base with applied flippers and tack eyes. Signed by the maker on the underside and dated 1933. Stands 10” tall including base. Very minor paint rubs and a few tiny flakes, otherwise excellent and original
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (8,000 - 12,000)
41 Extremely rare, possibly unique, macaroni penguin, Charles Hart, Gloucester, Massachusetts, circa 1930. Standing on wooden base with applied flippers and small tack eyes. Nice color blending on upper breast. Stands 7.25” tall including base. Excellent original paint under an early coat of varnish; small drip of white paint on one side of face; tight crack in the base of one leg
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (8,000 - 12,000)
42 Very rare magellanic penguin, Charles Hart, Gloucester, Massachusetts, circa 1930. Standing on wooden base with applied flippers and tack eyes. Stands 6.75” tall including base. Original paint with some feather blending and scratch detail; protected under a fairly thick and uneven coat of varnish
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (8,000 - 12,000)
43 Very rare Adelie penguin, Charles Hart, Gloucester, Massachusetts, circa 1930. Standing on wooden base with applied flippers and tack eyes. Signed by the maker on underside of base. Stands 6.75” tall including base. Original paint with a few minor paint flakes; small amount of touchup to paint flakes on bill.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (6,000 - 9,000)
penguin, Charles Hart, Gloucester, Massachusetts,
Standing on wooden base with applied flippers and tack eyes. Stands 10” tall including base. Original paint under an early slightly uneven coat of varnish; minor discoloration at wood grain on upper breast and lower belly; some areas of the black added after the varnish from when the penguin was made.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (8,000 - 12,000)size miniature emperor circa 1930.
Augustus “ Gus” Wilson
1950 | South Portland, Maine
Certainly, one of the most celebrated of the many excellent Maine carvers, Gus Wilson was born in the small village of Tremont on Mount Desert Island in Down East Maine. His father was a successful house carpenter, and the family was a large one including a live in housekeeper. Gus received an 8th grade education on the Island and, like so many of his neighbors, chose the life of a fisherman. In 1887 he married a local girl, Mary S Wilson and they had a daughter, Celia. Unfortunately, Mary died in 1905 and Gus was left to raise his young child alone. He eventually entered the Lighthouse Service, reportedly with one of his first duty stations being on Great Duck Island off the southern coast of Mt Desert Island. One reference notes that he also served at the Marshall Point Light at the tip of Cape Elizabeth, not far from Port Clyde and its mail boat to Monhegan Island (see note 1). By 1915 he was stationed at the Goose Rock Light on small Fox Island, East Penobscot Bay, as Assistant Keeper. By 1917 he had moved further south along the coast and was stationed at the Two Lights Station at Cape Elizabeth, again, as Assistant Keeper. In 1918 he found himself at The Spring Point Light off the coast pf Portland, initially as Assistant Keeper and finally, Keeper, replacing his brother, Otto.
In 1919 he married Edna M Snow and the two enjoyed a happy marriage for the next 17 years until her death in 1936. Lonely and depressed, he married for a third time in 1938 when he wed Fayette Gertrude Berry in South Portland. He was 74 and she, 59. For the vast majority of his life, Gus and his wives either lived at the Light Station(s) or boarded in nearby homes. With his marriage to Fayette, he had retired from the Lighthouse Service (1934) and purchased a home of his own in nearby Gray, Maine. After a short stay in a local hospital, he died and is buried there in the Gray Village Cemetery.
In true frugal Yankee fashion, Gus utilized only basic hand tools. Never using patterns, he preferred to draw out each new batch of carvings on paper, which was then discarded. He made his decoys wide, stable, bold and durable. Heads and necks were inlet into the bodies for strength and paint patterns were simple, yet totally effective and easy to freshen up if the need arose. The bottoms of his birds were often left unpainted, and the eyes are carved. Gus apparently saw no need to waste paint or purchase expensive, and what he saw as unnecessary, glass beads or buttons. His choice of wood was determined by what was available. Blemishes and knots, as well as the occasional small split were simply worked around. He sold his birds to local gunners with the option of being unpainted (reportedly 75 cents) or painted (1 dollar). Extra work was charged for! He
outlet, selling a number of his carvings through the large Edwards and Walker Hardware Store in Portland.
Wilson’s carvings cover the widest array of forms of any of the State’s talented makers. It is difficult to imagine what a rig of his birds would have looked like afloat. His flock would have included decoys looking in almost every conceivable direction, wings were carved, and some would have one or both wings raised. Heads would be rocking, some would be feeding with a carved mussel or leather “fish” in their mouths, and some would appear to be either calling, preening or sleeping. The total effect would have truly been that of a raft of content, live birds which would have been a siren to incoming waterfowl.
