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A couple of weeks ago I woke up a bit disoriented – I was quite sure where I was. As I slowly focused on my surroundings I suddenly realized I was in my own bed. What a shocker! Beginning in early February and running through the end of March that is actually a rarity, as Decoy Magazine spends most of its waking moments on the road – from Minnesota to Long Island to California and back again – attending decoy shows throughout the land. This end of winter sojourn is actually the richest time of year for decoy collectors, as shows are scheduled virtually throughout the country. Here follows a summary of our travels.

Minnesota Decoy Collectors
2001 Decoy Show

February 1-3, 2001

The new year always starts in Minnesota, at the Thunderbird Motel right across from the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Despite the cold (I know I promised I wouldn’t mention it), this is one of the warmest shows in the country. And I’ll credit that to the friendly natives of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Decoys from the showThe show starts on Thursday as collectors arrive and set up in their rooms for a day and a half of trading. While most of the attendees are from the home state and neighboring Wisconsin, some arrive from as far away as Vermont and New Mexico (and, of course, Decoy Magazine from Delaware). Every now and again a few birds show up to wow the crowd. This year the neatest item of all was a terrific pair of miniature mallards by Warren Dettman of Milwaukee. True rarities, particularly when compared to the available numbers by the more familiar miniaturists, they eventually traded hands.

On Friday afternoon the scene moves to the ballroom for an "Members Only" evening show and auction, but sign up and you won’t be turned away. On Saturday the show is open to the public. This two-day affair is always well attended and business is always brisk.

The Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association, who likely have the most volunteers of any organization I’ve ever been associated with, always exhibit a fine display of Minnesota decoys, loaned by various members of the club, in a corner of the ballroom. While the state never boasted the large number of name makers as other areas, it nonetheless produced many quality decoys.

Each year there’s a vintage decoy competition, what they call a "Best Bird Contest," and this year’s theme was green-winged teal. Broken into four categories, the winners were a Harold Haertel green-winged teal hen (Jo Brust collection) for Decorative Decoys, a Dodge green-winged teal (Dean Dashner collection) for Antique Factory Decoys, a Mike Valley green-winged teal hen (Mike’s collection) for Modern Working Decoys and an Ed Short green-winged teal (Dick Brust collection) for Antique Carved Decoys. Since Dick, the club’s president, is still known as the "Old Teal Collector," we knew he’d capture at least one ribbon.

On Friday evening the show committee sponsors a hospitality room for exhibitors that features the best wild game and smoked fish buffet, along with appropriate refreshments, on the show circuit. In fact, I rave about it so often that it’s coerced other shows to try and follow suit (we’ll get to that later). Two or three round tables gather and the conversation flows long into the evening.

The atmosphere’s so warm, nobody talks about the weather.

30th annual Decoy & Sporting Collectibles Show
Patchoque, New York
February 25, 2001

Every year I’ve praised this annual decoy and sporting collectibles show, sponsored by the Long Island Decoy Collectors Association, because it’s a one-day effort. You show up, do your business, then pack up and go home. This year I didn’t want to leave.

Last year’s show attendance was disappointing. Maybe it was the weather. As John Clayton wrote in the latest issue of the New Jersey Decoy Collectors Newsletter, "it’s dependable…you can always depend on bad weather." Last year it was pea soup, this year it was just rain.

But this year’s huge paid attendance (it grew from 400 in 2000 to 1100 in 2001) had nothing to do with forces outside their control, rather it had everything to do with foresight, planning and terrific promotions. How about a front page article in the Metro section of the New York Times! How about three articles in the Long Island edition of New York Newsday! I’ll tip my hat to the show publicity committee for taking advantage of a great opportunity that too many organizations fail to exploit – FREE local coverage. And this year it made all the difference.

This Long Island show is located in one of the greatest waterfowling regions in North America. Historically, it may have been the birthplace of decoy making. Some of the finest shorebirds ever made and used were produced here. And no doubt many still reside in the homes of locals, many who have no idea of their desirability, much less their value. These are the people that collectors hope to attract. And all of the media publicity caught their attention.

Every year items turn up at this show for appraisals and for sale. This year was one of the best. One local collector purchased a turned head Long Island plover, probably from the Seaford area, with wonderfully carved shoulders that pivoted with the bird. Another Long Islander purchased two curlews that were found in the area; they looked like they were made in the South Jersey area. One local brought in a couple of fat black-bellied plovers by Obediah Verity – they’re not yet for sale.

