Decoys, Sporting Art & Trade Figures Combine To Exceed $3 Million For Guyette & Deeter

Auction Action In St Michaels, Md.

ST MICHAELS, MD. – The Guyette & Deeter sale on July 29 and 30 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, as one would expect, included decoys – both fish and fowl – miniatures and decorative carvings, sporting paintings and duck calls, but you might not have expected to see the folk art offerings or the Nantucket baskets. More than 70 lots sold for more than $10,000 each. Some of the highlights of the decoy selection were Virginia decoys, including a swimming brant by Nathan Cobb Jr, which was the star of the sale and the highest price for a decoy achieved this year, realizing $252,000.

A Thomas Brooks cigar store trade figure topped the folk art selection, finishing at $84,000. Many of the decoys in the sale would have fit well in folk art collections. Contemporary carvings included works by Frank Finney, William Gibian, Mark McNair and others. Sporting art included works by Edmund Henry Osthaus, with his oil painting of three setters leading the category at $69,000. There were works by Aiden Lasselle Ripley and others, while the numerous fish decoys included examples by Oscar Peterson and his contemporaries. Collectors had plenty from which to choose: more than 35 Crowell carvings, more than 60 fish decoys, more than 90 carvings from Virginia carvers – vintage and contemporary – almost 25 plovers, 25 Ward Brothers carvings, 17 Mason decoys, five swans, 30 paintings, three cigar store trade figures; the list could go on.

The live sale was conducted at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, with previews taking place at the nearby Guyette and Deeter office. Internet bidding was available on four platforms, and both absentee and phone bids were processed. The indexed, 350-page catalog is a reference work worth owning. It has numerous biographies of carvers, comments on regional decoys and several vintage photos of carvers, market gunners and sportsmen. Prior to starting the second day of the sale, Jon Deeter commented on the catalog, “We believe strongly in the importance of the catalog. An educated decoy collector is more likely to stay engaged longer.” Further, catalog descriptions are fully guaranteed. Fewer than a dozen lots of nearly 600 in the sale were passed.

Most of the large selection of carvings by Virginia makers were sold on the first day and did well, including the highest priced decoy in the sale. Nathan Cobb Jr, who died in 1905, was a third-generation carver who lived on Cobb Island, off the Virginia coast where his family also operated a hotel. Appreciation for the quality and collectability of his work began with the publication of the first book on decoy collecting, Joel Barber’s 1934 Wild Fowl Decoys, and respect for his work remains high today. He worked with “found” materials, wood washed ashore on the island, and he used natural roots and branches for heads and necks. Brants were a desirable species, both for sport and the dinner table. His hollow swimming brant, dating to the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century sold for $252,000. It had a carved E on the base, indicating that it was from the rig of Elkanah Cobb, Nathan’s son. The decoy remained in the Cobb family until Guyette and Schmidt sold it in 2004. A hollow carved black duck by the same maker earned $15,600. It had cost a previous owner $1,000 in 1976.

Other Virginia decoys included a rare pintail drake with relief wingtip carving by Dave “Umbrella” Watson, which sold for $70,800, one of the highest prices of the sale. The nickname stems from the fact that Watson always carried an umbrella. There were also distinctive shorebird decoys from Virginia. Most sought-after was a folky, large and plump curlew made by Eli Doughty, Hog Island, Va., which earned $56,400. Another Virginia shorebird, a late Nineteenth Century running plover by Robert Andrews, Smith Island, Va., realized $22,800.

Shorebirds, in general, brought strong prices. In addition to those mentioned above, an outstanding golden plover from the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century by an unknown Nantucket carver brought one of the sale’s higher prices, $75,000. It was hollow-carved and displayed split tail carving and glass eyes. A circa 1900 black-bellied plover in emerging plumage by John Dilley, Quogue, Long Island, N.Y., reached $36,000. Another outstanding, eye-catching Long Island decoy by Captain Al Ketchem, perhaps not truly a shorebird, was a large Nineteenth Century blue heron, which brought $37,200. It had a three-piece body, long neck and glass eyes.

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Collectors actively bid for a selection of decoys by Illinois carvers. A hollow-carved blue wing teal drake with a slightly turned head by Charles Perdew sold for $25,800. A hollow-carved mallard drake by the same maker earned $14,400. A rig-mate pair of hollow-carved mallards by Bert Graves reached $24,000, and a pintail drake by the same carver earned $4,200.

The sale started off with a selection of Twentieth Century decorative carvings, including a ruffed grouse by the Ward Brothers of Crisfield, Md. With raised and fanned wings, it was signed and dated 1969. Only five are believed to have been made, and this one sold for $22,800. Other Ward Brothers decorative examples included a preening pintail drake with relief carved wings and tucked head, which realized $8,400 A preening blue wing teal by Jim Schmiedlin, Bradford Woods, Penn., earned $24,000. A hollow-carved Fulvous tree duck by the same maker sold for $6,000. There were several outstanding carvings by William Gibian, a Virginia carver born in 1946. A pair of hollow-carved pintails with raised wings brought $6,000, and a wing-up preening lapwing plover, with inset metal feathers, brought $4,500. His passenger pigeon with raised wing tips and relief feather carving sold for $1,560.