His work is often divided into three “periods”. The early birds (1880 – 1900) are considered his classics and have often been referred to as his Monhegan or Viking style. His middle period (1900 - 1920) saw him at the peak of his artistry and it is within this time frame that he created some of his most unique designs. The late (1920-1930) period, sadly, reflects the effects of old age on his craftsmanship, yet he continued to attempt new designs into his work, such as his swivel head concepts. In his
orders or when his own time was limited.
Wilson also created some fanciful decoratives, notably his wonderful flyers. Songbirds, snakes, tigers, and perhaps, other wild creatures, filled out his repertoire. Gus Wilson’s work transcended the purely functional and he must assuredly be considered among North America’s most notable folk artist.
Notes: 1. Neither of these stations are listed in his obituary while the next three are repeatedly mentioned in the records.
Gus Wilson has always appealed to our folk-art instincts. His decoys are “alive”, reflecting movement only a keen observer, like a lighthouse keeper, would note.
The Wilson black duck pair has an interesting story. We owned the caller for some time, considered it a uniquely appealing decoy, and never planned to sell it until we saw the one with outstretched wings at Sotheby’s. We bought the rarer wing-up model at the Bertram and Nina Fletcher Little sale intending to substitute it for our caller. Coming home bird in hand, we discovered we had bought a hen that matched our calling drake. They make a perfect pair; same carving vintage, same condition, similar unusual complementary attitudes.
45 Pair of black ducks, Gus Wilson, South Portland, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. One in calling pose with lifted, reared back head and open bill. Relief wing carving, inlaid neck seat, and carved eyes. Other in extremely rare swimming, double wing up pose, that was never rigged or weighted. Has applied, lifted wings, inlaid neck seat and carved eyes. Measure 17.5” and 19.75” long. Both in original paint with very minor wear; caller with slight separation at a knot in one side, hairline drying cracks in tail, one side, and through base of neck; swimmer with age split along the underside and an old chip along one wingtip.
Provenance: The caller was formerly in the collection of George Thompson and was purchased at a Harmon Auction in 1989. The swimmer is Ex Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little collection. Purchased at Sotheby’s January 1994. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
Literature: “Important Americana: The Bertram K Little and Nina Fletcher Little Collection, Part I, Sotheby’s NY Sale January 29, 1994”.
(80,000 - 120,000)
There’s an adage that the way to pick your favorite decoy is to grab the one without forethought that appeals to you, regardless of value, in the event of a fire. This Wilson scoter is our choice! Gus Wilson’s sea ducks are all some combination of black and white paint, making them easy for the hunter to repaint. To find an early style, preening Gus Wilson scoter in excellent original condition is nearly unheard of.
Very rare preening white-winged scoter, Gus Wilson, South Portland, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. Wilson’s early Monhegan Island style with elongated body, relief wing carving, and long inlaid neck seat. Gracefully sculpted neck with bill buried into feathers. Measures 17.75” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; small chip and minor roughness on edge of tail; shallow chip in one side; small amount of flaking at filler in one side of neck seat.
Provenance: Purchased at a Richard Oliver auction 1987. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (50,000 - 70,000)
Talk about unique decoy folk art, the preening black duck with raised wing exemplifies the best of the best in working decoys. It is weighted off-center to contradict the downward pull of the wing as it catches the wind. There is an old brace attached to the underside of the wing for extra support. A sculptural decoy masterpiece!
47 Extremely rare preening, wingup black duck, Gus Wilson, South Portland, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. In preening pose with long, inlaid neck seat and applied lifted wing. Lead weights on underside so the bird would float level in the water. One of only two known in this style. The other sold at auction in 2005 for $195,000. Measures 15.75” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; spots of old filler added to shot marks and defects in wood; hairline drying crack in one side of neck and neck seat; early repair to a crack through the wing with metal strip on backside of wing with paint added to the area; tight drying crack along the underside
Provenance: Ex Charlie Hunter III collection. Purchased at Copley Fine Art Auctions 2010. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (80,000 - 120,000)
Early oversize flying mallard, Gus Wilson, South Portland, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. Outstretched head and neck with inlaid neck seat and nicely shaped, applied wings. Incised feather carving on wings. Actual applied duck legs and feet, typical of Wilson’s earliest flyers. Carved eye placement was changed in the making. Measures 26.75” long, with a 27.25” wingspan. Original paint that has darkened with age shows minor wear; hairline drying cracks in one wing and along the underside of the body; wooden patches added by Wilson to each side of body behind wings where defect in wood ran through the body; seam in each upper leg where they were reglued; small old chip in tip of one wingtip
Provenance: Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 1995. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (6,000 - 9,000)
Collector’s Note: Our mallard flyer is not like most of the later examples. It has early style shaped wings, a long-outstretched body, and real duck feet. A characteristic only found in Wilson’s earliest flyers.
