A spectacular and rare sicklebill curlew decoy made in Duxbury, Mass., by a craftsman whose identity is a matter of debate among veteran collectors, soared to $111,550 at an auction held July 24-25 by Decoys Unlimited, Inc., based in Barnstable, Mass. The sale was conducted at the Cape Codder Resort & Hotel in Hyannis, Mass., on Cape Cod.
The sicklebill curlew was described by Dr. George Ross Starr, in his book Decoys of the Atlantic Flyway, as “the finest example of a sicklebill decoy in my collection” and “the kind of a decoy a collector dreams about.” He called it “a beautifully proportioned piece of work.” It’s rare in part because sicklebill curlews are scarce in New England and therefore so are their decoys.
It was by far the top lot in an auction that saw just under 1,000 decoys change hands. About 400 people attended in person (121 were registered bidders), plus there were 57 absentee bidders and 90 phone bidders (who together bid on 639 lots). Internet bidding (via Artfact.com) had 153 registered bidders. All of these numbers were new records for Decoys Unlimited, Inc.
“The sale went well above our expectations despite a global economy that is still a bit anemic,” said Ted Harmon of Decoys Unlimited, Inc. “But the market for quality decoys is strong and I see it remaining that way for some time. The less expensive decoys were a bit off, but not as far off as they were last year.” The auction, he added, grossed more than $1.2 million.
Headlining the sale was the private collection of the late Joseph Bard “Joe” French, plus other quality consignments from across North America. Mr. French (1919-2009) was a pioneer in the hobby who collected his first decoy in 1954 and took delivery of his last decoy just two days before his passing. He also wrote extensively on the subject and produced decoy videos.