|“The Essential Guide to Stevens Decoys, Volume One”
by Shane A. Newell
Reviewed by Decoy Magazine
Shane Newell, the first-time author of “The Essential Guide to Stevens Decoys,” is a long-time collector from upstate New York, who has long admired the carvings of Harvey and George Stevens, two brothers from Weedsport, New York who made quality decoys from the late 1860s, advertised in sporting publications as early as 1876, until 1905, when George hung up his brushes. Harvey Stevens considered his decoys among the finest in production, including those of his brother George, who worked for Harvey until branching out on his own around 1891. Harvey died in 1894. Today’s collectors appreciate the talents of both men, although the author credits Harvey with designing the “perfectly balanced” decoy around 1892.
The Essential Guide is a thin soft cover book, 90 pages in all. In the Introduction the author explains that its intent is to provide a “practical understanding” of Stevens decoys: how to recognize, authenticate, attribute and date decoys by George and Harvey Stevens, and how to avoid a fake or spot restoration. And the book proceeds to do just that.
In the 2nd chapter the author plays on the number two: two major time periods of production (determined by the use of tack eyes or glass eyes, then the tack eye models are further broken into two separate periods), two brothers decoys (George and Harvey) and two models or designs (standard and sleeper, which some collectors call humpback). The author then discusses the use of brands, stencils and paper labels on Stevens decoys, suggesting this was brought about by each brother pursuing their own business interests, around 1891.
Chapter 4 provides Five Ways to Identify a Stevens Decoy, which the author organizes by form, paint, drilled holes, bill carving and head connection. While all five of these provide clues as to the authenticity and maker, the author contends, “The carving of the bill lines can provide the conclusive evidence you need to validate a Stevens decoy.” Chapter 5 highlights the differences between each brother’s decoys.
Chapter 6 is a tribute to Frank Ash, an early Upstate collector who wrote an article with Harold Evans for Decoy Collectors Guide in the 1966-1967 edition, an article the author credits as “the most accurate work done on the Steven decoys to date,” and includes photographs that Ash took of Albert Lamphere, a much younger second cousin of the Stevens brothers. Chapter 7 discusses the W.S.O. Decoy Rig, a large production order that Harvey filled in the late 1890s.
Chapter 8 is only one page, but very helpful: Ten Things You’ll Probably Never See, such as “No tackeye hen decoys” or “No tackeye decoys stamped by George Stevens.” And there are “no wood ducks, scoters, green-winged teal, shovelers, ruddy, old-squaw or eiders,” then with skepticism includes photographs of a Stevens ruddy duck (supposedly with the redhead head) and wood duck (which is in the Shelburne Museum collection).
The last chapter is a Photo Guide & Species Chart, which documents every Stevens decoy the author is aware of, organized by species, with a breakdown between hens and drakes and further organized by period, maker and model. Illustrations are included where available and further photo references are provided.
If there’s any controversy to come out of the book, it’s likely to concern the identification of the cheap decoys that Harvey warned his customers about on the “Caution!” label affixed to his 1891 circular and price list. His opinion differs from that of Peter Muller, another long-time Stevens collector who has contributed an article on that very topic on page 28 of this issue. Read them both and draw your own conclusions. And they could both be right.
The one major shortcoming in this book is the lack of a full color portfolio of Stevens decoys, of major interest to collectors, and the author acknowledges this in his Introduction, writing of his intent to put out a complete pictorial book in the future as a companion volume, hence the “Volume One” in the title. Despite this lacking, we heartily recommend the book as a vital source on the identification of Stevens decoys. And at less than a ¼-inch wide, it sure won’t take up much space on the shelf.
“The Essential Guide to Stevens Decoys, Volume One.” By Shane A. Newell, 90 pages, 134 illustrations, 64 in color, soft cover format, published by the author, Warrensburg, NY, $25 plus s/h.
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