1859 - 1938 | Accord, Massachusetts
Mention the word “Massachusetts decoy” to anyone interested in carved working birds and two names will inevitably be mentioned first – Elmer C rowell and Joe Lincoln. Opinions are about evenly split as to which of the two men deserve the title of “The Best”.
“Lincoln was a laconic man, a consummate Yankee craftsman whose solid body decoys are reflections of their makers personality – direct and spare, with not a gesture wasted.” (Bob Shaw)
“Lincoln’s work is characterized by clean and crisp lines and a stylized plumage painting which is as precise as an engraving.” (Dr George Ross Starr)
Joe was born the son of sailmaker George Lincoln and his wife Salome Whiting at the family home on Gardner St., in the Accord section of Hingham. The house was located on the shore of Accord Pond and afforded a lovely view out over the water as well as any passing wildlife. Sadly, his biological father passed away when he was only 9 and his brother, Wilbur, was 4. His Uncle, Joe Whiting, a cooper, moved into the home and helped to raise the two young boys. As a young man through 1894, Joe, typical for many in the area, worked in a shoe factory. By 1900 he was working as a poultry farmer with his brother. Joe was talented in anything requiring the use of his hands. He made and upholstered furniture, carved gunstocks and was reputed to be able to repair just about anything, including clocks and cameras. From at least 1908 through the 1920 census, he lists his occupation as “carpenter”. It is no surprise then that he also constructed a number of excellent lapstrake boats which he kept on the shore of the pond. If he had a passion, it was raising award winning dahlias (a flower). He also loved to hunt! There is no record as to exactly when he made his first decoy, but it is a safe assumption that it was at an early date. By 1918, his fame in carving a very high-quality decoy, resulted in a lengthy article in a Boston newspaper where he is recorded as saying:
“You’ve got to make them good enough to fool the sharp eyes of a duck or goose - - - - and you just bet that those birds have the sharpest eyes and the cunningest brains that there are in the bird family. A turn of the knife the wrong way, a peculiar tilt to the head, such as is not affected by the duck or goose family, and your work is spoiled.”
Orders poured in, allowing him to concentrate on carving as his primary occupation. By 1928, his production had grown to the point where he lists his occupation in the Hingham City directory as “decoy mfg”. Most of the orders were obtained through the mail but many hunters would drive directly to Joe’s tiny shop to place an order for the upcoming season. Occasionally he would stage an elaborate exhibit at the Boston Sportsman’s show.
Joe was a member of the North Shore Gun Club located on the pond below his home. This was one of the celebrated and unique “Massachusetts Shooting Stands”. These were complex arrangements of clubhouses, runways, and lengthy breastworks (blinds) as well as live decoy pens, and storage sheds. In addition to the live birds, these “stands” required large numbers of wooden decoys. Joe was responsible for most of the wooden birds at the North Shore Club,
Very rare long-tailed duck drake, Joseph Lincoln, Accord, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Bold paint pattern typical of Lincoln style. Branded “LLS” on the underside. One of only a few drakes known in original condition. Measures 14.25” long. Excellent original paint with very minor wear; surface has darkened with age; small dents in one side with a small spot of bare wood showing; very early chip in tip of bill; typical age split along underside with tight cracks running up the breast and under tail; a few hairline cracks in tail with a small nail added in one side of the tail.
An antique dealer buddy called me about an antique sale he was at where there were some decoys. No detail was given, but he said, “Get down here!” He collected some Masons and knew enough about decoys to intrigue me. I got there as the auction was beginning. There was a half dozen or so decoys, but the star was the old squaw drake, which I had to have. You can’t sleep at the switch in the antiques world!
as well as numerous other similar operations stretching from southern New Hampshire to northeast Rhode Island. He was also often called upon to repair and/or repaint damaged or worn birds in addition to carving custom orders. As one would expect, the bulk of his production was of species most in demand by the stands, thus black ducks and geese comprise a good percentage of his work, with much smaller numbers of other species. Another common order was for the local seaducks. While eiders were common further north, the three types of scoters were the primary target of the “line shooters” off the Massachusetts coast. Other species would occasionally be encountered when sea shooting, but they would
usually “toll” to the scoter blocks. One of these incidentals was the oldsquaw (long tailed duck). These were not considered overly palatable dinner fare and it is a wonder why someone would place an order for them, yet Joe did carve some. They are considered to represent some of his very finest, albeit rarest, work.
