Published: September 4, 2007
The second auction in the summer series of decoy sales that takes place annually in New England during late July and early August was presented by Guyette and Schmidt at the Seaport Hotel on July 27 and 28. By far the largest and most impressive of the sales, the auction was once again a highly successful event.
Following the trends that the auction house has established over the past year, the volume of decoys offered was lower than what had traditionally been auctioned in the past, yet the quality was up. So were the totals at day’s end.
Guyette and Schmidt offered 750 lots in 2005 with a total of $2.5 million. Last year, the number of lots dropped to 487, yet the tally increased to $2.65 million. This year’s sale, although slightly larger with just over 550 lots, grossed a cool $3.55 million.
Of the decoys sold, one cleared the $200,000 mark, three sold in excess of $100,000, 12 decoys exceeded $50,000, and of the remainder, 70 sold in excess of $10,000.
As has become tradition, the Guyette and Schmidt auction weekend starts off with a 75-table “Buy, Sell and Swap” event that begins the day prior to the sale. Dealers and collectors from across the country participate in the popular show, and sales seemed to be healthy, although many kept their hands in their pockets waiting for the auction to conclude before making additional deals.
Preview began on Thursday night with a complimentary cocktail party that was attended by a large crowd eager to look over the prime assortment of decoys. Preview continued on Friday morning, during which time a local picker caught the attention of Gary Guyette and Frank Schmidt and made a last minute consignment to the auction that caused quite a commotion.
Aside from the newly “freshly picked” birds, the auction featured a good selection of decoys, both waterfowl and fish, with several collections being tapped. Included were an assortment of decoys put together by Bob and Pauline White, David Galliher, some goodies from Joe French, and items from the collection of Gene and Linda Kangas. Also offered was the remainder of the coveted collection of Lake Chautauqua fish decoys.
The sale started off small with a selection of miniature carvings by the likes of A.J. King, George Boyd and Elmer Crowell, with some hefty prices realized. A pair of miniature ruffed grouse by King sold at $5,750, a pair of Boyd geese brought $8,050, and a golden plover by Crowell sold at $4,887.
Seven extremely rare Crowell miniatures were offered next, all from the collection of Joe French. The miniatures predate the sets that were carved in groupings of 75, consisting of 25 ducks, 25 shorebirds and 25 songbirds. None of the duck miniatures from the French collection appear on the standard list, thus they were said to predate the usual post-1933 carvings.
Each of the lots was heavily competed for and all of them sold above the high presale estimates. The first lot to be offered was a white wing scoter that sold at $5,750, an eider drake made $4,600, a surf scoter brought $4,025, a green-winged teal was $5,750, a hooded merganser sold for $4,312, a golden eye hen made $4,600, and a gadwall brought $4,312.
While the Crowells created quite a commotion, it was not long until things got serious with two John English decoys crossing the block. The first, a canvasback drake from the White collection that had been “hand picked from a stack of Delaware River birds” in Bill Mackey’s basement, carried an estimate of $40/50,000. The lot opened for bidding at $20,000 and it bounced back and forth in the room with several getting in on the action on its way to a selling price of $63,250, selling to a gentleman in the rear row.
A rare pintail hen by English that the auction house termed “arguably one of the finest Delaware River decoys to come to auction” was offered next and it carried a $65/85,000 estimate. The gentleman in the rear of the gallery hit the decoy early on as it opened for $35,000 and with one of several phone bidders, they pushed the lot to $60,000. A second phone bidder took over at that point and battled with the client in the room to the $90,000 mark, where a third phone bidder jumped into the action and traded bids with the gentleman all the way to a final selling price of $225,000, going to the telephone.
An Ira Hudson merganser hen that had been purchased from the carver as part of a gunning rig sold well above the $50/60,000 presale estimate. “Mergansers from this rig were always thought of as some of Hudson’s finest work,” stated Guyette prior to the auction. The decoy featured a folky carved comb, fluted tail and it retained the original scratch decorated paint. The decoy had been presented by the original owner to the consignor’s grandmother in 1905 and it had reportedly remained on the mantel in her home ever since. Bidding on the lot was brisk, with it opening at $50,000. A bid from the gentleman in the rear row kept things lively to the $100,000 mark, where the pace slowed and became quite methodical. The price continued to escalate with the decoy selling at a record price of $214,000.
Another of the top lots came late in the sale as a pintail drake by Ontario carver Ivar Fernlund established a record price paid at auction. The folky decoy in pristine original paint was cataloged as “one of the finest Canadian decoys known,” and was one of only two known examples by the carver. Opening for bidding at $90,000, it was a battle between the telephones and an absentee bidder with the latter claiming the lot at $126,000.
