Collecting waterfowl decoys models of birds used to attract real-life wildfowl from out of the skies and under the barrel of a gun used to be the sole preserve of enthusiastic hunters. Now, these "artfully carved and painted wooden pretenders" are luring in a new breed of collector, says Simon de Burton in the Financial Times' How To Spend It magazine: folk-art fans and interior designers.
Most collectors starting out can pick up specimens in the hundreds as opposed to the thousands of pounds. But the sky's the limit for particularly sought-after decoys, such as the black duck in the collection of Alan Heid, an Ohio-based former paper-industry executive.
Guyette & Deeter in Maryland is the go-to auction house for decoy collectors. In 2000 it teamed up with Sotheby's to set an auction record for a Canada goose by Crowell, which sold for $684,500. The rest of the sale, taken from the collection of the late Dr James McCleery, fetched almost $11m. Then the 2008 financial crisis hit and the market "went down a lot", notes Gary Guyette. Now prices are starting to rise again, "and we're seeing many new collectors in the upper-price range". Last year, a curlew by Thomas Gelston brought in $258,750.
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Baldan Decoys, located in Campolongo Maggiore, a village in the heart of a Venetian lagoon, is selling a mid-1970s Eurasian teal for €8,540, and an early 1960s mallard for €1,830. Owner Stefano Baldan, a skilled carver in his own right, counts former Italian football star Roberto Baggio among his customers.
Both the teal and the mallard were made by Italy's most famous carver, Giovanni Simoncin, who died last year aged 95. Simoncin used to make decoys for Ernest Hemingway, when the American went hunting in the Venetian lagoon. For collectors new to the hunt for waterfowl decoys, "taking the lead from a Nobel Prize-winning author would surely be a good place to start", says de Burton.
Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.
Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.
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