A dedicated bachelor, at 71, Joe married local schoolteacher, 45-year-old Mary Shute. She moved into the home where Joe was born, lived, worked, and ultimately died, at age 79.
Very rare bluebill drake, Joseph Lincoln, Accord, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Incised bill carving and slight wing shaping behind neck seat. Decoy was never rigged or weighted. This is believed to be the finest Lincoln bluebill known. Measures 13.75” Excellent original paint with very minor wear; small dents on sides; minor roughness on edge of bill; fine hairline crack in one side of neck.
Provenance: Purchased at Copley Fine Art Auctions 2013. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (30,000 - 40,000)
51 Canada goose, Joseph Lincoln, Accord, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Lincoln’s classic form with incised bill carving and large glass eyes. Measures 24” long. Original paint with minor wear; crazing and paint shrinkage on breast and under tail area with moderate flaking; Lincoln’s typical age split along the underside.
Provenance: Purchased at Julia & Guyette 1989. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (15,000 - 25,000)
We have four decoys by Joseph Lincoln, all considered classic carvings. We have sold a number of Lincoln geese and brant over the years. These examples appealed to us because of their form and condition.
The Lincoln brant is from the Alvin White collection of Sandwich, Massachusetts. White was perhaps the most famous American firearms engraver of the 20th century. It has never been offered publicly.
Brant, Joseph Lincoln, Accord, Massachusetts, 1st quarter 20th century. Very slightly forward head pose. In classic Lincoln form. Measures 19.5” long. Original paint with minor to moderate wear; hairline crack along back and one side; typical age split along the underside, which extends slightly up the breast and under tail; minor roughness on one lower edge; thin wash of white on the underside and white area under tail.
Provenance: Ex Alvin White collection, Sandwich, Massachusetts, dean of American gun engravers. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(20,000 - 30,000)
William Everett “Willie” Ross
1878 – 1954 | Chebeague Island, Maine
Located 10 miles NE of Portland, Maine, at almost 7 ½ sq miles, Chebeague is the largest island in Casco Bay. It was here that Willie, a fifth generation Ross on the Island, was born, lived, and died. His father was a fisherman and, as a young man, Willie followed in his footsteps. In 1902, he married a Massachusetts girl, Nellie Francis Smith, and the couple began to raise their family on the Island. Tragically, in 1912, the explosion of an oil container on the stove caused a fire which killed both 28-year-old Nellie and his five-year-old daughter, Ethel. Within a year, to help care for his remaining children, Willie married again, this time to Etta Upton of nearby Cape Elizabeth and they proceeded to have two additional children of their own.
The family was largely self sufficient. Willie raised a cow, pig, and possibly other animals, while Etta tended the large family garden and canned its bounty. He worked at various odd jobs on the Island as a farm laborer, fisherman and, occasionally, employment at a local boat yard and dock. Even before his first marriage, he had been weaving ash splint baskets which found wide acceptance on the Island for a variety of jobs such as
wasa passionate hunter and shot a 10 ga black powder double. He enjoyed music, played in a few of the local bands, and served as assistant scoutmaster on the Island. Willie and Etta Ross
His son recounts that Willie began making decoys for himself at age 16. The quality of his birds soon gained him recognition on the Island and many of the local gunners were soon purchasing and using his carvings. As with his baskets, he harvested his own cedar and pine and seasoned it in a shed at his home. He is known to have carved black ducks, whistlers, and oldsquaws (long-tailed duck) with perhaps a handful of other species, but it is his wonderful mergansers that have assured him a prominent place in Maine decoy history. The crest on these tollers was often ostrich plume which reportedly came from “some rich ladies who wore big fancy hats”. Oddly, he is not known to have made eiders or scoters which would have been the normal quarry on any offshore island. He used only an axe, spokeshave and jackknife on the bodies and a keyhole saw to rough out the heads. He did not utilize patterns except for some of the heads yet his birds are frequently mirror images of each other. His birds were primed grey then painted, often with the help of his wife. The decoys were sold for $1 apiece or $10 per dozen. By the early 1900’s, Chebeague had developed a widespread reputation as a tourist attraction and Willie carved a number of
miniature decoys and seagulls which were sold through Bennett’s store to “people from away” . He did carve a few whimsical items such as a small pig for his sister and a jewelry box in the shape of a clam for Etta .
