This preening eider drake decoy by Augustus “Gus” Aaron Wilson (1864-1950) of Maine, circa 1900, sold in the salesroom on one bid for $172,500 to New York City collector Jerry Lauren. The estimate was $150,000/250,000. O’Brien called it “one of the finest traditional Maine decoys ever offered at auction.” A fine example of a decoy as folk art, it is 17½" long x 8½" high x 8½" wide. On the bottom is an anchor line ring, fastened with an old fence staple. The decoy is illustrated in Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco’s book American Vernacular and in Robert Shaw’s Bird Decoys of North America.
The first eight lots in the sale were by Richard E. Bishop (1887-1975), a Cornell-educated engineer and sportsman who retired from business in 1933 and became an artist, photographer, and author. He was known for his prints (etchings, drypoints, aquatints), oil paintings, watercolors, jewelry, tiles, medals, glassware, and china decorated with birds and fish. “A Map of Well Known Salt Water Game Fish of North America,” 1935, number one of an edition of 1000, sold for $3450 (est. $400/600) to a collector in the salesroom. Later in the sale, the same bidder paid $2530 for a set of 22 framed Christmas card etchings by Bishop.
Harry Curieux Adamson (b. 1916) signed Medina County Impressions on the lower right in 1975. The 26" x 40" oil on board sold on the phone for $43,125 (est. $20,000/25,000). The Seattle-born artist studied under Paul Fair, was California artist of the year in 1979, and is known for painting birds in their natural habitat. In this painting Adamson included nine species of ducks that he observed in a creek.
Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, signed on the lower right. The 15½" x 19½" gelatin silver print sold on the phone for $54,625 (est. $40,000/60,000).
October Hunting by Philip Goodwin was a 1911 illustration for a frontispiece for Scribner’s magazine. The 25" x 36" oil on canvas sold for $161,000 (est. $135,000/175,000). Goodwin (1882-1935) studied with Howard Pyle, Charles M. Russell, and Carl Rungius and owned a cabin in Montana, where he painted landscapes, big game, and scenes from frontier life. He earned his living as an illustrator for books and magazines and for Brown & Bigelow calendars.
Copley Fine Art Auctions, New York City
Photos courtesy Copley Fine Art Auctions
For the last three years, Stephen O’Brien of Copley Fine Art Auctions, Boston, has held a January sale at Wallace Hall in the basement of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on 980 Park Avenue (at 84th Street) in New York City. The Copley sale kicked off Americana Week in Manhattan on January 21. Sportsmen leave their duck blinds, send agents to bid, bid by phone, bid on line, or leave bids with the auctioneer for paintings, prints, sculpture, fishing gear, decoys, and decorations. On the evening of January 19, about 400 guests came to the Scotch and smoked salmon preview party that O’Brien co-hosted with Leigh Keno, who shares the Wallace Hall space in the church basement (as does first-rate auctioneer Peter J. Coccoluto) for auctions.
This year the Copley sale was more than 100 lots smaller than last year, but of the 362 lots offered, 90% found buyers, and a total of $1.7 million was spent by more than 260 bidders. O’Brien said he was “impressed by the level of interest from new buyers.”
The sale began with sporting art, some of it by living artists, but most by artists active in the 20th century. Richard Bishop (1887-1975), a Cornell-educated engineer who lived most of his life in Philadelphia, became a painter, printmaker, photographer, and entrepreneur of sporting art when he retired in 1933. He has a following. One collector in the salesroom bought four of the eight Bishop lots and underbid what he did not get. He paid $3450 (includes buyer’s premium), well over the $400/600 estimate, for a wall map and chart of well-known saltwater game fish (published in 1935 and number one of an edition of 1000). He paid $2185 (est. $100/200) for a wall map and chart of surface-feeding ducks (44 of an edition of 2000). He underbid the three lots of dies and hunting and fishing club pins that sold to an on-line bidder, who paid $3450 for nine dies and $4600 each for two more lots, each consisting of 16 pins and 13 metal dies.
Paintings generally sold within estimates. Two phone bidders competed for Philip Goodwin’s October Hunting, an illustration that appeared as the frontispiece in Scribner’s magazine in October 1911. The 25" x 36" oil on canvas sold for $161,000 (est. $135,000/175,000). Percival Rosseau’s oil painting Irish Setters on Point sold on line for $34,500 (est. $30,000/40,000). An Ansel Adams photograph of Grand Tetons and the Snake River in Wyoming, 1942, sold on the phone for $54,625.
Some bronze sculpture sold well. William J. Koelpin’s Bear Country, 1994, (number one of an edition of 24) of two men with a moose carcass in a canoe sold for $20,700 (est. $10,000/15,000). That tied the record price for the artist at auction, paid at Copley’s winter sale in 2012 for Storm Warning. A bronze of a baseball player by Harry H. Wickey (1892-1968) sold on line for $8625 (est. $2500/3500), a record for that artist.
Chromolithographs by Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983) were in demand. Hillside Orchards, Grouse Shooting, 1975, 15" x 24", sold to a phone bidder for $2875 (est. $500/700), and Woodcock Cover, 1976, 15" x 24", brought the same price from another phone bidder. Aiden Lassell Ripley’s Covey by the Cabin, 18" x 26½", sold on the phone for $2300 (est. $200/400). Five chromolithographs by A.B. Frost on the subject of shooting sold together for $4312.50 (est. $1000/2000).
