Prices for Decoys Are Rising
By HELAINE FENDELMAN and JOE ROSSON
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.
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
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
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 (www.rjgantiques.com), 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
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.