His decoys were appreciated in their day for their effectiveness and his son has stated that his father would be surprised to learn that collectors around the country today prize both his baskets and his decoys so highly. “He never thought of them as anything but a working bird” .
Our Willie Ross mergansers have never been offered before in the decoy market. We purchased them from Pam Boynton, a good friend and now passed antique dealer who bought them privately. They are in outstanding condition and retain their original peacock feather crests.
53 Rigmate pair of mergansers, Willie Ross, Chebeague Island, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. Inlet neck seats and original peacock plume crests, which rarely survived. Measures 17.5” and 18.75” long. Excellent original paint with minor gunning wear; thin band of touchup to a fine hairline crack in hen’s neck; drake with tight crack in neck secured by a few small nails; drake’s bill is a nearly undetectable professional replacement.
Provenance: Purchased from Groton, Massachusetts antique dealer Pam Boynton in 1993. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (20,000 - 30,000)
54 Very rare and excellent miniature merganser, Willie Ross, Chebeague Island, Maine, 2nd quarter 20th century. An almost exact facsimile of Ross’s full size mergansers, with rounded body and slightly upswept tail. Measures 3.75” long. Minor paint rubs on the underside; otherwise excellent
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (3,000 - 4,000)
Note: I found the Ross miniature merganser drake in the antique world. It’s the first ‘real’ miniature Ross merganser I have seen. There are many similar, but more angular, merganser miniatures that have sold as Ross’ over the years, but these were carved by Chester Doughty and not Willie Ross.
Orlando Sylvester “Os” Bibber
1882 – 1971 | South Harpswell, Maine
The coastal town of Harpswell comprises a series of narrow peninsulas which jut out into Casco Bay. At its very tip lie the village(s) of South and West Harpswell, home of Ollie Bibber. His father supported his wife and six children by working on a local Harpswell estate and fishing. Ollie chose not to follow in that line of work and, at a young age, moved to Portland where he learned the skills necessary to become a marine engineer and he is listed in the 1902 Harpswell City Directory as serving in that capacity in South Harpswell.
During WWI, he served as assistant engineer in the US Merchant Marine. Following the war, he became chief engineer for the Eastern Steamship Line on vessels that ran between Portland and Bangor (ME), as well as New York, Nova Scotia, and Cuba. In 1931, he married an Everett, Massachusetts girl, Nellie B. Douglas and the couple were living in Harpswell in 1933 where Bibber listed his occupation as “machinist” in the City Directory. Sadly, Nellie died there, and Bibber remained a widower for the rest of his life.
In WWII, he was employed in defense work at the Portland (ME) shipyard. Following the war, he returned to the steamship company where he worked until his retirement. He spent his post retirement years in West Harpswell where he lobstered aboard a boat he had rebuilt himself and enjoyed raising strawberries and chickens at his home overlooking the sea.
He carved only for his own use and enjoyment. Perhaps because of the remoteness of his home and the very limited number of his carvings, his work remained anonymous for many years. Dr George Ross Starr, pioneering New England collector, spent years scouring the Harpswell area in the 1950’s and 60’s in search of
its decoys and their makers. Even with his diligence, the identity of Bibber remained unknown to him. He was aware of his carvings, however, and proclaimed his oldsquaw “- - - one of the finest quandies I have seen” Students of New England birds have echoed his remarks ever since. Dr John Dinan in “The Great Book of Decoys” described his birds as “- - - the best carvings on the (Maine) coast” . Bob Shaw, ex-curator of the decoy collections at The Shelburne Museum in VT describes Bibber as “fastidious” and, when discussing his mergansers in particular, recognizes him as one of “Maines master carvers”. Few today would find argument with the assessment of these gentlemen.
After a lengthy illness, Bibber died in a Brunswick (ME) nursing home. He and Nellie rest today in the West Harpswell Cemetery on Harpswell Neck Rd.
Oversize merganser, Orlando Sylvester “Os” Bibber, South Harpswell, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. Long, oversize body. Thinly hollowed with .25” bottom board. Head is slightly turned and up looking. With applied horse hair crest. Measures 22.25” long. Original paint with minor gunning wear; drip of discoloration runs from back down one side; excellent structurally.
