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P U B L I S H E R ' S   N O T E S

A Market Rising ?
November/December 2001

A recent issue of the Potomac Flyer, the newsletter of the Potomac Decoy Collectors Association, posed a question: "Will this be a buyers or sellers market?" This was a topic of discussion at their October meeting and no one seemed to have a definitive answer. To be more to the point, many were wondering if the long recession and recent terrorist tragedies would effect the price of decoys.

Now I'm hesitant to limit my response to a conversation about money, because decoy collecting is about a whole lot more than how much we spend, but people are understandably concerned about the dollars and cents value of their collections. So has this climate effected the decoy market?

Many at that October meeting were reserving judgment until the results of the two major fall decoy auctions, sponsored by Frank & Frank Sporting Collectibles and Guyette and Schmidt Inc., were in the record books. My initial reaction was that neither calamity would have an effect on price; it's all about the decoys and collectors would simply respond to quality as they had in the past. But considering the results of these recent sales, I may have thought wrong, but not in the way I might have guessed. For whatever reason, the price of good decoys is definitely getting higher.

To sum up the Frank & Frank sale, we'll quote New Jersey Decoy Collectors Association president John Clayton: "Hammer prices reflected birds sold for the collector's shelf and those in attendance looking for inventory birds came away empty handed." Commenting on the Guyette & Schmidt sale, Frank Schmidt said he was "pleased with the auction" and felt it could be "the second best Easton auction" they had held. While each sale offered a few particularly choice lots, I didn't believe either sale had the necessary ingredients that would have assured their resounding success. I certainly couldn't have predicted the outcome, particularly in consideration of the economy. We've reviewed both auctions in this issue.
Initially, I was admittedly as curious, and concerned, as the PDCA members were. Easton is a bell weather show, a good reflection of the overall state of the decoy market. Attendance had been down at the few decoy shows I had attended this fall, and I heard the results of the Sotheby's and Christie's Americana auctions in October were disastrous. A good source reported that half the lots at those two sales were bought in. If the high-end antique market was responding in this way, could this trend carry over into decoys? Maybe those results were due to the proximity of the 9/11 disaster and that both sales were held in New York City. Yet at a recent Eldred's auction of "Americana, Marine and Sporting Items" held on Cape Cod, the small selection of decoys and decorative bird carvings clearly outperformed the boat models, porcelain, silver, paintings and furniture that was offered. I'm not sure why the results don't parallel.

Concerning the attendance in Easton, the tailgating in the parking lot outside the Guyette & Schmidt auction on Wednesday and Thursday was packed with enthusiastic dealers and collectors. There were many decoys for sale, and they varied greatly from quality to region. Everybody was noticeably pleased to be there, and the accommodating weather was incredibly idyllic. By the time auctioneer Jim Julia hammered the first lot, there was barely an empty seat in the house. Guyette & Schmidt reportedly had many numerous first-time participants register for bidding numbers, and I saw many new faces in the crowd actively waving their bidder cards. Who says there's no new blood coming into the market?

The Waterfowl Festival opened on Friday, and the first few hours at the high school, where the collectors all exhibit, was incredibly busy. By early afternoon we had picked up a slew of new subscribers and sold lots of back issues and books. Most of the decoy dealers reported brisk sales. But all in all, from the afternoon through the rest of the weekend, I'd say traffic seemed soft. My guess is that the serious collectors showed up on Wednesday and stopped by the high school on Friday during their last day in town. Besides having first pick of the offerings on hand, they got to view the Artifacts Display on exhibit there, which always includes choice decoys from private collections. This year's was no disappointment.

Despite the slight decrease in general traffic, business didn't seem the least bit effected. According to many who make a living selling decoys, it was better than ever. One dealer claims to have sold so many decoys that he feared he lacked the necessary inventory to fill an upcoming catalog. Another was the beneficiary of a brand new collector who showed up on Sunday and bought serious decoys. The bidding for fresh merchandise that walks into the show was fiercer than ever. And believe me, none of it's getting cheaper. For those who have built a portfolio of quality decoys, that is reassuring to know.

So why is it that decoys appear immune to these effects? Maybe they're not. After all, it's about a whole lot more than the money. Decoy collectors have a tendency to immerse themselves in their favorite folk art, maybe more so than the average collector of American antiques. They study the history of decoys and become intimately familiar with the body of works of their favorite makers. And they know that a Ira Hudson black duck will always be a Ira Hudson black duck. Maybe this familiarity provides a comfort and security that everyday life sometimes lacks. Considering recent events, that could be more important than ever. Or maybe the market is simply rising.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.