I don’t know how much you paid for your antique duck decoy, but you’re about to be frazzled by how much people have paid for them in the past.
These aren’t out-of-the-packaging duck decoys (and some are not even decoy ducks), but they all have one thing in common: they cost a ton of money.
Over the last few decades, we’ve seen some of the most expensive duck decoys ever sold, and the details are quite interesting.
Vintage duck decoys can be ridiculously expensive. Does this make them more usable or viable than inexpensive, brand-new models?
Not necessarily, but you have to understand that black duck hunting is a pastime. It’s a rite of passage for a lot of young men.
You incorporate it into your life, and other eccentric duck hunters with deep pockets will stop at nothing to claim some of the most coveted factory-made decoys in history.
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of expensive wooden decoys, we got you covered:
- 1 1. The Crowell Bundle
- 2 2. Red-Breasted Merganser Hen Carving, by Lothrop Holmes
- 3 3. The Eider Drake Decoy On Monhegan Island
- 4 4. Unattributed Slot Neck Canada Goose Decoy
- 5 5. The Wilson Merganser Drake Duck Decoy
- 6 6. The Lincoln Hisser
- 7 7. Graves Mallards
- 8 8. The Blair Mallard
- 9 9. Thomas Chambers Simple Wood Duck
- 10 10. Cobb Brant Mallard
- 11 11. Bernie Madoff’s Decoy
1. The Crowell Bundle
I’m calling it this because two decoys were sold together for a whopping $1,130,000.
On record, this is the most expensive decoy purchase to date, but it comes with some interesting and unique details.
If you didn’t know, A. Elmer Crowell was a Massachusetts native, who had an eye for carving.
Some people pick up carving vintage or whittling as a hobby, but this man did it so excessively that his work is still revered over a century later.
He began carving vintage and selling his decoys in 1912, up until his passing in 1952, and as we all know, dead artists can make a ton of money.
And that’s what it was: art. Crowell put so much detail into these decoys, that they were picked up by the Fine Arts of Boston (though the timeline is unclear).
They held onto these until their value escalated. In 2007, his pintail drake and Canada goose decoys sold as a bundle.
We know the amount, and the date, but the buyer went completely undisclosed.
The reason these were so expensive is that they were some of Crowell’s first documented decoys.
They were carved sometime around 1915-1917, shortly after he began carving and have held their aesthetics and shape for over a century.
It’s believed that this is because America’s history continues to go on and on. Even though we’re a relatively young country, our rich heritage becomes valuable at an accelerated rate.
It’s like having a piece of history, from your favorite thing, sitting right on a shelf somewhere.
We’re giving Crowell his dues here, and while he isn’t included further down the list since we’ve already mentioned him, it’s important to state that this 1.13 million dollar purchase for two decoys was actually part of a large sale of 31 Crowell decoys, which in total ended up costing about $7,500,000.
2. Red-Breasted Merganser Hen Carving, by Lothrop Holmes
Crowell has been the only one to fetch over a million for a decoy purchase, but that was a pair even then.
An inseparable pair, but more than just a single decoy.
The individual most expensive decoy actually belongs to Lothrop Holmes, but since it was still purchased for a lower denomination, it comes in at number two.
This wooden hen sold for an insane $856,000 and held a record as the most expensive decoy sale for quite some time.
Much like Crowell, Lothrop Holmes actually came from Massachusetts as well, where duck hunting was a common sport.
Lothrop didn’t start out with decoys; it was more of a side hobby that later turned into a career.
Holmes spent his time as a ship’s carpenter for years, which allowed him to grow his proficiency in woodworking.
I’m not mentioning the same creators over and over again, so for the sake of transparency, it’s also important to note that Lothrop’s Ruddy Turnstone sold for $470,000 back in 2000.
3. The Eider Drake Decoy On Monhegan Island
We’re still in New England guys, but this time we’re in Maine.
There’s a ton of mystery shrouding The Eider Drake because even to this day, I can’t credit the original manufacturer.
