Monday, February 13, 2012

Almost Tricked

I spent some time/money at the East Carolina Wildfowl Guild Festival in Washington, North Carolina this weekend. This show is special to me because it's there that I learned to appreciate the art and history of North Carolina Duck Hunting. There's decoys, flat art, and some casual vendors. The decoys range from the contemporary classics, to IWCA contest birds - 15 of which were carved by acquaintances, to the old battery and market gunning birds from Currituck, Outer Banks, Carteret County, and Core Banks. The latter are my favorite. I really appreciate the fine lines and simple, but hardy construction of those old birds. Most were made from juniper logs, but some are made from old fence posts, canvas sails, and, like the James Best geese, some are made from old ships' masts. Still, while I'll more than likely ever be in a financial position to pick up a bird for two to ten grand, it's still fun to see them. Even some of the old Mason Factory decoys were at the show. It was pretty cool to see some of the little teals that go for big bucks. I even saw a bufflehead Mason. Still, the mallards, redheads, and bluebills were available for around a couple hundred bucks. Those species were oft-produced and many still exist. It's the hard to find ducks like ruddy ducks and shovelers which are extra-valuable. Should a ruddy duck Mason ever show up, it's likely to break decoy sale records...maybe garnering up to a million bucks!

Either way, I've lately become a student of decoys. I want to be able to keep up with the heavy weights in the decoy world. I can pick out certain styles from varying regions, and I can pick out a Boyd, Mitchell, Burgess, and a Dudley. I can pick apart an Animal Trap from a Pratt, too. Still, there are tricks in the decoy world. Of course, everyone wants an old bird in original paint. Good Luck. Some want decoys with the original parts. Good luck. The old working birds I like so much are fairly plentiful, but usually with several coats of paint and a replaced head or keel. The keel is no big deal. Usually it was an old iron piece or a railroad spike held in place by several nails. Heads, however, could be as old as 50 years or 50 days. Some people are true masters of counterfeiting. I encountered, and purchased such a bird. After a good inspection of the body, it was easy to determine that body with some splitting was definitely old. The splitting was caused by a rusting iron nail and water. Those two factors, when combined with wood, can result in decoy splitting. However, the original head would have been split, too. The head on the decoy I found was beautiful. Too nice, in fact, to be a original. After pouring over the head with a true expert and decoy nerd, I found fresh, white wood in the corner of the bill. this gap would be best measured in 1/32 increments, but it was there.

All in all, each old decoy has a story. Trying to read that story can help one find good decoys at good rates. Still, I don't collect for money. While the decoy market will never crash, you'll go nuts finding someone who values "your" birds more than you do. So I collect what I like. And I really like old decoys of mysterious and sometimes dubious distinction!

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