Three decoys by Pennsylvania carver John Blair attracted serious attention from collectors. A classic black duck had been discovered in a rig in the 1960s by White, and although he had originally sold it along with the remainder of the rig, he was able to purchase it back years later and add it to his collection. In original paint with loop feathering showing on both the body and the head, the decoy was hollow carved with tack eyes and it retained the original weight. The rare decoy was the subject of enthused bidding, with it selling above estimates at $97,750.
A rare blue-winged teal hen by Blair also commanded a hefty price. In original paint and also retaining the weight, the decoy sold for $51,750. A very rare wood duck drake, cataloged as “Blair School,” in superb original paint opened for bidding at $10,000 and was hit by a half dozen people in the room on its way to a final price of $54,625, selling to New Jersey collector John Clayton.
Shorebirds continued to bring hefty prices, with a rare hollow carved plover with a removable dove-tailed head selling well above estimates. Made by an unknown carver, the decoy retained the original paint, which had mellowed to a superb color. The shorebird had come from the collection of Joe French and was the subject of an article in Decoy Magazine . Bidding on the lot bounced back and forth between the rear of the room and a lady standing in the doorway, with it selling in the room for $109,250.
Other shorebirds to do well included a black-bellied plover by Obediah Verity that sold for $94,875, a golden plover with carved split tail and original paint by William Bowman sold for $46,000, and a rare running curlew working decoy by Crowell realized $27,600.
Several folky merganser decoys were offered in the sale and each brought a substantial price. A wonderful hooded merganser drake from Central Ontario retained the original old dry paint and sold at $86,250. Two Joseph Lincoln mergs with great form and exceptional paint were sold, with the drake bringing $40,250, while the hen sold at $83,375, and a pair of Harry Shourds mergansers in dry paint brought $46,000.
A picker waltzed into the auction room on Friday morning, just prior to the auction starting, with a “tag sale” find that he wanted to consign and Guyette and Schmidt wasted no time making room for the assortment. A crowd started forming around the birds as soon as they hit the display table and people were clamoring over the four Russ Burr shorebirds, a Lincoln brant and a pair of Burr miniatures.
“These are right out of a home,” declared auctioneer James Julia as the first of the lots was offered on Saturday morning. The minis were the first to be sold and they hammered down at $4,025, a running plover came next and sold for $21,275, a second running plover realized $27,600, and the last two were knocked down at $28,750 and $27,600. The Lincoln brant decoy in great original paint sold to Russ Goldberger for $37,950. The “picker’s” total; a cool $147,200, with premium.
A small group of Ontario decoys were consigned to the auction on the day that the catalog was presented to the printer. The lot of five decoys were also quickly accepted and the catalog subsequently amended. The decoys had been purchased by the consignor many years ago from a camp in Ontario and were believed to have been carved by James Harper, “who must have known Ivar Fernlund and James Barr and been influenced by their decoy carving and painting styles,” stated the catalog.
The first of the lots to be offered was a bull neck canvasback hen with original paint and fine combing and loop feather painting on the back. Estimated at $15/20,000, the lot opened at the high estimate with several in the crowd chasing the lot. It sold moments later in the room for $80,500. Other decoys from the group included a canvasback brake at $11,500, a bluebill hen $13,800, a low-head bluebill hen $6,612, and a redhead drake that realized $9,200.
Another grouping of fish decoys, dubbed the “remainder of the finest collection of Lake Chautauqua fish decoys to ever come to auction,” had bidders angling from all quarters as they drove prices skyward. Hot on the heels of the previous offering, sold during the record-setting auction conducted by Guyette and Schmidt this past April in St Charles, Ill., the fish decoys once again performed beyond expectations.
Provenance on a musky spearing decoy and a trout spearing decoy with a jigging stick by an “unknown maker” listed both as found together “in an attic” and “carved by Mr Smith, the homeowner’s father-in-law.” The catalog referred to the musky decoy as ranking “as one of the finest New York fish made.” In unused condition, the lot opened for bidding in the gallery with a called out “do or die” bid of $27,500; a phone bidder was quick to counter and the lot sold to the telephone for $34,500.
The trout was offered next and a different tack was taken by the bidder in the gallery, although it, too, proved unsuccessful. The lot opened at $9,000, yet it ultimately went to the same phone bidder, also selling at $34,500. The pair now share the record for the highest price paid for a fish decoy at auction, eclipsing the previous record of $32,200 established seven years ago at the McCleery sale.
The same buyer claimed at least six of the fish decoys offered, including another Lake Chautauqua musky decoy at $24,150 and a Harry Seymour trout spearing decoy at $21,850.
Guyette and Schmidt announced prior to the sale that the summer auction of North American decoys will be returning to their old stomping grounds in Maine for next year after securing a new location in Portland.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, 410-745-0485 or www.guyetteandschmidt.com .
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