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Auction catalogue attribution
sparks Chadwick controversy
by Jackson Parker

Last fall Frank & Frank, whom we have characterized as serving the low end of the decoy auction market, broke out of this mold with the sale of two Massachusetts wood ducks by an unknown maker for $47,300 and $45,100. Dated circa 1900, they were part of a rig of seven by one gifted hand, "probably" from Marthaís Vineyard and shot over by four generations of a northeastern Massachusetts family. The other five sold for $700 (pair of scoters), $5500 (black duck), $5225 (merganser hen) and $2640 (goldeneye hen), all over estimate.

In their spring 2001 catalogue, two more from the same rig was offered, but with more information. The family name was given as "Tyzzer" and the carver was identified as Keyes Chadwick of the Vineyard and they were dated "pre-1900." There was some disagreement as to whether Chadwick made them and I listened to both sides, leaning to Chadwick as the maker but not positively. I shall henceforth refer to these decoys as "attributed Chadwick, from the Tyzzer rig, pre-1900." As for the two from the Tyzzer rig at this spring 2001 auction, the white-winged scoter in good condition brought $3630, just under estimate, and the blue-winged teal hen in not so good condition (missing under side of bill) went for $1210, well under estimate to a dealer who was convinced it was a wood duck hen.

Why do you suppose weíre spending so much time on the finding of the Tyzzer rig when the two decoys from it at this spring auction placed only 4th and 15th on the top 25 list? Simply because it was the most exciting decoy event after the auction of the McCleery collection. And it ignited a controversy as to the maker. Among the decoy people I respect, I have found those who handled the birds and said, "No way did Chadwick make these!" Those who say Chadwick is the maker point to the similarity of the contours and the circular lead weight holes on the underside of the Tyzzer decoys, smaller than Chadwicks and located differently, but distinctive of his work.

The Tyzzer rig decoys may be early Chadwickís when he was experimenting with weights, or special decoys he made for Crowell who had no time for carving when the tourists came. And the Tyzzers said they bought them on the Cape. The non-believers say itís the buyers of these decoys that are promoting Chadwick as the maker, and I say that maybe the buyers were believers before they bought them, and thatís why they bought them.

Letís see how Frank & Frankís March 25 "Sporting Collectibles" auction did in Belmar, New Jersey. Of the 402 lots they catalogued, one was withdrawn, and I lopped off five "fish" lots at the end as I wondered why they call it a "Sporting Collectibles" auction when 99% of the lots offered are wildfowl decoys and decoratives. Of the 396 lots they offered, five (1%) did not sell, leaving 391 that sold for $143,141 for an average of $366 per lot, and was 7 Ĺ% over the total low estimate after deducting the $2310 total low estimate of the unsold lots. The top 25 lots (6% of those sold) accounted for $48,510 (34% of the gross) and was 2 Ĺ% under the total average estimate of the top 25.

Two old shorebirds brought the auctionís highest prices. A greater yellowlegs, attributed to John Henry Verity of Seaford, Long Island, New York, had relief carved wings and sold over estimate at $5225. A roothead shorebird by a member of the Sapp/Madara families of Atlantic City, New Jersey, sold for triple-high-estimate at $5170.

Record prices of less than $5000 tend to be overshadowed by the high-price birds at the high-end auctions, but they show up here. We counted a half-dozen on the top 25 list: preening mallard by John Updike of Green Bank, New Jersey, within estimate at $3850; mallard pair by Henry Horn of Columbus, Indiana, over estimate at $1760; pintail hen by Jess Urie of Rock Hall, Maryland, over estimate at $1375; swan by Pete Peterson of Cape Charles, Virginia, within estimate at $1320; shoveler by Tom Christie, $880 as estimated; and red-breasted merganser by Lester Van Brunt of Barnegat, New Jersey at its low-estimate $880.

Two Wildfowler factory pairs made the auctionís top dozen lots. Hollow-carved wood ducks from the Point Pleasant, New Jersey factory were over estimate at $2200, and balsa red-breasted mergansers from the Quogue, New York location were under at $1540.

One of the most beautiful wildfowl decoratives I ever say was a black duck by Lloyd Johnson of Bay Head, New Jersey. He made it in 1961 and it came up for sale at Bourneís August 1, 1972 auction, and Iím still kicking myself for letting it go for $190! My sympathies to those of you who let his pair of green-winged teal go under estimate for $3300, and my compliments to the successful bidder at this auction.

Two hollow-carved New Jersey decoys that looked like good buys were the goldeneye hen by Harry V. Shourds of Tuckerton at its low-estimate $2750, and the Canada goose by a member of either the Johnson or Grant families, under estimate at $1980.

Two more hollow-carved New Jersey decoys of interest were the swan by Hurley Conklin of Mannahawkin, just under estimate at $1870, and the canvasback by John McLoughlin of Bordentown, way over estimate at $1045, even though it was catalogued at "very old paint."

In 1970 a shooting rig by Madison Mitchell of Havre de Grace, Maryland, consisting of six decoys and seven pairs, was bought from Mitchell and packed in his distinctive brown paper bags. They were all sold here, the top two prices at $935 for a mallard pair and $880 for a pintail pair, including MMís brown paper bags. Later in the auction, a Mitchell canvasback pair sold for $990 without the bag.

A parting thought. If the decoys of the Tyzzer rig are ever proven to be by Chadwick, the new auction record price for a Chadwick will be $47,300 paid for one of the Tyzzer wood ducks at Frank & Frankís fall 2000 auction. Thatís more than double the current record $19,550 for an early redhead, made at the January 2000 auction of the McCleery collection. But donít hold your breath!

 

Page last revised on 06/18/2001
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