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As a continuation of the busy winter schedule, the spring show circuit took Decoy Magazine to a wide variety of shows scheduled throughout the country, beginning with the New Jersey Decoy Collectors annual show in Mannahawkin and ending with the annual Decoy Festival in Havre de Grace, Maryland – with the big National Antique Decoy Show tucked in between. While there are a number of shows scheduled throughout the summer, Decoy Magazine takes a vacation until the summer decoy auctions scheduled for July in New England. Here is a summary of our travels.

New Jersey Decoy Collectors
Decoy Show & Sale

March 24, 2001

Don’t mess with success. That’s not the mantra of the New Jersey Decoy Collectors Association, but it certainly applies to their annual decoy show held at the Manahawkin Elks Club in Manhawkin, New Jersey. By sticking with a simple formula, the club has without a doubt built this annual get-together into "the best old decoy show in New Jersey." And we love it.

First of all, the association decided to host a one-day affair, rather than stretch a day’s business into a weekend. They also decided to restrict the inventory to items that capture a decoy collector’s attention – decoys. No tacky knick-knacks or bear traps here. Does it work? Now in its 9th year, the show attendance has grown in excess of 600 and the lack of available tables inside (they’re always sold out) has caused a huge increase in the number of tailgaters in the parking lot. In fact, the need for additional space is probably the only dilemma the show committee needs to address.

There were over 50 tables this year with most of the inventory of New Jersey origin, although there were dealers from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and Delaware. Russ Allen, a contemporary carver and restorer from New Jersey was the featured carver, and one of his mergansers was raffled with the proceeds benefiting the Tuckerton Seaport. On the whole, the association raised $1000 to donate to their success.

An old decoy competition was held and there were over 50 entries. Dick Gove won first place in the New Jersey Coastal Black Ducks and Puddle Ducks – All Regions categories with a Harry M. Shourds black duck and a Blair style mallard. Alan Haid won the Diving Ducks – All Regions category with a Shang Wheeler canvasback hen. Bob Seabrook, Vance Strausburg and Bob White were the judges.

This is a fun show that has additionally benefited by the approximation of the Frank & Frank Sporting Collectibles auction held the following day in nearby Belmar, New Jersey. And that makes for a pretty good weekend.

East Coast Decoy Collectors
Buy, Sell & Swap Meet

April 6-7, 2001

The East Coast Decoy Collectors annual meet in St. Michaels, Maryland, although advertised as a Friday and Saturday affair, is now in full gear by Thursday, as collectors from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region check in earlier and earlier to assure themselves first crack at any choice inventory that arrives.

The meeting is held at the Best Western motel and the show is entirely based upon room to room trading. By Friday the inn was almost full, with nearly every room occupied with decoy collectors. In some cases two dealers occupied the same room. On Friday and Saturday tailgaters sell out of their trunks in the parking lot, although Friday’s showers and Saturday’s cold front limited their participation.

Some good birds changed hands throughout the weekend. One collector picked up a pair of Charles Nelson Barnard high head canvasbacks. Another was seen crossing the parking lot with a nice Ward brothers canvasback. One dealer sold a Paul Gibson swan with a nice patina. The price must have been right, because he could have sold it three times. And of course, there were a few deals that took place behind closed doors, igniting the rumor mills.

Members were urged to bring a few favorites from their collections to show off in their rooms during the show. This was a great idea – people generally just bring their rejects for sale – and we hope more people participate next year. We photographed a number of collectors with a few of our favorites.

Near day’s end on Friday, the skies cleared just in time for a buffet dinner, including oysters, clams, venison chili and baby back ribs, served compliments of the New Jersey Decoy Collectors in the parking lot. It was a mellow end to the day. After a day of trading on Saturday, the weekend’s festivities ended with a dinner at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum that was attended by over 70 members.

These sorts of get-togethers are a throwback to the old days of collecting, mostly social events that happen to include decoys.

