Published: May 10, 2022
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Guyette & Deeter
LOMBARD, ILL. – Guyette and Deeter conducted its April 29-30 sale in conjunction with the North American Decoy Collectors Association Show. The association is one of the oldest decoy collectors clubs, founded in 1966, and its annual show is one of the largest. So, it’s a good place for a decoy auction. The auction, with nearly 600 lots, grossed $3.5 million, ten percent over the high estimate. The catalog for this sale had more than 300 pages, with detailed descriptions, histories of makers and collectors and numerous photos of items offered. Condition reports, which are guaranteed, were included for each lot. There have been some changes in the company, which are discussed below.
This sale was slightly different from recent Guyette and Deeter auctions in that it did not include blockbuster decoys, expected to bring six-figure prices. However, nearly 100 lots brought five-figure prices, seven of which were more than $50,000. Included were a wide assortment of birds and fish by prominent makers and, by design, there were decoys from nearly all of the hunting regions: Atlantic flyway, Mississippi flyway, decoys from the Carolinas, etc. Makers included Elmer Crowell, Bert Graves, Charles Perdew, the Ward Brothers, the Mason Decoy Factory and many more. Decorative and miniatures included examples by William Gibian, Mark McNair, Jim Schmiedlin and several others. There were also a number of sporting paintings by artists that included Ripley, Rosseau, Hunt and others.
The last few Guyette and Deeter sales have included numerous fish decoys and carvings by makers such as Oscar Peterson. This sale also had numerous examples. Jon Deeter, before the sale, commented, “For anyone building collections of good fish decoys and carvings, this is the time to buy. We’ve been fortunate lately to have had several good ones, but carvings of this quality were never made in large quantities. The fish we’re selling now are going into collections and probably won’t be back on the market for the next 15 or 20 years.”
It looked like bidders agreed with Deeter’s assessment of the fish decoy market and the level of interest in them. The top two prices on the first day of the sale, $66,000, were realized by fish carvings and they were, in fact, two of the three highest prices in the sale. One was a large wall plaque with a pair of spawning trout carved by Oscar Peterson (1881-1951) of Cadillac, Mich., in the second quarter of the Twentieth Century. Peterson, a prolific carver, is considered one of the masters of the art. He sold his carvings through local bait shops, sporting goods shops and from his home to supplement his income from landscape and general handyman work. He is also known to have traded his carvings to local tavern keepers for drinks. This carving depicted the pair of trout in a courtship ritual, swimming above a river’s gravel or sand bottom. The female is in Peterson’s flip tail pose. Both had glass eyes and excellent carved details on the face, mouth and fins. This $66,000 carving, had been rescued from a dump in the 1970s. There were about 20 other works by Peterson, including a framed collection of four fishing lures, with Peterson’s approved patent for the lures, which was granted in 1927. It sold for $25,200.
The other fish carving bringing $66,000 was a white-sided trout decoy, with “ghost-type” painting. It had been made by Hans Janner Sr, also in the second quarter of the Twentieth Century, also in Michigan. It was 12 inches long with copper fins. Three other fish decoys by Janner each sold for five-figure prices. Michigan has numerous lakes, so ice-fishing was widespread. Another area that produced important fish decoys was the area around Lake Chautauqua in New York state. The sale included a number of carvings from that area, with $21,600 being paid for a 10Ã½-inch decoy by an unidentified maker that was probably a bass and cataloged as “one of the largest Lake Chautauqua fish decoys we have ever offered.” It had metal eyes, a carved mouth and a leather tail. Probably the most useful reference book on the subject is Beneath the Ice by Steven Michaan. Many of the fish Guyette and Deeter have been selling, including this one, were illustrated or discussed in that book.
An Elmer Crowell black bellied plover, earning $69,000, was the highest priced item in the sale. It had split tail carving and glass bead eyes. “PWW” was branded in the underside, identifying it as having come from the rig of Parker Whittemore. In all, there were more than 45 works by Crowell, whose carvings are among the most popular and well-documented. Another Crowell shorebird, a running yellowlegs with a split tail and tack eyes, earned $14,400, and a rigmate pair of mallards brought the same price. In addition to working decoys, he created decorative carvings and miniature carvings. A life-sized decorative carving of a least tern sold for $7,800.