And the inventory wasn’t just by local makers. One dealer got a consignment of a few miniatures by Elmer Crowell. He was also presented with three miniatures that the owner thought was made by Sam Denny of upstate New York. But they were actually by Joe Lincoln – a merganser, green-winged teal and goldeneye. One of the auctioneers doing appraisals told me he saw a George Boyd miniature tern. How’s that for variety!

This year’s exhibit featured Long Island scoters. The interpretations included great variety in these folkiest of decoys. But our favorite items were actually a group of cork-bodied Canada geese from the collection of the show chairman, Tim Sieger. We couldn’t pry one out of him.

Every year the committee honors some of its long time members and supporters, a great way to acknowledge their leadership and enthusiasm. This year’s honorees were Will & Dot Gamper, Barbara Souminen and Jim & Ruth Wood.

Ironically, this year the show ended at four o’clock, an hour earlier than usual. People were still paying admission after three, and our last sale was after the show officially ended. As I said, we didn’t want to leave. With those kinds of results, hey, it’s worth fighting the traffic.

32nd annual Wisconsin Decoy Collectors Mid-Winter Gathering
Oshkosh, Wisconsin
March 1-3, 2001

Billed as "The original Wisconsin collector’s show," this annual event is held at the Pioneer Inn on the shores of frozen Winnebago Lake. We missed this get-together last year (there are 3 shows the same weekend), but always enjoy the social camaraderie and knowledgeable conversation concerning college basketball – hey, there’s more to life than decoys.

Collectors begin showing up at this venue on Thursday for a couple of days of room-to-room trading. The traffic again seemed a bit slow and way too many collectors who have rooms don’t seem to bother keeping them open. However there were a number of neat things for sale throughout the building.

One Milwaukee collector showed up with a rare bluebill hen by Earl Voelker that got snatched up quickly. It had a great head with a bit of a crest on it, similar to the work of Owen Gromme who worked at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Voelker learned his craft from Gromme. Another collector had three cork-bodied Canada geese with wooden bottom boards by Walter Ruppel. They were huge, with pinched breasts and tail and lots of feathering on the backs. They too sold quickly at a bargain price of $200 each.

Probably the biggest surprise came on Saturday morning, when the dealers move to the ballroom for an open-to-the-public show. Each year we set up early and head to the basement where lots of new merchandise often shows up – many of these dealers don’t participate on Thursday and Friday. There are normally about 30 or 40 tables packed in the room and others looking for the same opportunities as myself. I was disappointed to see less than half the number of participants – where did they go? Another aspect of the show that always pleased the dealers was the huge crowd that piled into the ballroom as soon as the doors opened. Many lined up outside despite the cold. By noon, it would seem as though we were there for a weekend. This year the initial crowd was smaller and dissipated much more quickly. The show committee needs to take the lead of the Long Island association and take advantage of the FREE publicity that’s available throughout the area – how about getting a story in the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal! There are way too many duck hunters throughout the Badger State to not attract a larger audience.

Now to get to the hospitality room. Every year the show committee offers food and drink and conversation. The drink and conversation is top-shelf, but the food…well, let’s just say it was always lacking. But this year that changed. Terry Smart, a collector from Memphis, Tennessee and a friend showed up with a mess of pork barbecue, which they cooked up and served to an appreciative crowd. It was delicious. They told me they were tired of eating cheese curls and listening to me brag about the hospitality room in Minnesota. So they took it upon themselves to provide the food. We sure hope they return next year.

We showed up in Milwaukee on Wednesday, a day before the show starts, as is our habit, to take advantage of the city’s offerings. Our tour guide, Tom Bosworth, got us an invitation to see the new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is scheduled to open this summer. Architecturally, this building is a gem, located on the shore of Lake Michigan. They also have a few great decoys from the collection of Michael and Julie Hall, including a Caines mallard, among others. If you make it to Oshkosh next year, make sure and schedule time for a visit.

