A Timeline Tale of Factory
Blue-Winged Teal Decoys
By John Ockerbloom
All photos courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted. Click on any image to enlarge it.
This article offers an analysis of the
different types and styles of factory blue-winged teal decoys
over time. In writing it, I have assumed that the reader has
a basic working knowledge of decoys, the species, and the makers.
I do not attempt to provide a comprehensive review of the different
blue-winged teal decoy makers as a number of excellent books
and articles already exist (see References at end). Instead,
my goal is to examine how the style of blue-winged teal decoys
has changed over time.
A trio of standard Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal Drakes shows a slight pattern of change and evoluation in style.
I have chosen to focus on six
makers -- Peterson, Dodge, Mason, Pratt, Hays and Evans -- whose
decoys overlap closely in style and time period. An examination
of these makers' decoys enables us to study the development of
decoys over the "golden years" of factory production from roughly
1880 to 1930. Although referred to as "factory" products, some
of these early decoys are essentially handmade.
|Peterson Decoy Ducks
||1873-1884 sometimes G. Peterson
|Dodge Decoy Co.
||1883-1894 bought Peterson
|Mason Decoy Co.
|Wm. E. Pratt Mfg.
||1924-1936 bought Mason
|J.M. Hays Wood Pr.
||Jefferson City, MO
|W. Evans Decoy Co.
The Peterson Blue-Winged Teal
Hen (front) shows some of the constrast in carving that helps
to differentiate it from the early Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged
Teal Hen in the rear.
Evans "Swift" Rig Pair
of Blue-Winged Teals, c. 1928-1934. Formerly in the collection
of Gary Lyon. With maker's marks.
Because the blue-winged teal was a regionally hunted bird, the number of blue-winged teal decoys produced is not as great as for some of the other decoy species. Nevertheless, the analytic process undertaken in this review of blue-winged teal decoys can be duplicated for other duck species.
Mason Company Decoys
Any review of the early (pre-1930) factory decoy must include a sampling of the various styles and grades produced at the Mason Company. This series of illustrations shows the transitional variations of the Mason Premier blue-winged teal drake.
Mason Hollow Premier Drake, c. 1898-1902.
This style decoy is considered by many to be among the earliest
produced by Mason with a larger flat bottom, higher neck
shelf, and more developed head carving and throat crop area.
All of Mason's pre-1903 decoys were handcarved, and most
featured a sloping chest with heavy body spotting. Photo
courtesy Russ Goldberger, RJG Antiques.
Mason Premier, c. 1903-1910. Another
early version of the Mason Premier. Selected features such
as the upturned tail, heavy bill carving, exaggerated head,
and significant chest and body paint spotting indicate it
may have been a special-order bird. This example is very
similar to the Mason catalog illustration of this decoy.
Over the years a number of decoys from the same rig have
been uncovered (Cheever, p. 31).
Mason Premier, c. 1908-1915. This Mason Premier
exhibits the "snakey" head type. There are significant
variations within this style. The body is beginning to now
take a standard form, but the bill style and body paint still
reflect its early manufacture.
The "double-blue" back paint highlights were somewhat
common in the earlier decoys. Near the end of the factory's
production era, they all but disappeared. Formerly in the collection
of Gary Lyon.
Mason Premier Blue-Winged Teal Drake
and Hen, c. 1915-25. These are believed to be the last of
the Mason production runs. Characteristics include the more
standard head, slightly shorter bill, slightly larger body
size, less artistic flair to the painting, larger and fewer
loops in rear feathering, and chest spotting now significantly
reduced in number. Drake formerly in the collection of John
Hillman. Hen formerly in the collection of Gary Lyon.
Mason catalog image, photo used 1903-1920.
Peterson Drake, c. 1875-1882. An example of
one of tne earliest factory-made decoys, this decoy exhibits
some of the characteristics in style that other makers would
mimic for years to come. Formerly in the collection of Shirley & John
Mason Premier Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c. 1903-1910.