Crowell miniatures ranged in price, with a red-headed woodpecker topping the group, finishing at $4,800. In the past, some of Crowell’s miniatures have sold for significantly more. Of the offerings in this sale, Crowell prices ranged from the $69,000 plover down to a half dozen that earned less than $1,000 each. All were carved by hand, but some were made as special orders with extra details for good clients, some were churned out in quantity and some were made by his son, Cleon, whose carvings are not considered equal to those of his father – although all are marked the same way. Fortunately, there are several reference works that will help differentiate the offerings. Like much else in the antiques world, there are good, better and best examples among Crowell’s works.
There were more than a dozen lots by the Ward Brothers, Lem and Steve, of Crisfield, Md., eight of which earned five-figure prices. A rigmate pair of their 1936 model mallards earned $64,800, one of the highest prices in the sale. The pair of mallards was recently found at a Dallas estate sale. A black duck with a slightly turned head went out for $42,000, and an early pintail drake realized $37,200. The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, part of Salisbury University, Salisbury, Md., has a large collection of their work, and according to Wikipedia, “the most comprehensive collection of wildfowl carvings in the world, ranging from art sculptures to working decoys used by hunters.” A recent Guyette and Deeter weekly auction raised funds for the museum.
There were several decoys made by Charles Perdew (1874-1963) from Henry, Ill. An uncommon hollow-carved sleeping mallard, with exceptional, original paint and with the offset head reaching back, realized $27,000. A pair of Perdew’s mallards with minor condition issues earned $12,000. Perdew also made duck calls, several of which were in this sale, and one, with three ducks carved on its sides, earned $7,200. There were carvings by hundreds of makers in this sale, so this list could go on and on.
Sporting art is regularly included in these auctions, and prices often exceed estimates. Topping the selection, a watercolor of two hunters retrieving downed ducks by Aiden Lassell Ripley (1896-1969) earned $54,000. An oil on canvas by Percival Leonard Rosseau (1859-1937), depicted two setters on point at the edge of a marsh. It was signed and dated 1905 and sold for $48,000. He was best-known for paintings of hunting dogs, such as this one, and nearly all of his works include dogs. Two oils by Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878-1960) demonstrated the strength of the current market for quality sporting art, selling far above estimates. One depicted a hunter with a setter flushing three pheasants from the brush. It earned $32,400. The second one by Hunt has an interesting story to go with it. It depicts a male bobwhite quail resting on an upholstered chair in what appears to be a library. This quail was reportedly Ernest Hemingway’s pet, and Hunt painted this as a gift to Hemingway while visiting his residence in Cuba. It sold for $30,000.
Popularity of duck and turkey calls, both vintage and contemporary, has been increasing, and the field has its own collectors association, the Callmakers and Collectors Association of America. There were more than 40 lots of calls in this sale, with several selling well over the estimates. A large duck call by Doc Taylor, Gleason, Tenn., with incised carving and stippling sold for $9,000. This call is pictured in the basic reference book on the subject, The Legacy of the American Duck Call, by Howard Harlan and James Fleming. Two calls by an unknown Illinois carver sold for $6,600. Four carved and decorated turkey calls by Neil Cost sold for $4,200.
After the sale, Jon Deeter remarked, “everything worked for this sale. We conducted the live sale in conjunction with the North American Decoy Collectors show. There were probably about 150 exhibitor tables for that group, and collectors attending that event were able to move back and forth between that show and the auction. We set up our room with round tables instead of the usual rows of chairs so that collectors could chat with friends and make new ones. The sale did well across the board; we had a good selection of decoys from the popular carvers of both working decoys and decoratives, with examples from various parts of the country. The sporting art market, which we’re going to go after aggressively, was surprisingly strong, the fish decoys did well, and the duck calls did well. The North American Decoy Collectors Association Show included seminars, and I was able to give a presentation on Oscar Peterson. The biggest take-away, for me personally, was getting back to a live sale. Our summer sale will be July 29-30 in St Michaels, Md., at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.”
As mentioned earlier, there have been changes in the company. Gary and Dale Guyette, who started the company in 1984, have retired. Guyette, and his company, has overseen the sale of more than $220 million worth of decoys. Ownership now passes to Jon and Leigh Deeter and Zac and Lacey Cote. Zac is the son-in-law of the Guyettes. The company is also expanding into more collecting fields with the addition of a fully staffed firearms division that will conduct its first separately cataloged sale in February. Additional new staff members will also add to the sporting and wildlife art division. The company will continue to conduct weekly online decoy sales.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, 410-745-0485 or www.guyetteanddeeter.com.
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