The Atlantic Wildlife Art & Nature Exposition
26th Anniversary Show

Virginia Beach, Virginia
March 3-4, 2001

Although the Virginia Beach show doesn’t begin until Saturday at the Pavilion, the weekend kicks off with a one-day buy, swap and sell hosted by the Carolina Decoy Collectors Association at a local oceanfront hotel. Collectors arrive from all parts of the East Coast to take advantage of the $30 rates and participate in this one-day event.

This is the second year the Carolina collectors have hosted this swap meet. According to our contributing writer, Jim Trimble, who represented Decoy Magazine for the weekend, there were more rooms open this year and traffic was a bit better than last. Unfortunately a handful of dealers were located a floor above the crowd and attracted little attendance. The participants actively engaged in business with one another and most agreed that with a bit more tweaking and a little more promotion the one-day event could live up to its potential.

On Saturday some moved to the Pavilion to set-up at the official show and participate in the annual Vintage Decoy Competition. The crowds on Saturday were reportedly strong and in a buying mood. There also appeared to be more tables with old decoys.

In the Vintage Decoy Competition, the most coveted award goes to the best Back Bay/Currituck Sound Decoy. This year’s winner was a diminutive bufflehead hen, possibly by Charles Waterfield or a member of the Waterfield family from the collection of D.C. North. Sr. R. Smith, a collector from Delaware, won two ribbons for the best Taylor Boyd canvasback and for the best Delaware River pair with a pair of "Blair style" pintails. Jim Trimble and Doily Fulcher also captured two awards; Jim with a James Baines wigeon and a Edson Gray redhead and Doily with a Charles Perdew pintail and a Cigar Daisey black duck. And the pond exhibit, with about a dozen collectors participating, was as imaginative as ever.

Based on Saturday evening’s forecast of a "Noreaster" of monumental proportions – snow measured in feet, not inches – many vendors packed at the end of the day and headed home early. Others packed early on Sunday as a rain continued to pour. By noon it was a ghost town.

For next year the show committee has discussed extending the hours into Friday and combining with a sport fishing show. How this will affect the buy, swap and sell is anyone’s guess at this time. The possibility of it diluting the decoy emphasis of the show is also troubling. Whatever the outcome, the organizing committees need to get to work soon to let the collecting community know of its direction. And its schedule. And how decoys will blend in the mix.

Santa Rosa Antique Decoy, Fishing
Tackle & Sporting Collectibles Show

Santa Rosa, California
March 9-10, 2001

Every couple of years we try to attend this sporting collectibles show held in the middle of wine country. We certainly schedule in a few wine tastings along the way, but the main reason we attend is to take the opportunity to visit with many of our friends and supporters who live along the Pacific Coast. But I promise you, the wine and breathtaking scenery is reason enough to return.

This two-day show is actually more of a fishing tackle show than a decoy event, but it has a larger presence of old decoys than any other show out west. This presents two good opportunities. First of all, if you have good inventory for sale, there is the chance to showcase decoys that are not often seen or handled by West Coat collectors. Secondly, if there is good merchandise available from other parts of the county, there isn’t much competition to buy it.

If you want a good "Fresh Air Dick" Janson pintail, this is the show to attend. Their most famous maker is always well represented here. A handful of dealers also offer choice examples by other local heroes. Local contemporary decoy makers, Bill Goenne and Paul Arness, also take tables. This year Bill was selling a rig of brant that he had hunted over. He couldn’t have attracted much by the end of the show.

It’s always interesting to see what shows up from out of the area. Rick Hill, a California collector, had a bunch of Canadian decoys. Harry Marx, a rare gun and decoy dealer from Gilroy, had a half-dozen pairs of mint Davey Nichol decoys. Many East Coast decoys ended up in California gun clubs, most notably some Ward brothers mallards and wigeon. One collector had a group of Charles Perdew mallards right out of a hunting rig. They were worn with cracked necks, but they were a delight to see nonetheless.

It’s also always interesting to see what walks in from the great outdoors. The widow of George Goertz, who was a decoy maker, guide and market hunter from the San Francisco Bay area, showed up to sell her husband’s rig. Most were made in the 1920s and 1930s. Our favorites included a handful of canvas pintails assembled as sleepers. But the neatest decoy that walked in the door was a tiny green-winged teal hen by Horace "Hie" Crandell. Art Bond from Western Wildlife Gallery in San Francisco got first shot at buying it, and no doubt he did.

