you believe $71,850
Every January the market for Americana peaks in New York City. The heavy hitters congregate at the Winter Antiques Show, and the big auction houses stage their major Americana auctions at this time and place. And when you find this heady atmosphere, you find an interest in decoys. Especially now, after the McCleery auction opened eyes to the potential of the decoy market just a year before in New York City.
Five lots of decoys and a set of A. Elmer Crowell’s mini ducks at this Sotheby’s auction were not enough to lure us to the Big Apple but we couldn’t ignore it, and with a little help from our friends put this report together for you.
Sotheby’s presented the decoys and minis as the "Property of a Northeastern Educational Institution" that should be ecstatic over the response to their offering. When we saw the catalogue page of the Crowell mini ducks (25 circa 1930), to be sold in four separate lots, something clicked. It was a set and should have been sold as such, not broken up.
Before we give you details, let us refresh your memory. Around 1930 Crowell made sets of 25 ducks, 25 shorebirds and 25 songbirds, and charged $100 for the set of ducks but negotiated the price as well as the species included as the buyer wished. Here’s is Crowell’s list as found in the Shelburne Museum with Crowell’s stamp on it:
Our records show that the record price for a set exactly as listed above was $31,900 at the Julia/Guyette spring 1988 auction in St. Charles, Illinois, the auction’s top price. The only discrepancies are (1) all are slightly larger than normal, except the bluebill pair, the ruddy and the bufflehead, and (2) the catalogue illustration clearly shows a wigeon drake but the description mistakenly says "hen." All have Crowell’s later rectangular stamp and paper label.
The set sold at Sotheby’s included 21 of the 25 ducks on Crowell’s list; three hens (canvasback, redhead, pintail) and a bluebill drake were left out; replacing them were two hens (bufflehead and green-winged teal) and a pair of lesser scaup. At this point I concluded that the cataloguer didn’t know that "bluebill" was another name for "scaup," applied to the greater and lesser species. So I turned to Forbush, author of the guide book Crowell used, and decided that "bluebill" was more likely to be used for the greater scaup (apologies to the cataloguer).
All the minis sold at Sotheby’s have Crowell’s later rectangular stamp, and all prices include a 20% buyer’s premium.
Why didn’t Sotheby’s sell them as a set of 25? Were they stupid to divide them into four lots? Yes, stupid as a fox! I doubt they would have gotten their price if sold as a set. Here’s how the sale went: first lot of seven (green-winged teal pair, blue-winged teal drake, bufflehead pair, ruddy and hooded merganser) for $16,800, averaging $2400 each; second lot of five (Canada goose, brant, black duck, pintail and wood duck) for $21,450, averaging $4290 each; third lot of six (redhead drake, goldeneye drake, canvasback drake, bluebill hen and scaup pair) for $15,600, averaging $2600 each; and fourth lot of seven (mallard pair, red-breasted merganser pair, oldsquaw drake, wigeon drake and gooseander – Crowell’s term for an American merganser drake) for $18,000, averaging $2571 each. That’s $71,850 for the set or an average of $2874 each!
As prices in recent years for miniature wildfowl by A.J. King and George Boyd climbed, those for Crowell’s appeared to hit a plateau. But not any more, certainly if these prices hold.
So much for Crowell’s miniature duck sets, or is it? Am I justified in claiming $71,850 as the new record price at auction of this Crowell set, even though it took four drops of the auctioneer’s hammer instead of one? We were amused to learn that some dealers planned to buy the second lot of five for a price under its high $9000 estimate and sell the wood duck for $2500, etc., but dropped out early in the bidding.
Otherwise, topping the five lots of decoys, a Crowell canvasback sold over estimate at $31,800. It had the early oval brand and was given a date of circa 1930; this is possible as Elmer and his son Cleon used the oval brand well past the early years. The canvasback, exhibiting Crowell’s best grade of carving, was in fine original paint.
Two lots by Shang Wheeler of Stratford, Connecticut made $21,450 (hollow-carved Canada goose with raised wing detail and head in content position) and $18,000 (pair of pintails), both lots circa 1930. The pintails sold under estimate and the goose near high estimate, even though it’s in need of professional restoration to get rid of the surface splatter.
A lowhead black duck, hollow carved by John English of Florence, New Jersey and later repainted by John Dawson of Trenton, was a good buy at $10,800, under estimate. And a merganser hen by Ira Hudson of Chincoteague, Virginia made estimate at $9600
All in all, a surprisingly interesting beginning of the 2001 decoy year!
| Calendar | Carvers
| Auctions | For
last revised on 06/18/2001
|Decoy, decoys, magazine, collecting, antique, antiques, auction, duck, carve, carver, ducks, hunt, hunting, magazines, museum, museums, auction, auctions, book, books, links, link, calendar, for sale, classified, classifieds, elmer crowell, mccleery, nelow, feather, feathers, wood, mason, factory, fly, flyway, pacific, northeast, swamp, marsh, marshland, call, fish, goose, geese, brant, snow, eider, merganser, woodduck, shorebird, pintail, mallard, mallards, swan, canvasback, bufflehead, redhead, bluebill, redbill, blue-winged, red-winged, teal, coot, ring-neck, ring-necked Decoy, decoys, magazine, collecting, antique, antiques, auction, duck, carve, carver, ducks, hunt, hunting, magazines, museum, museums, auction, auctions, book, books, links, link, calendar, for sale, classified, classifieds, elmer crowell, mccleery, nelow, feather, feathers, wood, mason, factory, fly, flyway, pacific, northeast, swamp, marsh, marshland, call, fish, goose, geese, brant, snow, eider, merganser, woodduck, shorebird, pintail, mallard, mallards, swan, canvasback, bufflehead, redhead, bluebill, redbill, blue-winged, red-winged, teal, coot, ring-neck, ring-necked|