Notice the atypical heavier bill carving on what might be a
special-order bird. This view clearly shows the common carving
characteristics for the Premier bill: carved lines and tip
notched above the rear bill, with nostril lines.
Mason Premier Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c. 1905-1915.
This is a more commonly seen early snakey- head, with slightly
extended bill. Though not visible from this angle, the tip
of the bill carving is present. Note the quality of the dark
glasseye. Formerly in the collection of Gary Lyon.
Mason Challenge Blue-Winged Teal Drake. The majority
of decoys had their glass eyes added as a last phase, after
the head had already been painted. In some, the eye seating
glaze can still be seen. Many collectors evaluate the eye seating
area first when considering repainting. Formerly in the collection
of Joe French.
Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c.1910.This example
is carved in its simplest form.The glazed eye filler can
be seen.The bill has been shortened and is stouter. The
blue-winged teal drake decoy normally has a slightly darkened
yellow glass eye. The earlier and higher- grade decoys appear
to use a higher-grade eye. A common trait to the later standard
grade glasseye Mason decoy is a washing out/fading of the
eye's rear coloring.
Early Mason Tackeye Blue-Winged Teal Hen,
c. 1910-1915.In the early years, tackeyes were added to standard
Late Mason Tackeye Blue-Winged Teal Hen, c.
1915-1924. Starting in this period, separate body forms and
heads were produced for Tackeye and Painted Eye series.
Mason Painted Eye Blue-Winged Teal Drake,
c. 1915-1924.Painted Eye heads can either have a recessed eye
filled with glaze or it is smooth and not pre-drilled.
Peterson Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c.
1873-1884. Note the wing paint style, bill carving, pointed
chest and body spotting. Formerly in the collection of Shirley & John
Dodge Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c. 1884-1894.
Dodge bought Peterson in 1884. Dodge decoys tended to have
sloping/boat sides and flat bottoms, verses the rounded sides
of the Peterson. Photo courtesy of Guyette & Schmidt Inc.
Late Mason Blue-Winged Teal Tackeyes, c.1915-1924.
Hen formerly the collection of Joe French. Drake formerly in
the collection of Harvey Pitt.
Late Mason Painted Eye Rig Pair, c 1915-1924.
New body forms were later introduced for both the tackeye and
the painted eye. Pair formerly in the collection of Clarine & Bud
Pratt Blue-Winged Teal Pair, c. 1928-1932.
Inexpensively manufactured production-line decoys. The back
paint appears to be spray painted, with the body spotting now
rare and random at best.
Pratt "Premier" Blue-Winged Teal,
c. 1930-35. Pratt bought Mason's rights in 1924 and produced
similar, but cheaper, mock-ups of the various grades.
Standard Pratt Blue-Winged Teal Hen, c. 1928-1932.
See prior photo as well. Pratt decoy eyes were not normally
set in glazing like the Mason factory eyes.
Pratt "Premier" Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c. 1928-1932. See prior photo as well. The majority of Pratt decoy eyes tended to protrude slightly from the head, not always being recessed.
The Hays Decoy Company Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal
Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties a new collector faces is learning to differentiate between the glasseye standard grade
decoys made by Mason and those made by Hays. Subtle differences
between the two makers can confuse new and old collectors alike.
The fact that some early reference books show Hays decoys as Mason
products further contributes to the confusion. "If it's in the
book, it must be right" is not always correct.
J. M. Hays Wood Products Company, Jefferson City, Missouri, marketed
both Grand Prix (premier) decoys with both hollow and solid bodies
and solid-body Superior grade decoys. I have observed two styles
of Hays body carvings in use with the blue-winged teal, and both
have been referenced in various sources as being of the Superior
Early reference books the make no mention
of the Hays factory or its decoys (see Cheever, Mason Decoys,
and Delph, Factory Decoys) despite illustrating what I believe
are Hays standard grade glasseye blue-wing teal decoys labeled
as Mason products (see Cheever, pp. 34-35; Delph, pp. 94, lower
left photos; p. 99, lower photo). In fact, the Hays blue-winged
teal drake illustrated here as part of a rig pair is the exact
same bird illustrated in the group assortment photo in Delph's
factory book (p .99). Delph himself included the Hays bird together
with the Masons. Only with the publication in 1981 of Haid's Decoys of the Mississippi Flyway and Fleckenstein's American
Factory Decoys was the Hays decoy factory formally recognized.
