Prices for Decoys Are Rising

Scripps Howard News Service
July 16, 2007

Dear Helaine and Joe: I purchased this pair of decoys 40 years ago and am wondering if they are anything special. Each decoy is stamped on the base "G. Olson" and a tape on the bottom of the male decoy is printed "Pratt Bodies, Gundlefinger, Painting 1930's #132." Please provide any information you may have including value. Thank you, L. K., Maquoketa, Iowa.

Dear L. K.:

Exploring the value of old decoys is a good idea because some of them can be very valuable. In fact, a world record price was set earlier this year when a merganser decoy carved by Lothrop Holmes of Kingston, Mass., sold for $856,000 at Christie's in New York City.

Duck decoys are separated into a variety of categories such as working decoys, decoys that are only for decoration or show, decoys that are factory made, and decoys that were carved by an individual artist. The world record price mentioned above was for a working decoy (one that was meant to be used in the field by a hunter) that was made by an individual folk artist. The example owned by L. K. is a factory-made "working" decoy.

The world record price for a factory-made decoy is reportedly $354,000 for a drake decoy manufactured by the Mason Decoy Factory of Detroit, which was in business from 1896 to 1924.

This high-priced duck was one of Mason's premier grade decoys and originally sold for just $1.

Decoys -- particularly duck or water fowl decoys -- have been around for a long time. Some Native American decoys made from reeds are more than 1,000 years old. In Western society, a decoy was originally a small pond equipped with a cone shaped wicker tunnel. When the ducks settled, a dog herded them into the trap so they could be caught and taken to market without having all that pesky bird shot in their bodies that had to be picked out before consumption.

This pair of working mallard decoys was made by the Guttelfinger Decoy Company of Jefferson City, Mo, which was one of three such decoy companies in that city. This pair is circa 1930, and is in Guttelfinger's "Grand Prix" or best model grade.

Guttelfinger designs and paint patterns are largely based on decoys made by the aforementioned Mason Decoy Co. but they are somewhat less valuable than ones made by Mason. Value depends on the condition of the bird's body and the originality of the paint job.

Duck decoys generally had a very rough life. Few survived unscathed, and the pair in today's question appears not to have their original paint.

An example that has had its head blown off in a hunting accident, had its body repeatedly peppered with lead shot, or had much of its paint rubbed off while being carried around in a sack has a much-reduced value. According to a leading specialist in the field, Russ Goldberger (, this pair of decoys should be valued for insurance replacement purposes in the $1,000 to $1,200 range.

It should be noted that at the current time, prices for the best decoys of every variety (geese, shore birds, etc.) appear to be going up significantly.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.