Rare 19th-Century Decoys Come to Auction With Copley
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, several social and ecological trends converged to create a thriving market for waterfowl. Improvements to firearms, a rapidly rising population due to immigration, and the expansion of railroads helped transform bird hunting from a casual sport to a viable business, according to decoy collector and expert John V. Quarstein. Hunters flocked to the Chesapeake Bay region, following the migratory patterns of ducks, swans, and geese. These hunters developed decoys to attract waterfowl and bring them within shooting range. Once viewed as practical tools, these 19th-century decoys are now treasured works of American folk art.
The upcoming Winter Sale 2023 from Copley Fine Art Auctions, which will be held at 10:00 AM EST on February 24, 2023, features several extremely rare 19th-century decoys. Many will come to the market for the first time. Here are some of the top lots.
Running Curlew Decoy by Nathan F. Cobb Jr.
Leading the upcoming auction is a 19th-century curlew decoy by Nathan Cobb Jr. (lot #163; estimate: USD 80,000 – $120,000). The Cobb family settled off the coast of Virginia in the 1830s, bringing with them distinctive Massachusetts decoy designs. They operated a hunting resort and club on Cobb Island. The family’s son, Nathan Cobb Jr., carved dynamic, refined decoys for the family and the resort patrons. He used salvaged wood from shipwrecks and glass eyes imported from Germany to make his decoys. The available curlew features a rounded, slightly cocked head and a thin neck. It has the Cobb family’s distinct tail cut and original paint.
Pintail Drake Decoy by Andrew A. Tull
Another 19th-century decoy available in the upcoming auction is a Delaware River pintail drake carved by Andrew A. Tull (lot #72; estimate: $40,000 – $60,000). It dates back to 1856 or prior, which the auction house states is one of the earliest Philadelphia decoys known to exist. It comes to the auction block for the first time after remaining in a family collection for decades. Little is known about its carver, Andrew A. Tull. He was a pattern designer based in Philadelphia, and he served in the United States Navy during the Civil War.
This pintail drake decoy features a sharply pointed tail and detailed bill carving. Two small lead weights can be found on the bottom of the hollow decoy. It contains design elements distinct to the Philadelphia region, setting Tull’s decoys apart from those made by carvers in Massachusetts or Delaware.
Green-Winged Teal Decoy by Chase Littlejohn
From the California coast comes a green-tailed teal 19th-century decoy by fabled hunter, naturalist, and taxidermist Chase Littlejohn (lot #151; estimate: $15,000 – $20,000). He is recognized as one of the earliest California decoy carvers. The available decoy was produced around 1885. Littlejohn was a world traveler and hunter who was particularly skilled in depicting the anatomy of the birds he carved. The available duck is shown preening while resting its head on the right wing. It features detailed feathering with original paint.
In addition to these 19th-century decoys, the Winter Sale 2023 will include exceptional examples from the 20th century by the Ward brothers, Chauncey “Chance” Wheeler, and George William McLellan. Collectors can also consider assorted works sporting art from artists such as Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and Julie Jeppsen.
Live bidding begins at 10:00 AM EST on February 24, 2023. Visit Bidsquare to browse the complete catalog and register to bid.
Find more coverage of this event on Auction Daily.
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