Published: August 7, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos By Rick Russack
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – On July 23-24, Gary Guyette and Jon Deeter conducted their annual sale of decoys and sporting art. Simply put, it was a barn-burner. Two mallard decoys made by the Caines Brothers of South Carolina, unknown to the decoy world, sold for $1.1 million. The sale grossed $3.4 million, with four decoys bringing more than $100,000 each. There was strength in every category: birds by the regional masters, miniatures, fish decoys, contemporary carvings, shorebirds, factory-made birds, sporting art and duck calls. The crowd was large, the salesroom was full, as many as nine phone lines were in use, internet bidding was available, and the atmosphere was congenial, as many of the collectors and their wives have known each other for years. As usual, Jim Julia was at the podium, running a fast-paced sale with several new Down East jokes to entertain the crowd. Catalog descriptions were comprehensive, including condition, provenance and citations to published literature. Prior to, and during the sale, there were about 40 dealers set up in rooms adjacent to the auction offering more decoys, sporting art and some folk art.
The Caines Brothers mallards were expected to be the stars of the sale and they were. The Caines brothers, commercial fishermen, market gunners and occasional poachers lived in Georgetown, S.C. They worked on the South Island plantation, which itself has a colorful history, including visits by US presidents and other political leaders. It was first purchased around 1868 by Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander and significantly enlarged by later owners, including the enormously wealthy Bernard Baruch, eventually coming into the ownership of Tom Yawkey, owner of the Red Sox. These decoys were consigned by his daughter.
Each of the mallards, a hen and a “snaky” neck drake, were probably made in the late Nineteenth Century. They were mates to a pair sold in 1992 by Richard Oliver, Kennebunk, Maine, for $258,000 to folk art dealer Frank Maresca for a client, who later changed his mind. Well-known decoy collector and serious student of the Caines Brothers decoys, owning more than a dozen, Dick McIntyre, Seabrook, S.C., bought them from Maresca. McIntyre and Jon Deeter both said that only about a half dozen Caines decoys of this quality are known to exist. The oversized, preening hen has exceptional deep relief wing carving, a fluted tail, with line and notch carving on the wings and neck. It was estimated $300/400,000. McIntyre said that he would like to own it as it was the mate to the drake he bought from Maresca. Bidding opened at about $250,000 and quickly progressed to $767,000, and McIntyre owned the bird. The snaky neck drake, estimated $200/300,000, sold later in the sale for $377,600 to a different buyer.
The sale included more than 500 lots. Several sold for more than $50,000, four sold for more than $100,000, and dozens sold for under $500. In addition to the two Caines Brothers mallards, a “belligerent”-style, hollow-carved Canada goose made by Nathan Cobb Jr, Cobb Island, Va., sold for $118,000, well over its estimate. Bringing $153,400, also well over its estimate, was a hollow-carved Canada goose in a resting pose with a slightly turned head and carved, crossed wingtips by Enoch Reindahl, Stoughton, Wis.
Prior to the sale, Jon Deeter was asked about the current state of the decoy market. It was, he said, like other collecting fields, in that the market for the top-quality decoys is strong. “Let’s see what happens with the Reindahl goose. The last time that bird sold at auction was in 2000 and it brought about $60,000. Its price here will give you a pretty good answer to that question.”
Choice decoys made by other master carvers did well. A feeding yellowlegs by Lothrop Holmes, Kingston, Mass., sold for $82,600. Decoys by other Cape Cod carvers did well. An old squaw hen by Joseph Lincoln, Accord, Mass., earned $59,590. An exceptional sanderling by Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Mass., went for $44,250. A pintail drake by the same carver earned $25,960. There were several Crowell miniatures. A rare loon with a paper label reached $6,490, and a spotted sandpiper, marked in pencil, realized $3,422. Staying with New England decoys, a pair of hollow-carved mergansers with horse hair crests by Oscar Bibber, South Portland, Maine, realized $47,200. A hollow-carved black duck with a slightly turned head by Shang Wheeler, Stratford, Conn., earned $66,080. An exceptional eider hen in a side preening pose by Gus Wilson, South Portland, Maine, was bid to $23,600. It was, according to the catalog, an example of “Wilson’s earlier, coveted ‘Monhegan Island’ style.”
Decoys from other regions did well. A black duck with extra fine painted detail by the Ward Brothers, Crisfield, Md., finished at $41,300, and a pair of their mallards brought $37,760. An exceptionally fine Canada goose by Harry Mitchell Shourds, Ocean City, N.J., went out at $47,200, and a merganser drake with painted eyes by the same carver finished at $41,300.
The selection of fish decoys included an outstanding 42-inch plaque with a large, colorful rainbow or cutthroat trout carved by Oscar Peterson, Cadillac, Mich. It sold well over its estimate, finishing at $33,400. An 8½-inch brook trout decoy by Peterson, with painted eyes and deeply carved gills, sold for $11,200. Factory decoys also were popular with bidders. A rare dunlin, made by the Dodge Decoy Factory, Detroit, Mich., brought $18,290. A circa 1910 Mason’s salesman’s sample dowitcher in fall plumage realized $9,735. It was marked “dowitcher $7.50 a dozen.” A robin snipe, also by the Mason factory, attained $8,260.
Although “retired,” it’s the same Jim Julia at the podium. “Right now, I’m winding down some family stuff after Sandy’s passing and dealing with the real estate, selling the gallery location,” he said. “I’ll be continuing to buy and sell but no auctions other than these for Gary and Jon. I won’t be doing business under the name ‘James D. Julia.’ The name, the old phone number and mailing address now belong to Dan Morphy and incoming inquiries go directly there. Those restrictions are part of my contract with Dan and it’s all been very smooth. I’ll be doing business under the name ‘Fly Fishing Only Antiques’ and will be selling through some of the antiques malls and maybe directly to dealers.”
Prices are given with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, www.guyetteanddeeter.com or 410-745-0485.
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