The second day included 30 carvings and paintings by Frank Finney, Cape Charles, Va., who was born in 1947. A full-sized owl, 24 inches tall, with field mouse gripped in its talons, sold for $16,800. A large oil painting by Finney, one of three in the sale, depicting a hunting scene with a sinkbox and a variety of wildfowl brought $20,400, more than triple the estimate.

Other sporting art was topped by an oil on canvas by Edmund Henry Osthaus (1858-1928). It was the subject of a lengthy bidding contest between two determined phone bidders. Osthaus was one of the finest painters of dogs in the United States, with works in several museums. Selling for $69,600 was his painting of three setters in a wooded landscape. His watercolor of a setter named “Jeff” brought $15,600. A watercolor by another popular sporting artist, Aiden Lassell Ripley (1896-1969), “Geese at Currituck” depicting goose hunting at Currituck, N.C., realized $45,000.

Guyette & Deeter’s last few sales have included extensive offerings of fish decoys and this sale did as well. Oscar Peterson of Cadillac, Mich., working in the second quarter of the Twentieth Century, is the acknowledged master of fish carvings. In addition to decoys, he also produced decorative plaques, and one of these, with a bluegill over 24 inches long on a 32-inch background, reached $51,000. From time to time, he also carved other animals, and an unusual polliwog, one of only four he is known to have made, earned $28,800. As Peterson’s story is told, he often traded his carvings for whiskey at a bar in his hometown.

A recent Guyette & Deeter sale included a cigar store trade figure and it did well. This sale included three from the collection of Mark Goldman, who began collecting in 1967 and owns more than 100 tobacco trade figures. Additional carvings from his collection will be sold in future sales. A figure of a Native American chief attributed to Thomas Brooks, New York City, made in the third-quarter Nineteenth Century, realized $84,000. One hand, holding seven cigars, was extended from the body, and the other hand held a percussion rifle. The chief wore a large feather headdress. The surface was restored and there were minor condition issues. A 49-inch Native American maiden from the same collection, this one attributed to Samuel Robb, brought $39,000. She wore a headdress and held a sheaf of tobacco leaves.

The day after the sale, Jon Deeter said, “It really worked well. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is right on the water, so folks attending the sale could enjoy our complimentary lunch on the dock and they could take a break from the auction, enjoy the museum, enjoy the setting and chat with friends old and new. The sale grossed more than $3.3 million, just a bit short of our high estimate, included the highest price for decoy sold so far this year and we had a great turnout. It’s turning out to be a good year for us. So far, our cataloged sales have grossed more than $6.75 million and our weekly online decoy sales are on track to gross around $2 million for the year. We’re looking forward to the first sale in February of our new firearms division. We’ll be specializing in sporting arms, mostly double barrel and over/under shotguns. There won’t be any military-type weapons. Josh Lowenstein will be heading that division. He’s well known in the field, and we expect the February sale will have some great stuff. I’m really pleased with the way things are going this year and I’m looking forward to next year.”

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Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, or 410-745-0485.

P7280058 preview party

The preview party the evening before the sale was well attended.

146 dilley plover

Long Island’s John Dilley made this black bellied plover about 1900. With original paint, it sold for $36,000.

160 heron

Blue herons are large and impressive decoys and they aren’t common. This Nineteenth Century working example by Captain Al Ketchem realized $37,200.

16 ward grouse

The Ward Brothers of Crisfield, Md., carved both working decoys and decoratives. Only five decorative ruffed grouse like this one were made. Standing on a burl base, it bore a personalized inscription from Lem Ward and sold for $22,800.

21 brant

The highest priced decoy in the sale, selling for $252,000, was this brant made by Nathan Cobb Jr. It’s shown in a swimming pose and has an inlet neck and a split tail.

213  polliwog

Although best known for his fish carvings, Oscar Peterson also occasionally carved other creatures found in fresh-water lakes and rivers. This 5½-inch-long polliwog brought $28,800.

3 gibian flying

There were dozens of decorative carvings in the sale, including seven by William Gibian. His full-size flying curlew with relief wing and tail feather carving sold for $3,600. It included a wall mount and had metal legs.

25 pintail

Dave “Umbrella” Watson’s pintail drake earned $70,800. He was a market gunner, an oyster fisherman and hunting guide as well as a decoy maker. The drake is hollow-carved, and the paint was original. It showed only minor hunting wear.

228 crappie

Oscar Peterson may be the best-known fish carver, but others also made highly collectible fish. This large crappie with carved gills and mouth was made for use on Lake Chautauqua, N.Y. By an unknown carver, it brought $19,200.

350a mason

Mason factory decoys were well represented in the sale. A circa 1900 whimbrell drew strong bidding and finished at $13,200.

324 nantucket plover

One of the shorebird stars of the sale was this hollow-carved golden plover by an unknown Nantucket carver. Selling for $75,000, it had glass eyes and split tail carving.

364 setters

Selling for $69,600 was a painting of three setters in a wooded landscape by Edmund Henry Osthaus. It was the top seller of the sporting art offerings.

