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P U B L I S H E R ' S   N O T E S

Still Along for the Ride
March/April 2001

Everybody’s talking about the stock market. Given the present conditions, that’s not all that surprising. But I’m referring to the conversations that have become a major component of every decoy show I’ve attended this year. Now that’s a new topic.

The conversations have been twofold. First of all, there are the horror stories, those tales of personal woe that are so commonplace these days. It seems as though everyone is sharing them as though they are a badge of honor – whether brought on by foolish whim or simply a victim of the overall collapse of the market. Maybe it’s communal grief.

But the major concern of most of those conversations about Wall Street is its relative effect on the DECOY market. Many are concerned that an overall lack of consumer confidence – not to mention a possible lack of available money – could cause a decline in the price of quality decoys or the value of their collections. It would certainly seem that it’s a buyer’s market.

Dealers appear a little anxious. The "irrational exuberance" of collectors no doubt drives the price of the finest decoys. Will the recent failure in the stock market dampen that enthusiasm? Auctioneers could be effected as well. Will the prices that soared during and after the sale of the McCleery collection still hold? While it only takes two to tango, what if collectors don’t even show up to bid? Should consignors feel uncertain of their return and expect a smaller percentage on the dollar?

The upcoming National Antique Decoy Show and the Guyette & Schmidt decoy auction, both held at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois later this month, will provide us some answers.

Gary Guyette doesn’t feel there’s great reason for concern. If so, it’ll be short term. According to his figures, they’re printing 400 more auction catalogs than last year. And many of those, he claims, have been ordered by brand new collectors. We’ve noticed a big influx of new subscribers as well, so maybe the decoy market is going through an expansion. This is good.

The stock market’s been tanking for awhile, although not as precipitously as the recent past, so maybe we need to see if there’s been an effect on the decoy market yet. In our last issue we covered the January auction at Sotheby’s where a group of 25 Crowell miniatures fetched roughly $75,000 or about $3000 apiece. At Ted Harmon’s recent one-day auction in Ohio, a set of 24 Crowell miniatures brought anywhere from $1210 for a merganser with repairs to $2970 for a wood duck. Not exactly Sotheby’s prices, but a lot more money for Crowell minis than in years past. No deflation here. And the major dealers, despite their concerns, swear that sales (and consignments) have been good. The upcoming Guyette & Schmidt auction has a pre-sale estimate of over a million and a half. If those results are realized, it would place it in rare company. So we’ll see.

Unfortunately, we’ve also heard a few stories where the falling market has shaken a few birds loose, for some, entire collections. But only a few. I remember investors lamenting, "I wish I could buy (you name the stock) for what it cost two years ago." Guess what, you can. But how often does one get that opportunity with decoys? A number just did. At least some collectors were able to sell their investment in decoys (their hobby) to pay for their losses in the market (their life). Isn’t that a reversal of fortunes!

Try going back to your broker to salvage your investment dollars today. Today! You can accomplish that with decoys. Sure, you might take a little hit if it’s a recent purchase, but as one collector recently told his stockbroker, "I’ve never had a decoy lose 40% of its value overnight." The stockbroker, a bit taken back by the affront, reportedly suggested his client stick with decoys. I don’t doubt that he will.

There’s some truth to be learned in these hard lessons. The experts tell you when buying stocks, pick good companies. Veteran collectors will tell you that when picking decoys, buy the best. Hopefully you did. Yet great decoys, regardless of the state of the stock market or the price of the day, retain their value if not their price. Their currency is of themselves, inherent in the quality, the rarity and the condition of the item. Those standards never change. An Elmer Crowell bluebill in excellent paint and condition will always be just that. Never more, never less.

A lot of people laughed at the prices that decoys realized at the McCleery auction. With the stock market concerns, some are laughing even more. "You think they’ll get those prices today," they jest. "You think they could even get 70% of what they paid," they go on. We’ll see.

But you see they’re missing the point. For those heavy hitters, it could have been a lot worse. Hey, they could have left their money in the stock market. Did you?

See you in St. Charles.