After a short break the session with decoys began. The cover lot was an Augustus “Gus” A. Wilson (1864-1950) preening eider drake decoy, a one-of-a-kind that was well known from its publication in Roger Ricco and Frank Maresca’s book American Vernacular and in Robert Shaw’s Bird Decoys of North America. It sold on one bid (its low estimate) to art collector Jerry Lauren of New York City, who, with 15% buyer’s premium, paid $172,500 (est. $150,000/250,000). It set an auction record for any eider by any maker. Lauren bought it as sculpture that happens to be a decoy.
O’Brien put most of the high-end decoys on one table at the front of the salesroom. He said nine out of ten of these top lots found buyers. Most sold within estimates. Three lots of decoys with estimates of $20,000 or more were left behind. Decoy prices ranged from $517.50 for three lumberyard shorebirds made circa 1890 in Forked River, New Jersey, to $172,500. The Gus A. Wilson decoy was the only one in the sale to sell for a six-figure price. The middle market for decoys, as is the case for the rest of the antiques market, has settled down to a lower level. These days only the best examples are holding their own.
A Mason Decoy Factory salesman’s sample of a robin snipe sold for $20,700 (est. $18,000/24,000). No one seems to know how many of these salesmen’s samples exist. The South Jersey collector who bought this one has four of them; according to the catalog there are six.
A rare tern by Obediah Verity, its surface covered with streaks of whitewash, sold for $21,850 (est. $10,000/20,000).
A favorite was the Ward brothers broadbill drake that sold for $51,750 (est. $30,000/50,000), setting a record price for a Ward broadbill. An Ira Hudson decoy of a turning bluebill drake sold for $48,875 (est. $50,000/70,000) and set a record for a Hudson bluebill. A pair of pintails by Charles Schoenheider Sr. brought a surprising $54,625 (est. $25,000/35,000).
There was good competition for A. Elmer Crowell’s redhead drake, and it sold for $43,125 (est. $20,000/40,000). A golden plover by Crowell, also a working decoy, sold for $34,500 (est. $25,000/35,000). A dowitcher by Crowell sold for $46,000 (est. $40,000/50,000). All these examples show strength at the top of the market for early working decoys by well-respected makers.
Collectors were not as interested in decorative bird carvings—even those by Crowell. A preening greater yellowlegs (est. $20,000/30,000) failed to sell, and a lesser yellowlegs by Crowell in summer plumage sold for $5750 (est. $10,000/15,000).
O’Brien got some decent prices for miscellaneous lots. For example, an Edward Vom Hofe fishing reel sold for $2645 (est. $100/200). Half-whale carvings by Clark Voorhees, circa 1960, sold for $2185, $2990, $3105, and $2875. More than 50 lots of decoys sold for $600 or less. As with all other markets these days, it is the story of the best and the rest.
For more information, contact Copley Fine Art Auctions at (617) 536-0030, or visit (www.copleyart.com).
This early (circa 1910) redhead drake by A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, sold for $43,125 (est. $20,000/40,000). It has raised and crossed primary feathers, tail carving, glass eyes, blended paint, and carved bill detail. The slightly oversize decoy, 16" long x 7" wide, has pencil-written species identification and a price of $24 on its bottom.
This exceedingly rare tern decoy by Obediah Verity (1813-1901) of Seaford, Long Island, New York, circa 1880, sold for $21,850 (est. $10,000/20,000), despite its surface having remnants of streaky white paint. According to the catalog notes, the late 19th century brought about a change in millinery fashion. A hat decorated with feathers, wings, or at times an entire bird was the height of style, and the bounty on terns was $10 per 100 feather pelts. The catalog quoted Henry Fleckenstein, who wrote in Shore Bird Decoys (1980), “Only one rig of twelve [terns is] known to have been made by Obediah Verity.”
This rare pair of hollow-carved Illinois River pintail decoys was attributed to Charles S. Schoenheider Sr. (1854-1944) of Peoria, Illinois, circa 1900. There are only two Schoenheider pintail hens known, and the hen shown here is one of them. These have delicately carved heads with glass eyes and carved bill detail. The drake has combed paint on the entirety of its back. The pair’s condition was considered good; they are in original paint with remnants of varnish and even gunning wear and with touchup to a tight crack in the drake’s head and the hen’s bill tip. They sold for $54,625 (est. $25,000/35,000).
This is a broadbill drake by the Ward brothers—Lemuel T. (1896-1983) and Stephen (1895-1976) of Crisfield, Maryland. The 1936 decoy is an extremely rare pinch-breast greater scaup drake with a turned head, glass eyes, detailed bill carving, stippled paint, and lined primary feather detail. While the Ward brothers are known to have made pinch-breast canvasbacks and several pintails, this is one of the rarest Ward pinch-breast forms of all. O’Brien considered it one of their finest broadbills known. The bottom is signed “Lem Ward, Crisfield, MD 1936” and also bears William Purnell Jr.’s “W.H.P. Jr.” brand. With original paint with minimal wear and a tight original age line down the back and along the bottom, it sold for $51,750 (est. $30,000/50,000).
This 1900 bluebill drake with a turned head and turned tail by Ira D. Hudson (1876-1949) of Chincoteague, Virginia, shows heavy wear to its original paint because it was a working decoy. The underside has “5-5” stamped into the lead weight and hand painted below the weight. These numbers are believed to be the identification marks of Carter Smith (1898-1971), “the first Southern decoy collector.” It sold for $48,875 (est. $50,000/70,000).
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest