Display and Care of Your Decoy Collection
These decoys are mounted on the wall using hand forged iron L brackets. The decoy on the left is a Mitchell Black Duck and the black and white decoy is an Eider from Maine. Also on the cypress board and batten wall is a Chelsea clock and barometer with a pewter collection on the shelf above.
Decoys were subjected to extremes of temperature and weather conditions in their working life. In your collection, keeping them away from such extremes is important. As with any antique or collectible, you want to keep them away from direct sunlight as well.
Decoys can be displayed anywhere in your home. On shelves, on top of highboys or ceiling beams, swimming on the floor, mounted on the wall, they look wonderful anywhere. Do think about how much potential wear they will receive in any of these places. High on shelves and beams, they will only need to be dusted every once in a while. If you choose to have a decoy on the floor, make sure it is out of traffic patterns. Some people have bought decoys from me to use as doorstops. For this use, I suggest an inexpensive, slightly worn out decoy because it will receive a lot of wear. Another customer mounted his decoys on the wall with screws into the bottom of the decoy. This can affect the value of a decoy, more so the higher the quality of the decoy. If you wish to showcase your decoys on the wall, a good way to do it is to use clear acrylic L brackets that the decoys can sit on without having to mar the surface with screws etc.
For a glimpse at a large collection, look at the pictures in the front and back of the book “Decoys of the Atlantic Flyway,” by G.R. Starr. The photos show how Dr. Starr used his pool house to display his decoys. I wonder if the pool house was built for the decoys or for people.
A big bow on the goose is very festive for Christmas. This goose is a Madison Mitchell Canada Goose on top of an Alabama made 1840’s secretary.
I enjoy using decoys in my holiday decorating. A goose on a side table surrounded by squash, pumpkins, gourds, and corn is great at Thanksgiving. And big holiday bows on the decoys for Christmas is a lot of fun.
Decoys are very low maintenance. When dusting your decoys, use a soft cloth or clean artist brush. If your decoy has cracked or raised paint be very careful not to lift the paint off. In the past, decoys were waxed or coated with linseed oil by collectors to conserve them. That is now considered a no-no. The desired finish on a decoy is original dry finish so dusting is enough.
If you have a decoy that is fairly valuable and it has condition issues, you can have it professionally restored. Some condition problems include lifting and flaking paint, or a chipped or broken bill or tail. Professional restorers can be found online and in ads in magazines such as Decoy Magazine.
Many decoys “swimming” on a light bar in a paneled living room make an effective display. The light bar uses fluorescent bulbs that burn cool and the lights are not on long so the decoys are not affected by undue heat. Decoys include a New Jersey Brandt, Maryland Canvasback, H.V. Shourds female Scaup, and a pair of modern Buffleheads by Charles Crookes. Engravings by Wilson hang on the wall below.
Word of mouth is another important way to find a restorer. Once you have found someone, get references and talk to others the restorer has worked for. Talk to the restorer and make sure you are on the same page with what needs to be done and when to stop; don’t over do it. Take a look at before and after pictures of the type of work you want done to your decoy and use this as a starting point for discussion. Ask yourself, “Does this work recreate the style of the decoy as it should?” or “Will the person be able to do the same in recreating the style of your decoy?” Then if you are satisfied up to this point, get a quote and an estimate of how long the work will take. A good restoration will enhance the value of your decoy.
Decoys can be lovely additions to your home either singly or by the hundreds. They are easy to decorate with and easy to care for. Decoys look good in any room in the house and very distinguished at the office. With all this going for them they make a terrific antique to collect. Have fun.
Laura Collum is a Worthologist who specializes in decoys, nautical and scientific instruments.
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