National Antique Decoy Show
April 26-28, 2001

The National Antique Decoy Show, sponsored by the Midwest Decoy Collectors Association, is the premier decoy show in the country for serious decoy collectors. It’s the really big show. No other show attracts so many collectors from all points on the compass. No other show offers as many opportunities to purchase some of the finest decoys available throughout the country. If you can only attend one show a year, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

This annual decoy & sporting collectibles show kicks off on Monday with a number of dealers checking into their rooms early for a few days of buying and selling. By Wednesday the resort is full, with decoys filling well over 100 rooms at the hotel. On Wednesday Guyette & Schmidt holds a preview of their two-day auction, which is held on Thursday and Friday. On Friday afternoon the two-day show kicks off at the adjoining Mega-Center, which is open to the public. It’s a full schedule.

Last year everyone was wondering if the McCleery auction would effect the market. Like would prices be rising. This year everyone wondered if the stock market would effect the price of decoys. Like would there be bargains. Last year the answer was yes, and I still think the McCleery auction is causing a high tide in the price of the best decoys. This year the answer was no, the auction produced over two million in sales, only the second non-McCleery auction to get those results. Check out Jackson Parker’s report on page 32 and tell me if you see any bargains in those prices.

Throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday, traffic in the hallways was visibly lighter than in years past. And it died earlier in the evening. On Friday the traffic at the Mega-Center was good, but on Saturday the show was downright anemic. Yet nearly every dealer I spoke with boasted of the success of their show. Some claimed it was their best ever. I guess it doesn’t have to be a big crowd, just the right crowd. And this show always attracts the heaviest of hitters.

If you’re a regular at the National Antique Decoy Show, you’re sure to return. If you’ve never been there, start making your reservations for next year’s event. Because, as always, it’s the really big show.

Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival
May 4-6, 2001

The Havre de Grace Decoy Festival was started 20 years ago with the intent of raising funds to finance a local decoy museum. The Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, now located along the banks of the famed Susquehanna Flats, is a testament to its success.

The show, which opens on Friday evening, is held in two of the local schools. Most of the serious collectors turn up for the opening night to get first pick from the offerings. The show continues on Saturday and Sunday with many of the town’s citizens, be they decoy collectors or not, turning out for what many consider a community event.

Each year the show committee chooses an Honorary Chairman, alternating between living and deceased carvers. This year’s choice was Charles Nelson Barnard, who many collectors insist made the finest decoy ever used on the upper Chesapeake Bay. The committee organized a wonderful collection of Barnard decoys, tools and gunning artifacts, most from the collection of John Sullivan, and displayed then over the weekend at the museum. How about three pair of Barnard high head canvasbacks and the only known ruddy duck attributed to him? It was an awesome display. They also arranged four tables with well over 50 decoys, all canvasbacks by early upper Bay makers that allowed visitors to see the subtle differences in each maker’s work. A Friday evening reception was held to invite exhibitors to view the display.

On Saturday evening the show holds an annual decoy auction, mostly comprised of decoys by contemporary Upper Bay makers and lesser examples of old decoys. The highlight of the sale was a pair of wood ducks by Charlie Joiner that hammered at $1700.

This year there were decidedly less vendor tables than in years past. We’re fairly confident that this is a result of dwindling attendance through the door. This year, the best I heard by some dealers is that it seemed "constant." A number of committee members expressed concern over the visible drop in attendance. Some felt there was inadequate advertising in the region, partially to hold down show expenses. We don’t believe this is the solution.

In some ways the show is a victim of its past success. It grew from a decoy show, to a decoy & wildlife art show, to a decoy, wildlife art & sportsman’s festival. It expanded from one location into two separate sites, with shuttle buses moving the crowd from one exhibit to the next. Maybe it’s time to reassess.

The most successful shows these days are "decoy" shows. All of the other stuff allowed in the building are parasites, peripheral items that have little or nothing to do with decoys or decoy collecting or gunning history and traditions or anything else that is culturally celebrated in this self-proclaimed "decoy capital of the world." Get rid of it. Try and cut back to one location. If the vendor situation at the high school was as thin as it was at the middle school, we can all fit into one location. Lastly, have mercy on the vendors and trim the show back to two days. Have it Friday night and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday, but don’t stretch the crowd out over three days. It simply isn’t warranted.

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2001 issue