HYANNIS, MASS. — Decoy Week continued with a journey to beautiful Cape Cod where Ted and Judy Harmon’s Decoys Unlimited’s summer auction did not disappoint. The July 27–28 sale, conducted at the Cape Codder Resort, grossed just over $1.2 million and was officiated by the Larry Carter, a guest auctioneer from North Carolina.
The sale included decoys from several prominent collections, including William Powell of Seaford, N.Y.; H. Harrison Huster of Summit, N.J., and Charles “Duke” Grobaker of Baltimore, Md. The sale opened with a collection of Charles “Speed” Joiner decoys from the Homer Ballard Collection, which mostly sold within estimate.
The first highlight decoy to cross the block was a preening widgeon by Lem Ward (1896–1984), from the Grobaker collection, which opened at $15,000 against a $14/18,000 estimate and sold for $18,400. A selection of decoys by Bob White (b 1939), described as “one of the Delaware River’s most accomplished decoy makers of the Twentieth Century,” from the Huster collection included an early and rare preening pintail hen, which sold for $4,312, well exceeding the $1/1,500 estimate.
A selection of shorebirds and ducks from the William Powell Collection represented the Long Island Seaford School of Carving. The highlight, a very rare ruddy turnstone by Obediah Verity (1813–1901), sold for $16,675. Of the many towns along the Great South Bay of Long Island, referred to as a gunner’s paradise, it was Seaford that become best known for its decoy carvers, notably the Verity family. Patriarch John Henry Verity (1788–1866) started the family tradition, but it is Obediah Verity who established the “Seaford School.”
The top lot of the sale was a widgeon drake carved by Joseph Whiting Lincoln (1859–1938) from Robin Starr and the Harman collection. Said to be only one of two widgeons known to have been carved by Lincoln, the drake performed well for $97,750 in the room to Cap Vinyl, a prominent Lincoln collector and author of Joseph W. Lincoln, in which the decoy is illustrated. Born in Hingham, Mass., Lincoln was raised on Accord Pond, a favorite spot for local hunters. He carved his decoys using white cedar he harvested from his own land, then fashioned his birds using an axe, draw shave and knives.
A pair of redheads by Chincoteague, Va., carver Ira Hudson (1876–1949) brought the second highest result, selling for $69,000 ($60/70,000), a record for a pair of redheads by Hudson. Described as a singular rigmate pair, the birds with strongly turned heads are illustrated in Ira D. Hudson and Family — Chincoteague Carvers by Henry Stansbury. Another Hudson, a hollow lack duck, brought close to its high estimate, selling for $17,250.
A boxed rig of ten gunning sanderlings (two groups of five) by an unidentified Duxbury carver, circa 1890–1900, achieved $23,000. As with most auctions, not every lot overachieved. A massive canvas over frame Canada goose by Captain Clarence Bailey of Kingston, Mass., was one such underachiever, selling for $3,450, well below its $8/12,000 estimate, while two Augustus “Gus” Wilsons — a white winged scooter and a rocking head black duck — failed to sell.
Of the three decoy auctions, Decoys Unlimited offered, by far, the greatest number of works by Cape Cod carver A. Elmer Crowell. Of the 57 Crowells represented, the highest price went to a working yellow legs, described as “very rare” and of dust jacket quality. The bird, with its original paint and head slightly tilted skyward, sold within estimate for $63,250.
The second highest Crowell price was brought by an early set of 12 miniature shorebirds mounted on two boards (six birds each), including a beetlehead, golden plover, sandpipers, a ruddy turnstone, a dowitcher, a yellowlegs and a sooty breast. The rare set, described on page 94 of The Songless Aviary by Cullity as “a true labor of love,” sold within estimate for $57,500. Other notable Crowells included a life-size diminutive preening sanderling, also known as a “peep,” which went over estimate at $36,800 and a rare life-size semipalmated plover that achieved $29,900.
In addition to decoys, the auction featured a small selection of works of art, including “Cotton Picker,” a 12-by-6-inch oil painting by William Aiken Walker (1839–1921). Walker, a South Carolina artist best known for his genre paintings depicting poor emancipated slaves and sharecroppers, served in the Civil War for the Confederate army. The small oil depicting a black man with a basket of recently harvested cotton performed near its high estimate at $11,500.
In the spirit of hospitality so often found at decoy collecting events, Ted and Judy Harmon treated everyone in attendance to a clambake on Sunday evening at the hotel.
All prices include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.decoysunlimitedinc.net or 508-362-2766.