This rare and important bufflehead drake by A. E. (Elmer) Crowell was easily the top lot of the Summer Decoy Auction, held July 28-29 by Decoys Unlimited, Inc., on Cape Cod. The “flawless bird, made during Crowell’s prime and carved as a working decoy but never rigged,” according to Ted Harmon, owner of Decoys Unlimited, hammered for $207,000.
HYANNIS, Mass. – An early bufflehead drake decoy, made around 1910-12 by the renowned carver A.E. (Elmer) Crowell—the highest-graded bufflehead drake by Crowell ever offered, and one of only two known in such a high pristine grade—soared to $207,000 at a Summer Decoy Auction held July 28-29 by Decoys Unlimited, Inc., on Cape Cod.
This exquisite life-size black-bellied plover, carved circa 1912 by A. E. Crowell, with outstanding original paint, brought $40,250.
The sale was held at the Cape Codder Resort and Hotel in Hyannis, in conjunction with Swap & Sell, an annual event staged by Decoys Unlimited that brings together dealers, collectors and other decoy enthusiasts from across the U.S. The auction and Swap & Sell drew a combined crowd of about 400 people. A little more than 900 lots were offered over the course of the two days.
The Crowell bufflehead drake was easily the auction’s top lot, sailing past its pre-sale estimate of $125,000 to $175,000.
“It was also the rarest and finest Crowell decoy we ever had the privilege of handling,” said Ted Harmon, owner of Decoys Unlimited, Inc. “It was essentially a flawless bird, made during Crowell’s prime and carved as a working decoy but never rigged.”
Many of the decoys offered were made by Crowell (Mass., 1862-1952), which helped push the sale’s gross total to just under $1 million. But other outstanding carvers were represented, too, names such as Henry Keyes Chadwick, Capt. Clarence Bailey, Joseph Lincoln, Ira Hudson, George and Harvey Stevens, Domingo Campo, Lem and Steve Ward, Allen J. King, Mason, Evans and many others.
“It was a well-rounded auction, with something for everyone and every pocketbook,” Harmon said. “The market is extremely strong, especially for the better decoys. We had a large collection of near-mint decoys by Charlie Joiner from the Ballard collection. Prices ranged from $300 to $2,000. Already we’re considering a sale in November, as decoys are still arriving daily.
“Decoys at all levels are back on the rise, with the greatest price hike in the very good to better examples,” Harmon added. “Prices are once again in the mid-to-high-five-figure level, witt the occasional rare decoy in pristine condition bringing six figures. I believe the rare Crowell bufflehead drake that sold for $207,000 is a high-water mark for a single decoy in some time.”
Following are additional highlights from the auction. Internet bidding was facilitated by Artfact (all prices quoted include a 15-percent buyer’s premium):
“Unquestionably the best example of a Crowell goose we have seen,” Harmon said of this example, which brought a tidy $31,050.
The top earners of the auction were overwhelmingly examples by Elmer Crowell. His exquisite life-size decorative carving of a black-bellied plover with outstanding original paint and mounted on an undulating “rock” base brought $40,250; while an outstanding goose with immaculate original paint changed hands for $31,050.
A Crowell gunning model dowitcher featuring split tail with raised wingtips—recently retrieved from a bank safety deposit box in western Massachusetts, where it had been kept for the past 50 years—fetched $28,750; and a circa-1912 mallard drake with its head turned to one side, showing classic Crowell rasp work to the rear of the head, never rigged, went for $14,375.
A wonderful example of an early pintail drake by Crowell, with wingtips carved in deep relief, again with classic Crowell rasp work to the rear of the head and breast and with carved wing and tail feathers, rose to $13,800; and an incredible gunning split tail black-bellied plover by Crowell, in fine original paint with anatomically correct bill and tack eyes, also brought $13,800.
Other decoys by A.E. Crowell most worthy of mention include:
• A miniature running ruddy turnstone with split tail, on a painted rock base, brought $6,325);
• An early example three-quarter scale decoy with excellent original paint and feather detail gaveled for $4,312.
This redhead drake by Henry Keyes Chadwick of Martha’s Vineyard. Mass., from the carver’s desirable early period, circa-1900, realized $10,925.
One lot not carrying the Crowell name as its maker managed to crack the $10,000-mark. It was an important redhead drake made around 1900 by Henry Keyes Chadwick of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The example showed the influence of Chadwick’s mentor, Benjamin Smith. With deeply dished down wing molding in the manner of Smith, the decoy sold for $10,925.
Not far behind was a greater yellowlegs decoy by Joseph Lincoln of Accord Village in Hingham, Mass. (1859-1938). With its elaborate and fancifully painted depictions of the plumage of an actual yellowlegs, the exaggerated tall bird flew off for $8,625. Another decoy by Lincoln—a classic form goose “as found in rig” with zero paint enhancement, achieved $4,600.
A pair of decoys posted identical selling prices of $7,475. The first was a drumming grouse by the Rhode Island carver Allen J. King (1881-1963). It boasted beautifully outstretched and cupped wings, a fully fanned tail, fluted feathers and carved ruff. The other was a folk art carving of a canvas-over-frame goose, built on a grand scale, circa 1902, by Capt. Clarence Bailey.
This folk art carving of a canvas-over-frame goose, built on a grand scale, circa 1902, by Capt. Clarence Bailey, sold for $7,475.
A rare widgeon drake by one of the Stevens brothers (probably George) of Weedsport, N.Y., made circa 1895-1900 and featuring a masterfully carved banjo tail and strong original paint, breezed to $5,750; and an early bluebill drake by Ira Hudson (Va., 1876-1949), done in his stylish and desirable “football” shape, with original paint and some gunning wear, made $5,405.
An outstanding example of a swing handle friendship purse by the Nantucket master Jose Formoso Reyes, with the top featuring a carved sperm whale on a rosewood type plaque, made in 1971, knocked down at $5,175; and an excellent carving of a sperm whale, carved from the pan bone (the flared rear portion of the sperm whale jaw), mounted on a later backboard, hit $5,175.
A historically important example of a goose by the Ward brothers—Lem (1896-1984) and Steve (1895-1976), both of Crisfield, Md. —with its head turned sharply to the right and thrust slightly forward, hammered for $5,175; and a mallard drake by Domingo Campo (1887-1957), with raised wings and tack eyes, a brass tag on the bottom and original paint, gaveled for $4,888.
Decoys Unlimited, Inc.’s next regularly planned auction will be held sometime in early 2014, but so many collections and consignors have presented themselves just since the end of the July auction, the firm may be forced to conduct an in-between auction, probably sometime in the fall (most likely in November).
To learn about how to consign items for sale or for more information about this or an upcoming auction, call 508.362.2766, e-mail to email@example.com or visit the Decoys Unlimited, Inc., website.
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