Ohio Decoy Collectors & Carvers Association 2001 Decoy Show
Westlake, Ohio
March 15-18, 2001

As sure as there are Lake Effect snows in Cleveland in March, Decoy Magazine makes its annual trek to the Ohio Decoy Collectors show held just outside the city in Westlake, Ohio. Although it’s advertised as a two-day event, the show actually stretches from Thursday through Sunday, and it’s one of the few shows in the country that warrant that many days.

The dealers in old decoys, who receive priority treatment for first floor rooms, begin arriving on Thursday to set up for the long weekend, and collectors begin roaming the halls. The choicest rooms are those in the center of the hotel that surround the pool, and the show committee assures that all are kept open for traffic and all must offer collectible old decoys. It’s refreshing to restrict the ticky-tack items that have no place at a decoy show. And best of all, the dealers can stay in their rooms – no ballroom show necessary here – to sell their wares and watch the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Go Terps!

Friday morning is often a bit quiet here. The hard core show up on Thursday and local business people arrive after lunch. So this year the show committee invited Ted Harmon’s Decoys Unlimited to host a one-day decoy auction. And it was a great addition to the weekend. Ted offered about 150 lots, just enough to make it a serious event. The noon sale started on time and was over in two hours. Interestingly, there was computer bidding during the sale; their participation was just as phone bidders. WE understand this will eventually become par for the course, but this was the first time we’ve seen its inclusion in a decoy auction. Everyone we spoke to enjoyed the auction as part of the weekend’s events and we understand that Ted would like to return next year as well. Jackson Parker will provide a complete review of the results in the next issue.

On Saturday the highlight for collectors is the Vintage Decoy Competition sponsored by Decoy Magazine. Each year the committee picks about a dozen categories for entries and the contest enjoys large participation. And the categories range from the classics to the not-so-classics, which gives opportunity to a wide range of collectors. This year the Best of Show ribbon was awarded to John Clayton for a wonderful running curlew by Thomas Gelston of Quogue, Long Island, New York. We’ve pictured all the winners in this issue.

The show also sponsors a collecting seminar on Saturday. This year’s presentation was by Jon Crandell, the son of longtime collector and decoy historian, Barney Crandell, who gave a general talk on decoys from the St. Clair Flats. Jon brought ten items from his collection that represent a variety of styles made and used in the region, from both Michigan and Ontario, from approximately 1865 through the 1950s. After pointing out the beauty and diversity in each example, rather than asking the audience to vote for the best, he asked them to vote for their favorite. Three from Canada tied for first place – geese by David Ward and John Reeves and a pintail by George Warin. A pair of pintails by J.R. Wells was next, followed by a wood duck by Ben Schmidt, a redhead by Chris Smith, a brant by Tom Schroeder and a pair of redheads by an unknown maker that some attributed as early Tom Chambers decoys. Canvasbacks by Zeke McDonald and Scott Peters finished out the list. We’ve pictured the three first place winners.

Although attendance again seemed light at times, business throughout the weekend was good. Lots of decoys were bought and sold and Decoy Magazine lured its share of new readers. Last year there was a lot of discussion at this show as to how e.bay would effect the market. Would it keep fresh merchandise from showing up and would dealers bother traveling with as much inventory? Well one dealer told me he bought about 50 decoys specifically to sell on e.bay, and if that’s the case, it’s certainly a positive development. Shows still prove to be the best place to search for decoys, whether they’re for your shelf or to sell on-line.

They’re also the best place to socialize with other collectors who share our passion. On Saturday evening a group formed a roundtable near the pool to smoke cigars, share refreshments and tell war stories of decoy shows past and present. It’s a ritual. Last year the group erupted into a spirited conversation concerning the "best" decoys. I was in the minority last year, still in the minority this year, and those guys just aren’t going to let me forget it. But hey, what do they know?

Still to come

These are just the shows we’ve visited since are last issue hit the streets. By the time our next issue mails we’ll have been at the New Jersey Decoy Collectors show in Manahawkin, the Frank & Frank decoy auction, the East Coast Decoy Collectors get-together in St, Michaels, Maryland, the National Antique Decoy Show and Guyette & Schmidt decoy auction at the Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Illinois, and the Decoy Festival in Havre de Grace, Maryland. After all of that, we’ll be ready for a vacation. See you there.

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2001 issue