Provenance: David and Andi Fischer collection. Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 2000. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (20,000 - 30,000)
Our Bibber merganser is very unusual for a Maine decoy. Oversized with turned head, hollow, almost delicate with original horsehair comb. If Bibber had asked a skilled painter like Willie Ross to paint this one, we’d have the ultimate decoy!
1866 - 1947 | Friendship, Maine
Most communities have their local “characters”, those individuals that always seemed to act a little “odd” or perhaps live a lifestyle slightly outside of the accepted norm. Friendship, on the midcoast of Maine, had George Huey.
Not surprisingly, there is little about his life that can be documented. Much of what has been written about him is the result of interviews after his death with, then aged, members of the town. Some documents list his birth as occurring in Friendship in 1885 while others say 1886. His actual State birth record registers his official date of birth as Nov. 4th, 1855 – (apparently, accuracy was rather lax). His father, John, was a Friendship fisherman who his mother, Santana, had divorced by 1900 leaving her to raise her young son alone. As a child, George must have been a handful. Oral history claims that he may have shot his mother in the rear with an arrow when he was young and that he received an 8th grade education in a reform school where he learned the craft of caning chairs.
By the time George was 24, he had left Friendship and was living in nearby Cushing as a boarder in the home of farmer William Carter and his wife. Here he is listed as having his “own income”. By the time he registered for the WWI draft, he had returned to Friendship where he worked as a “fisherman”. Almost assuredly, this would have been digging clams – the closest he ever came to having anything that resembled an actual job. Even in this trade, his idiosyncratic nature emerged when he only kept those bivalves which he (alone) deemed to be the right size. For the most part, he earned his meager income by working (occasionally) at menial, part time jobs around town, performing those tasks that no one else really wanted, such as cleaning the privy or rowing aged lobstermen around the harbor to tend their gear. He lived on the road between Hatchet Cove and Friendship Harbor in what can best be described as a shack with no electricity or running water. He would often appear at people’s door around dinner time hoping to be invited in. Apparently, his personal hygiene left a little to be desired, so if he was offered a meal, or when he attended church, he would be assigned a seat, somewhat apart from everyone else, in a chair that could be easily cleaned. He was commonly seen proudly wearing a conductor’s uniform and hat with its brass buttons and townsfolk gave him the nickname “Pokus”. He would often be carrying a 10” tall figure of a woman that he had carved to match a similar one he did of himself – George named her “Martha Conch”. He seems to have had a sense of humor, for when a
passerby saw him painting a decoy they asked, “ Is that all you have done today George”? To which he replied, “No, I’ve made three birds today, but the cat got one and the other one flew away” . Similar stories about his life abound. He was very proud of his penmanship and once wrote a letter to Sears and Roebuck which began, “Dear Mr. Sears. How’s your Roebuck? The shotgun I bought from you wasn’t any good. I sold it to Alvin Pryor for two dollars.”
Regardless of what people thought of him personally, they really liked his decoys. He made primarily
56 Outstanding red breasted merganser, George Huey, Friendship, Maine, 1st quarter 20th century. Stylized, angular body with inlaid neck seat and relief carved eyes. “GR Huey Builder” carved in the underside, as well as a flying duck. Measures 19.75” long. Excellent original paint with very minor wear; bill was cracked down and professionally reset with area of inpainting at the seam.
Provenance: Ex Charlie Hunter, III collection. Purchased at Guyette & Schmidt 2004. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (15,000 - 25,000)
We have sold numerous Huey mergansers in different styles, but believe our George Huey merganser is sculpturally unique. Note the chined sides. It also carries Huey’s etched signature. All in excellent condition.
“If the great Maine carvers had a commonality, it was that they loved to make mergansers - - -. George Huey of Friendship was the master”
- Dr. John Dinan, Jr.
Chestnut Canoe Factory
Fredericton, New Brunswick
By the late 1800’s affluent sportsmen from Boston, New York and beyond became aware of the bounty of fish and game in New Brunswick. They began to arrive in search of the plentiful bear, deer, and moose as well as to experience the legendary trout and salmon fishery of the Miramichi river. They would often arrive by means of canoes built by early Maine makers, B.N. Morris, E.M. White, and E.H. Gerrish.
In Fredericton, brothers William and Henry Chestnut had recently inherited their father’s hardware company and were seeking additional products to expand the business. Canoes seemed a viable option but importing them from the United States would have reduced their profit margin. In 1897 they remedied the situation by hiring local boat builder, Jack Moore, to construct a canoe based on the Morris design. The model was so successful that the brothers traveled to Maine to recruit additional experienced builders from the Old Town Canoe Factory which, obviously, did not come as good news for the owners of Old Town.
