by Dr. Lori Verderame
American decoys can be traced back to the 1,200-year-old canvasback found in a cave in Nevada. Actual functional decoys and examples that have been used are sought after with collectors when compared with ornamental carved decoy and related objects. Serious collectors want objects that have been made to be used in the field instead of carvings that are made for the sake of decoration.
While good quality ornamental carvings of ducks are popular for decorators and others, the serious or purist collectors look for used duck decoys showing years of field wear.
Some of the master carvers of duck decoys such as Ben Schmidt, Joe Lincoln, Walter Ruppel, Adam Anger, Addie Nichol, Alain MacDonald, Albert Laing, Art Chilton, Babe Strubinger, Bert Graves, Reagan Bob Kerr, Bert Lang, Damos, Bill Enright, Bill Goenne, Barney Crandell and Shang Wheeler were craftsmen who hunted and came to understand the fowl that they hunted. Their carved duck decoys were made based on their keen understanding of the animal.
The Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 put an end to market hunting however the real carvers/hunters learned the behaviors of these animals and translated those behaviors into their decoy artistry.
Some of the typical things to look for when considering an antiques decoy are roughness, scars, paint loss, and other signs of wear and use in the field.
Characteristics of various species of birds, ducks, and other fowl are important in establishing and identifying the origin of a decoy. For instance, the ducks native to Vinalhaven Island, Maine differ from those that make their home in and around the DelMarVA and the Chesapeake. So, it follows that if the ducks are different, then the decoys must be different too.
As in all areas of the arts, decoy carvers are artists and craftsmen. Value will depend on condition, authenticity, and mastery of the craft when assessing the decoy art.
Get an online appraisal of your duck decoy from Dr. Lori.