41 diorama

A diorama with a pair of half-size blue wing teals on a painted landscape background had been made by Illinois carver Charles Perdew. It sold for $22,800, well over the estimate, and may have been the only such carving that Perdew did. It was pictured in a book on the carver.

145 gull

Gull decoys are not common. This circa 1900 example by James Stanley, Cape Vincent, N.Y., sold for $5,400.

the setting

A perfect place for a decoy auction, with lunch served on the dock outside the sales room.

418 fish

The most expensive of the Oscar Peterson carvings was this 32-inch-long bluegill plaque. It was carved with detailed gills and fins and realized $51,000.

424 tower

This folk art whimsey tower is 80 inches tall, perhaps created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Made from one log, it included turned columns, birds, bells, cross-hatching, picture frames, a mirror, and there’s gold paint on most surfaces. Information on the back of a photograph sold with the tower has the name of a person from Reading, Penn. It sold well over the estimate, finishing at $33,000. The catalog devotes two full pages to a description of this carving.

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105 crowell

Perhaps unique, Elmer Crowell’s life-sized redwing blackbird mounted on a carved cattail sold for $15,000. More than 30 of his miniatures ranged from $1,020 to $3,300, while a decorative carving of a yellowlegs reached $8,400.


The crowd in the salesroom bid actively, and behind them staff members were dealing with phone and internet bidders.

430 crowell wv

In addition to the carvings for which Elmer Crowell is best known, are some weathervanes that he made. This full-sized Canada goose with a 33-inch wingspread had been repainted and had some condition issues. It sold for $3,900.

431 indian

Attributed to New York carver Thomas Brooks, this Indian chief tobacconist figure sold for $84,000. One hand had a grip on seven cigars and the other held a rifle.

439 baskets

Nantucket baskets included a nesting set of five made by William D. Appleton. Each basket had the maker’s label. The largest was 14 inches wide, and the set realized $10,800.


Clarence Robb, Samuel Robb’s son, at work in the carvers’ New York studio around the turn of the Twentieth Century. Clarence eventually took over the business.


Some of the miniatures and decorative carvings on display during the preview.


Tom Chambers was a decoy carver and hunter from Toronto, Canada. He’s on the far left in this photo, which shows some of the birds taken in one day’s hunting with some friends who are identified at the bottom of the photo.


Nathan Cobb is pictured on the dust jacket of a 2020 book about him, his family and the island.

436 dog rug

The sale included Grenfell mats and some hooked rugs. This 36-inch-long rug with a resting dog earned $960.

g d gallery

Objects on display at Guyette & Deeter’s gallery.

fish and fowl

This photo aptly demonstrates that the sale included both fish and fowl decoys. Oscar Peterson’s rainbow trout plaque sold for $26,400, and the heron pictured above sold for $37,200.

448 mask

There were four late Nineteenth Century ceremonial Northwest Coast masks. This one earned $4,200. Each of the other three brought nearly the same amount.

47 goose

This unusual hollow-carved field goose had a cast iron head and neck. It was from the rig of Daniel W. Voorhees, Ill., branded D.W.V. on the underside and realized $12,000.

461a owl

Of the approximately two dozen decorative carvings by Frank Finney, his 24-inch owl was the most popular. The owl held a mouse in its talons and reached $16,800.

469 min dog

Although most of Frank Finney’s decorative carvings were of birds, he also made this small dog posed behind a fence. It went out for $960, and his seated Cheshire cat brought $1,440.

7a schmiedlin

Jim Schmiedlin, Bradford, Penn., is among the premier carvers of decorative decoys. His preening blue wing teal earned $24,000. In a side-preening pose, it’s hollow-carved and has a slightly raised wing.

97 willet fair

Charles “Shang” Wheeler, Stratford, Conn., carved this pair of willets for display at the 1946 New York City Sportsman Show. The background grass is also carved. The pair finished at $7,200.

cameron mcintyre2

New Church, Va., contemporary carver Cameron McIntyre at his home with several of his works. Six were included in the sale, with a pair of his pintails selling for $4,800.

515 finney ptg

Three of Frank Finney’s oil paintings were offered. Selling for $20,400 was an oil on board scene of a hunter in a sinkbox with numerous ducks and geese overhead.

66 falcons

Ron Tepley from Racine, Wisc., also had decorative carvings included. With raised wings and detailed feather carving, this pair of peregrine falcons reached $9,000.

66a wood duck

The underside of this wood duck drake by Larry Hayden, a Detroit, Mich., carver, reads “Best Marsh Duck World Championship 1974” and is signed by Hayden. It realized $42,000.

78 swan

Swan decoys are large and impressive, and there was an assortment in this sale. This full-size mute swan carved by Oliver Lawson, Crisfield, Md., sold for $15,600. The head was raised and slightly turned. With relief wing carving, it was signed and dated 1983.

TEASER Guyette & Deeter

The highest priced decoy in the sale, selling for $252,000, was this brant made by Nathan Cobb Jr. It’s shown in a swimming pose and has an inlet neck and a split tail.

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