In 1905 William Chestnut was granted a Canadian patent for construction of the wood and canvas canoe. Initially, the canoes were built in a small wooden shed-type structure but, as a result of the success of the venture, a larger factory was needed and one was constructed in 1905 on the south side of King St, in Fredericton. In 1907 Chestnut incorporated as the Chestnut Canoe Company Limited and, after the first factory burned in 1921, a new, larger facility was erected. The company flourished and, by 1914, was producing 1200 canoes per year as well as thousands of pairs of snowshoes. At its height, production had
their most successful dealers at numerous hardware stores, boat shops and sporting goods dealers. The most elaborate of these were their factory sample or model canoes. These have often been erroneously referred to as “salesman’s samples”, but they were never intended for that purpose. They were considered special display or “point of sale” items, meant to capture the eye, imagination, and wallets of potential customers. Other canoe factories of the day produced similar items, but those by Chestnut differed in two major ways. First, other companies, mostly American, produced many more of the models (numbers totaling in the 100’s), but less than ten models by Chestnut models are known. Secondly, the models produced by the competition ranged in size from about 2 to 6 feet with most in the 3 to 5 foot range while all known examples by Chestnut measure an impressive 7 feet.
Of the known examples of Chestnut’s, most (if not all) exhibit some degree of repair or restoration while the example being offered here is in about pristine condition. Roger Young, author of the seminal “Little Things That Matter – Collecting Antique Factory SampleFrist Chestnut Factory
We found the Chestnut salesman’s sample canoe in Pennsylvania, although it was made in Fredericton, New Brunswick, circa 1910. It retains a partial label and is in excellent condition. It hung upside down in our office for 30 years. Beyond its inherent desirability, the canoe is over 7’ long, not the more commonly found 48”.
57 Outstanding and rare 7’ model canoe, Chestnut Canoe Company, Fredericton, New Brunswick, circa 1910. One of less than a dozen known examples by the Chestnut Canoe Company. Cedar ribs and planking covered in green painted canvas with metal stem bands at bow and stern. Retain the original thwarts and caned seats. Much of the original decal on the bow deck. Measures just over 7’ long. Original condition with minor flaking and scratches on canvas; area on underside and one lower side where the original varnish has worn to the canvas; a few fine hairline cracks at tiny nails on bow and stern area of the gunwales. The best example known.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (20,000 - 30,000)
Rare, early trade sign from St. Louis, Missouri, last quarter 19th century. Relief gill and mouth carving with inlaid dorsal fin and applied anal fin. Deep relief scale carving. Salmon measures 32” long, still mounted to its original iron bracket. Layers of old overpaint have been taken down to an earlier surface and bare wood; some secured age cracks near belly; tight drying cracks in tail and head area; old loss to mch of the fin on top near tail area.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(6,000 - 9,000)
59 “R” bannerette weathervane with flowers, 19th century. Measures 26.5” tall. 36” wide. Very early surface; single bullet hole, otherwise very good.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (3,000 - 5,000)
60 “G” bannerette weathervane with sunflower, 19th century. Measures 26.5” tall, 24.75” wide. Very early surface with discoloration from age; small losses to tips of sunflower petal.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (3,000 - 5,000)
62 Oil on canvas hunt scene, 1st quarter 20th century. Two hunters woodcock or snipe hunting with dog. Measures 18” x 24”. Surface has darkened slightly with age; thin dark line across top; otherwise very good.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(500 - 800)
61 Excellent oil on canvas hunting scene illustration cover art, 1st quarter 20th century. Used on the cover on Hunting & Fishing Magazine, August 1924. Depicts a shorebird hunter in a beach blind shooting at three passing yellowlegs with four shorebird decoys in front of the blind. Canvas measures 26” x 20”. Minor discoloration from age; very minor flaking and rubs.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection.
(6,000 - 9,000)
63 Pair of hanging miniature bluebills, possibly John Tax, Osakis, Minnesota, 2nd quarter 20th century. Similar head and bill carving to Tax, with comb feather paint detail. Birds are mounted to an old barn board. Measure 5.5” long. Original paint with minor flaking and wear; very good structurally.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (600 - 900)
64 Carved and painted hunting scene from Pennsylvania, 2nd quarter 20th century. Oil on board background, with applied carved flying pheasant and dog on point. Old business card on the back from The Widdler, Reading California. Frame measures 15.25” x 18.5”. Even crazing on background; minor flaking and a reglued crack in dog’s hind leg.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (800 - 1,200)
65 Two oil on boards, Harry Lyman (1856-1933). Companion paintings of airdales hunting rabbit. Signed and dated 1919 lower left. 9.5” x 11.5”. Surface is mellowed slightly with age; very good original condition.