This nearly mint rig pair of Hays Blue-Winged Teals, c. 1921-1925, shows the typical lengthened tails, high and clean brown feather coloring, narrower neck and the sparser body spotting. Formerly in the collection of Roger Ludwig.
Two styles of Hays Blue-Winged Teals
(c. 1921-1925) are common. The main differences are in the
tail styles and the level of back feather sponging. The rear
decoy is nearly the same size as the one in front.
Mason Standard Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal (rear) and Hays Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal (front). Due to their brief production run Hays decoys are actually rarer than their counterparts in the Mason line.
How to Tell the Difference
In general, the Mason Standard Glasseye
is more refined and the paint is of higher quality than the Hays
decoy. However, in the last years of Mason decoy production,
the stylistic similarities between the two narrow.
- Overall, the Hays decoys have simpler
paint lines. It almost appears that the back brown feather
color is sprayed onto the body utilizing a stencil. This brown
body paint also rides higher on the body and is recessed slightly
back from the neck on the Hays. Over time, the brown body painting
on Mason glasseye decoys develops similar characteristics.
The paint moves higher and back further on the bird toward
the end of the Mason production run. See the photo at the beginning
of the article of the trio of Mason glasseyes.
- The Hays lower body spotting is much more sparsely
applied. Once again, this stylistic trend appears in later
Mason decoys. The earliest Mason birds have very prolific body
spotting, but in the final production years, the spotting is
- The Mason decoy shows back feather
loop painting, whereas the Hays is sponge painted.
- The narrower head, the longer tail, and
the longer, skinnier neck are also characteristics of the Hays
decoy. Overall the Hays is a slightly longer decoy.
Evans Pair of Blue-Winged Teals, c. 1928-1934. With owner's
brand and maker's marks. Other than some Masons being marked
with model names (e.g., Challenge), only Evans's decoys were
marked with the maker's full name when sold direct. Pratt decoys
sometimes had labels attached.
The bottom of this Premier Pratt Blue-Winged Teal Drake (c. 1928-1936) shows the original label and weight/tie strap.
This tendency for Mason decoys to take on
the characteristics of Hays decoys as time goes by is probably
due to the fact that the Mason factory was turning out its final
decoys (the factory closed in 1924) just as Hays was beginning
production (started 1921 and closed 1925), and that Hays was
attempting to mimic the construction and style of the current Mason standard
Early Mason Premier Blue-Winged Teal Drake, c. 1904-1910. Back-feather loops.
Later Mason Premier Blue-Winged Teal Hen, c. 1919-1924. Back feathering.
Evans Blue-Winged Teal Drake,
c. 1928-1934. Back feather scratch paint.
Early Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal,
c. 1903-1910. Back feather loops.
Later Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal, c. 1915-1924. Back feathering.
Hays Blue-Winged Teal, c. 1921-1925. Back feather sponge paint.
AUTHOR NOTE: I wish to thank the following individuals for their shared thoughts and support over the recent years: Ken DeLong, John Freimuth, Russ J. Goldberger and Loy Harrell, Jr.
An original set of three rig mates, early Mason Glasseye Blue-Winged Teal, branded "EH," c. 1905-1910. This style Mason is most often confused with decoys by Peterson. Although the back feather painting on both the Mason and Peterson is nearly the same, other factors highlight the differences. Peterson decoys have a more refined bill and sharper, protruding chest; are wider in the shoulders; and exhibit less extensive body spotting. Sometimes a side-by-side comparison is required. Decoys formerly in the collection of Clarine & Bud Menzel.