Published: May 15, 2007
Those who rolled their eyes and openly exclaimed wonderment in regard to what was perceived as a new price structure after Guyette and Schmidt’s McCleery collection sale in January 2000 must be gasping for air after the first two rounds of the decoy firm’s auctions in 2007. The most recent auction, April 26 and 27, 2007, saw yet another long list of serious price increases.
Some quick references to illustrate the point:
A Bowman curlew that sold at McCleery for $87,750 just sold in St Charles for $313,000.
A Crowell black-bellied plover that sold for $55,000 in 1986 just sold in St Charles for $291,000.
A Cobb curlew that sold for $31,000 in 1991 just sold in St Charles for $258,000.
A small Crowell plover that sold for $22,000 in 1991 just sold in St Charles for $214,000.
Record prices were also routinely established in St Charles for numerous carvers, including Charles Perdew, John Dilley, Jim Holley, John Williams, Walter Brady, John Schweikart and at least ten others as well.
Widely considered to be the most popular decoy auction in the country, Guyette and Schmidt’s Important Auction of Rare Waterfowl Decoys at the Pheasant Run Resort, commonly known as St Charles, was the subject of round-after-round of spirited bidding. Conducted in conjunction with the National Antique and Decoy and Sporting Collectibles Show, the event attracts huge crowds that come into town not only for the auction and the show, but also for a massive swap meet conducted within hundreds of the rooms in the hotel.
The auction proved to be the highlight of the four-day event, featuring a stellar assortment of decoys and related materials from numerous highly regarded collections. Included were shorebirds from the collection of Dr John Ribic, the collection of Illinois River region decoys compiled by Peter and Janet Van Trigt, as well as examples from the collection of waterfowl decoy authors Gene and Linda Kangas.
A collection of fish decoys, termed to be the “finest collection of Lake Chautauqua, New York, fish decoys to ever come to auction,” was yet another segment of the auction that caused a great deal of commotion.
The two-day auction got off to a spirited start on the evening prior to the sale with an event that not only always proves to be one of the social highlights of the weekend, but also provides everyone with a relaxed opportunity to look over the decoys and to chat with old friends and fellow collectors. Guyette and Schmidt rolled out the red carpet to a large and appreciative crowd with complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Some in attendance were surely plotting strategies for the days to follow, while others merely enjoyed the camaraderie.
Fittingly, a good middle-line assortment of Illinois River decoys got the auction got off to a strong start the following morning. The first lot to cross the block was a hollow carved bluebill drake by Verne Cheesman. As was a practice with many carvers in the region during the period, Cheesman utilized the services of Edna Perdew to paint most of his decoys, including this example. Estimated at $3/4,000, the lot was actively bid by several in the crowd, yet it ultimately sold to a telephone bidder at $4,887. A Robert Elliston mallard hen was another lot from the group to do well, selling above estimates at $6,037.
Just 16 lots into the auction, the first of the shorebirds from the Ribic collection was offered. A rare dowitcher in breeding plumage by William Bowman, Lawrence, N.Y., with raised carved wing tips and shoe button eyes, it carried a presale estimate of $70/90,0000. In excellent original condition with only minor paint wear on the bill, the decoy opened for bidding at $30,000 and took off at a blistering pace. Moving in $10,000 increments, the lot bounced back and forth between two bidders on opposite sides of the back wall of the gallery. One bidder dropped from the action at $110,000, only to be replaced by a phone bidder who claimed the lot at $137,000.
A rare Bowman Hudsonian curlew had a hallowed history and it created plenty of excitement as it crossed the auction block. When all was said and done and the dust had settled, it claimed top honors for the day. Among its numerous accolades, the decoy is illustrated in Robert Shaw’s A Call To The Sky , Mackey’s American Bird Decoys and Quintina Coolio’s American Decoys. Provenance listed the decoy as having been sold during the James McCleery collection auction for $87,750.
A rare example Bowman’s work with elegantly sculpted anatomical features, including thigh detail and relief carved wings and extending wing tips, the decoy had very slight wear and wonderful original patina. The bill, however, was a professional replacement.
Auctioneer James Julia asked for an opening bid of $200,000 and nobody in the crowd budged. $150,000 was next and the crowd was still motionless. As he asked for $100,000, a bid frenzy erupted and heads in the gallery craned in every direction to see who was getting in on the action. A bidder in rear of gallery, with cellphone pressed against his ear, chased the lot with enthusiasm, as did Boston dealer Steve O’Brien. Advancing in $25,000 increments, O’Brien motioned for Julia to cut the increments to $10,000; the dealer soon found himself out of the action, however, as a telephone bidder hammered away at the lot until claiming it at $313,000.
A Nathan Cobb, Jr, Cobbs Island, Va., curlew decoy in a running pose attracted serious attention. Estimated at $125/175,000, the 16-inch-long decoy was in original paint and was marked with the serifed “N” on the underside. Bidding on this lot was brisk as well, with it selling for $258,000.
Other shorebirds from the Ribic collection included a rare semipalmated plover in a feeding position by Elmer Crowell. Cataloged as the only known working decoy of a semipalmated plover by the carver, the small decoy attracted a huge amount of interest with several in the gallery predicting that it would be the top lot of the auction. Although it fell short of that mark, the decoy still realized a substantial price.
