and Masons dominate
When they planned for their first auction on March 16, 2001 in conjunction with the Ohio Decoy Collectors meeting in Westlake, Ohio, Ted and Judy Harmon left no doubt as to their trump card. Pictured on the front cover of their catalogue in color was a rare set of miniature ducks by A. Elmer Crowell of East Harwich on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and it had two flaws: (1) It had only 24 instead of the usual 25 species (the ruddy duck was missing) and (2) a half dozen had minor restorations (a bill tip here, a tail chip there). Sold piece by piece, the set of 24 brought $43,230, averaging $1801 each, ranging from $1100 (bluebill hen) to $2970 (wood duck).
This is less than the $71,850, averaging $2874 each, for a set of 25 mini ducks with substitutions for four of Crowell’s specified species at Sotheby’s Americana auction in New York City this last January 2001; the 25 sold in groups of five, six and seven (two groups). According to Brian Cullity’s excellent study of Crowell’s work, "The Songless Aviary," Crowell began making sets of 25 between 1926 and 1933 (25 ducks, 25 shorebirds, 25 songbirds) and charged $100 for the ducks – both charges and species were negotiable.
These two sets were the first we’ve seen at auction since Julia/Guyette sold a complete set of 25 for $31,900 (one bid) at their spring 1988 auction in St. Charles, Illinois; that averages out to $1276 each. Over the intervening years, Crowell mini prices had plateaued while the prices of miniatures by A.J. King and George Boyd had surpassed them. Last fall, we noted a rise in the prices of Crowell minis, and now we see almost parity in the prices of minis by all three.
Almost! Just when you think parity, the one Boyd mini at the auction, a spotted sandpiper, sold over estimate at $4620, and with minor touchup noted.
Five lots from the Mason Decoy Co. of Detroit made the auction’s top baker’s dozen, including the auction’s top lot, a near-mint merganser hen at its low-estimate $16,500. A near-mint black-bellied plover sold well over estimate at $6325. An unused pair of Detroit grade pintails also sold over estimate at $3080. And two more Mason ducks made $2310 (over estimate for a Premier grade redhead with minor problems) and $2200 (within estimate for a Challenge grade mallard).
The auction’s second-highest price, $13,750, was just over estimate for a fine pair of early buffleheads by Ben Schmidt of Detroit, so early that they didn’t have the heavy wing and tail carving we’ve come to expect of his later decoys. A later pair of redheads by Ben with all the expected back carving made estimate at $2530. A wigeon by Ben’s brother, Frank, sold well over estimate at $1925.
In addition to the Crowell minis, the Harmons brought from the Bay State four lots of interest: a pair of bluebills by Henry Keyes Chadwick of Martha’s Vineyard that made estimate at $2420, two flat-sided plovers by Frank Adams, also of the Vineyard, that also made estimate at $1430 and $1320, and a box of six tin yellowlegs by Strater & Sohier of Boston, just under estimate at $1210; the box was stenciled "1 DOZ. YELLOW LEG" which suggests the owner shot over six and kept six in reserve.
The beat-up condition of a canvasback by Alvirah Wright of Duck, North Carolina earned it a low estimate, but its Tarheel appeal drove its price up to $7425, more than double high estimate and the auction’s third highest price.
A humpback eider from Nova Scotia sold well over estimate at $2860.
A hollow-carved Canada goose by Bob Kerr of Smith’s Falls, Ontario, dated August 1985, made its high-estimate $1320.
An early Chesapeake Bay canvasback had its problems but made estimate at its high $1155.
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last revised on 06/18/2001
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