Truth is, nobody has a definitive answer on that, and we likely never will.
It’s a fetching decoy, but nothing like Crowell or Holmes could make, yet it still sold for a hefty price tag of $767,000 back in 2014. You may recognize it as being the center of the James McCleery collection until it was eventually sold.
Recent research points to a man by the name of Eben Weed being the original creator of this decoy, but some of the evidence is inconclusive.
4. Unattributed Slot Neck Canada Goose Decoy
Because most duck decoys of merit were made in the 1830s to the 1880s, documentation (especially for a hobby) was largely unavailable.
Much like The Eider Drake, this remains unattributed but without potential leads as well, really leaving us all in the dark.
This brought in $553,600 back in 2007 when it was sold by Guyette, Schmidt, and Deeter.
It’s fetching, and for its time, it shows a great level of attention to detail with the colors and shades.
5. The Wilson Merganser Drake Duck Decoy
Gus Wilson may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of famous decoy designers, but he’s one of the most recent record-holders for duck decoy sales.
This decoy was purchased in 2017, whereas most of the others on this list were bought about a decade ago or longer.
Wilson’s decoy pulled in $330,000, partially because he didn’t make a lot of decoys.
Of the ones that he did make that we’re aware of, their beaks weren’t the best.
Many of them snapped off and were replaced, but this one hit such a high price point because the original beak is still completely intact.
6. The Lincoln Hisser
When it comes to expensive duck decoys, Joe Lincoln is a name that often comes up. He made one of the most realistic goose decoys out there, showing a Canada goose in mid-motion that really makes it look like they’re scurrying along the water while the decoy bobs.
It was the highest ticket item at an $800,000 auction, bringing in $299,000 individually, which greatly surpassed the average for the dozens of other items in the auction.
Joe Lincoln painted decoys well into his 70s and remains an underdog in the decoy world.
7. Graves Mallards
It’s nothing compared to some of these world-famous decoys, but the Graves Mallards brought in $218,500 at another G&S auction.
It was one of the largest amounts of money they made at their 2006 auction.
Bert Graves was a more recent carver than Crowell or Holmes because he made his last decoy in 1956.
For once, we’re not in New England with this origin story, either; Bert is actually from Peoria, IL, and has set the scene for high-quality duck decoys ever since.
8. The Blair Mallard
John Blair was another small-timer in the decoy world, but his ability to carve a fantastic mallard earned him a top spot in the record books.
This simple mallard has an excellent definition, which is part of the reason that it fetched $214,000 and is considered one of the most valuable decoys.
Interestingly, some John Blair decoys have gone for $12,000 or less, but this one mallard has been trading hands and increasing in value for years.
John Blair was a PA native and spent most of his time outdoors when he wasn’t carving duck decoys.
9. Thomas Chambers Simple Wood Duck
It’s simply called a wood duck, but this Thomas Chambers decoy sold for a decent price at $187,000 back in 2004.
Chambers is the only one on this list who wasn’t American-born. Instead, he hailed from Ontario, Canada.
Like many others on this list, he lived until the 1940s but didn’t enjoy much of his work being sold.
To date, he’s reined in close to seven figures from beyond the grave in duck decoy auction sales.
10. Cobb Brant Mallard
Quite simply put, Cobb Brant was one of the oldest duck decoy crafters out there, being born in 1825, but his work still didn’t gain quite the necessary amount of recognition that his peers did.
Still, he brought in $168,000 almost a century later for this single duck decoy.
There’s not a ton of information available on Brant. Though much of his earlier years aren’t recorded, he lived a simple life.
11. Bernie Madoff’s Decoy
The guy we all know and hate. Bernie Madoff might just go down as this century’s biggest American villain, but his decoy fetched a rather handsome amount of money during the auctioning of his estate.
While it’s nothing compared to Crowell, Madoff’s decoy sold $4,750 at auction.
However, as these terms are often interchangeable, it’s important to note that this decoy was actually a structure, not just a carving or decoy duck.