Provenance: Purchased from Joseph Tonelli. Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (1,200 - 1,800)
66 Pair of antique block and tackle bookends from Long Island, circa 1900. Working block and tackle mounted as bookends when retired from surface. Measure 10” tall. Worn and used with drying cracks and flaking; nice nautical decoration.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (200 - 300)
Custom bluebird mirror, Eddie Wozny, Cambridge, Maryland. Made from a natural hollow of a tree. With applied mirror on inside of hollow and three bluebirds standing on edge. One with open beak and all three with raised wingtips and detailed feather carving. Signed and dated 2013 on the back. Bluebirds measure from 6.5” to 7.5” long. Mirror measures 32” tall Excellent and original.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (3,000 - 4,000)
68 Miniature pair of curlew, Eddie Wozny, Cambridge, Maryland. One is flying, with outstretched wings and legs. The other in preening pose with one extended wing. Both with relief wing and tail feather detail. “W” carved in the underside of each. Both are signed and dated 2001 on underside. Measure 8.5” and 4.75” long. Excellent and original.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (1,200 - 1,800)
70 Standing black duck, Grayson Chesser, Jenkins Bridge, Virginia. Deep relief wing carving with raised wingtips. Slightly turned head. “Made especially for Karen” on the underside. Signed and dated 1995. “C” carved in the underside. measures 16.5” long. Excellent and original.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (800 - 1,200)
69 Pair of miniature mallards, John McHendry, Illinois, circa 1925. Beautifully carved with relief wings and raised, crossed wingtips. Fluted tail feather carving and applied copper double tail sprig on drake. Maker’s signature on the underside. Measures 6.25” long. Original paint that has darkened with age showing very minor wear; excellent structurally.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (2,000 - 4,000)
71 Wonderful owl, Russ Allen, Parksley, Virginia. An excellent folk art piece, with owl and base carved from a single piece of wood. Applied perch and feet. Deep relief carved eyes, bear claw bill, and applied leather wings and ear tufts. “R.A.” carved on the back. Stands 21” tall. Excellent and original.
Provenance: Russ and Karen Goldberger collection. (800 - 1,200)
A Legacy of Trust
In 1984, a small auction firm was formed to take advantage of what founders Gary and Dale Guyette saw as an emerging interest in collecting waterfowl decoys. Their hunch turned out to be correct and today Guyette & Deeter is the longest running and most successful seller of decoys and other sporting collectibles anywhere. Our staff has a combined experience of 260 years studying, collecting, and selling decoys, in addition to other sporting collectibles. This long history not only brings unparalleled knowledge about this uniquely American folk art, but also gives us unmatched insight into market trends and valuations.
The decision to sell a treasured family collection can be an emotional and confusing experience. Where do we start? What’s the best way? How can we get the most in return?
For nearly 40 years Guyette & Deeter has gained the trust of our clients by making sure that they are comfortable with every aspect of the process of selling their items, long before we go about the business of actually offering them for sale.
We go beyond being just brokers of goods. We are committed to building a collaborative relationship with our clients, grounded in an intimate understanding of their concerns and goals. Working together, we carefully evaluate each piece to be sold, discuss current market trends, develop tailored marketing plans, and set realistic auction estimates. We know that this attention to detail gives our clients the reassurance they need and the results they want.
Collection Planning Program
While you continue to enjoy collecting today, you can rely on Guyette & Deeter to collaborate with you on your estate planning and collection management needs. Whether it’s for tax purposes, estate planning, gifting, charitable giving, or insurance, we can develop and periodically update a comprehensive written appraisal of your collection. We have extensive experience working closely with banks, attorneys, trustees, estate officers, probate court, private clients and family members responsible for the dispersal of collections as part of larger estat es.
O ur unmatched market understanding allows us to more accurately document the value and description of each item in your collection. We know that working together to ensure that your wishes are established now will make it easier to administer your estate lat er.
Co ntact Jon or Zac to discuss our Legacy Planning Program today.
Jon Deeter | 440-610-1768
Zac Cote | 207-321-8091