Published: November 9, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Leland Little Auctions
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. – A James Purdey & Sons 12-gauge BEST sidelock shotgun sold for $11,500, leading the lineup of decoys and sporting arms when it was offered in Leland Little’s fall auction on October 28. James Purdy & Sons is a London-based firearms maker, specializing in bespoke sporting shotguns and rifles. With serial number 13301 on fore-end, barrels and trigger guard tang; blued 28-inch barrels with bead sight, the firearm was rib stamped “James Purdey & Sons, Ltd Aubley House, South Aubley Street, London, W1. It further sported intricately engraved receiver side plates marked “J. Purdey & Sons,” a checkered walnut stock and a hard rubber butt plate. Overall, it was 46 inches long.
Bringing $7,750 was a rare, composed pair of Beretta 12-gauge sidelock shotguns. From the same Georgia private collection as the Purdy & Sons shotgun, this was a special order, and the barrels were marked P Beretta Gardone, VT, with sidelock receiver sporting fancy floral engraving. Each had 27½-inch-long barrels.
Beyond the sporting arms, much of the sale’s highlights were given over to decoys. At the head of the flock was a Ben O’Neal root head brant, which commanded $7,500. Carver Benjamin O’Neal (1887-1953) was born and raised on Ocracoke Island, N.C. He made root head decoys of market hunting operations. Family members recall him burning most of his decoys in a wood stove during World War II, so this was indeed a rare bird. With a 16½-inch length, it had come from the personal collection of Kroghie Andresen, Charlotte, N.C.
Another root head decoy, this one a willet by Gary Bragg, earned $7,000. Bragg (1881-1954) was also from Ocracoke, and was the island’s most famous waterfowler. Catalog notes state that his root head willet decoy is perhaps one of the finest shorebird decoys to come off of Ocracoke Island, exhibiting exceptional form with an almost rounded body. It was in the collection of Roy Willis collection, who obtained the decoy from Bragg’s nephew Maltby Bragg (1904-1985), and he never offered it for sale. The 9-inch decoy has been displayed at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center since 2012.
Fetching $6,750 was a Henry Murphy pintail. Murphy (1898-1965) of Davis, N.C., was one of the most significant carvers from North Carolina. His pintails are rare and are museum-quality pieces. He guided for about 30 years, and one of his most loyal clients was Tom Zachary, a pitcher for the Washington Senators. In an interesting coincidence described in catalog notes, Babe Ruth also hunted Davis, N.C., and he and Zachary hunted Davis on the same day. Zachary had served up Ruth home run pitches number one and number 60 the year Ruth crushed 60 homers. Branded SGH twice and 18 inches long, the pintail had formerly been in the collections of Joe Taylor and Somers Headley.
There were several decoys by Churches Island, N.C., carver Ned Burgess (1896-1958). The leading one was a black duck decoy, 18 inches long, that realized $6,750. Described in the auction catalog, “the Burgess black duck decoys have their own special body style and are extremely rare. The brown and green or purple speculums with the olive cheek patches on the side of the head sets this species apart. This bird has flow and surface.”
Formerly in the collection of Brant Mackey was a George Washington O’Neal (1869-1949) brant that took $6,250. Also an Ocracoke denizen, O’Neal was born shortly after the Civil War and was the oldest recognized decoy maker from Ocracoke Island. The 19½-inch-long brant was made for the Gooseville Gun Club. Exhibiting a graceful swimming posture, it is the exact decoy published on page 370 of Gunnin’ Birds by Kroghie Andresen, from whose personal collection it came.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
“Leland Little is hosting a new annual event, the Sporting Art Fair, on February 12,” said sporting art director Robbie Smith. “Following the event, the winter decoy and sporting art auction will occur on February 24 at noon.” For information, 704-458-0025, www.lelandlittle.com or email email@example.com.
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