Provenance on the decoy listed it as having descended in a family that owned a gunning camp near Ipswich, Mass., during the later part of the Nineteenth Century. Bidding on the lot opened at $25,000, against a $125/150,000 presale estimate, and it progressed rapidly in $5,000 increments with two bidders in the gallery chasing the lot. At $100,000, a phone bidder jumped into the action, soon after another phone bidder hit the lot. The two phone bidders battled it out all the way to a selling price of $214,000.
Two “dust jacket”-style shorebirds by Crowell were offered, with an alert black-bellied plover in near mint original paint, Ribic collection, selling for $148,000, while a feeding example of a plover in excellent paint was hammered down at $291,000.
A record price paid at auction was established for Long Island carver John Dilley as a curlew, one of two known examples, was offered. Retaining the original bill, the decoy was in excellent condition with great paint and shoe button eyes. Provenance listed the decoy as having come from the collection of Stewart Gregory, and it was believed that he purchased it from Adele Earnest. Bidding on the lot opened at $50,000 and it was actively pursued by several, with it selling in the room for $142,500. A small Dilley plover in good paint was knocked down at $74,750.
It was not strictly a shorebird shoot-out; one of the most coveted decoy lots also garnered a huge price, selling for more than double the $85/100,000 presale estimate. Appropriately, it was an Illinois River decoy, offered to a receptive audience in the heartland of the river valley collecting region, a mallard hen in a sleeping pose that had been carved by Charles Perdew and painted by his wife Edna.
Termed by Guyette and Schmidt as “one of the finest Perdew decoys to come to auction” and consigned from the Van Trigt collection, the decoy had captured the attention of everyone in attendance. In superb original paint and with an embossed Perdew signature lead weight, the decoy had been illustrated in Perdew, An Illinois River Tradition: The Genius and Artistry of Charles and Edna Perdew. Not only was the form of the decoy highly admired, but the paint, executed by Perdew’s wife, was said to “exhibit the very best of Edna Perdew’s paint.”
Julia asked for an opening bid of $85,000 and he immediately got it from a bidder seated in the rear of the hall. A bidder in the center of the room quickly hit the lot at $95,000 and it bounced back and forth between the two until the lot hit the $135,000 mark. Bidding stalled for a moment until a new bidder seated on the side of the gallery jumped into the action, and a rapid pace was underway once again to the $200,000 mark. A slight lapse in the action came as the rapidly escalating price seemed to cause the two bidders to readjusted their strategies; however, they both decided to march on. Bidding continued at a slower pace, with the decoy finally selling to the bidder on the side of the gallery for $252,500, a record price paid at auction for a Charles Perdew decoy and also a record for an Illinois River decoy.
The market for fish decoys saw a serious market adjustment as prices went through the roof. Termed the finest collection of Lake Chautauqua examples to have ever come to auction, the group was actively bid by several in the gallery and a host of telephone bidders.
The first of the lots to be sold was a one-of-a-kind spearing decoy made by Bemus, N.Y., carver Harry Seymour, with a human head carved onto the fish body. Thought to have been a likeness of the carver’s son, the unique decoy was the subject of spirited bidding, selling at $23,000.
An early musky decoy by an unknown Lake Chautauqua maker retained its superb original paint and it, too, attracted a great deal of attention. The late Nineteenth Century decoy had a leather tail and was estimated at $10/12,000. Bidding on the lot was fierce, with it selling to a determined phone bidder for $26,450.
The same buyer also claimed a rare sunfish spearing decoy by Seymour in original paint at $21,850, and a Seymour trout in original paint at $11,500.
Other Lake Chautauqua decoys included several early brown trout spearing decoys that sold for $21,850, $19,550, and $14,950. A sunfish did well at $14,950, and a spearing decoy of an unidentified species realized $12,650.
Illinois River region decoys of interest included an attractive pair of John Schweikart canvasbacks, hen and drake, in original paint and with extended metal wing tips. The hen also retained the original copper fold-down keel. The lot was actively sought by several in the crowd, with the pair going out at $83,375. A Walter Peltzer pintail drake in original paint from the Kangas collection sold for $29,900,
Southern decoys included a John Williams, Cedar Island, Va., ruddy duck with wonderful folky proportions that established a record price paid at auction for the carver. Seven phone bidders were lined up for action as the lot crossed the block, and bidding was quick-paced, with the decoy opening at $50,000 and selling moments later to one of the phones for $159,000. A Robert Morse ruddy was sold a few lots later, bringing $42,550.
A Walter Brady, Oyster, Va., Canada goose in original paint established a record price paid at auction for the carver as it sold for $126,000.
Numerous Mason Factory decoys were offered, and premium prices were paid for all. The top lot of the group was a pair of rare goldeneye rigmate birds, hen and drake, that were cataloged as retaining excellent original paint with only minor in-use wear. Opening at $25,000, the pair sold for $97,750. A Mason premier grade mallard drake with snakey head did well at $21,275, while a “slope breasted” mallard brought $17,250.
Decorative carvings included a Ward Brothers standing pintail hen in excellent original paint that sold for $29,900. A Charles Hart penguin measuring just over a foot tall attracted quite a bit of attention, selling at $27,600; another penguin measuring 7 inches sold at $9,200.
Prices include the buyer’s premium charged. The next auction for Guyette and Schmidt will take place in Boston July 26 and 27. For information, 410-745-0485, or www.guyetteandschmidt.com .
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