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Vintage Hunting Duck Decoys

By the 1920s, making duck decoys had progressed to an art form with beautiful decoys being carved from locally available materials. While hunters used hand-carved and machine-made decoys for many years, many were made as decorations for their yards. The era of using duck decoys ended in the 1950s when a law ending commercial hunting was passed in the United States; however, vintage duck decoys can still be found.

What are duck decoys used for?

Duck decoys were carved from real wood or made from plastic in the shape of a real duck. North American hunters placed up to 100 decoys in an area where they intended to hunt in an effort to attract real ducks. While the name duck decoy is universally accepted, they were used to attract a variety of birds with those resembling wood duck, teals, pintails, and mergansers, along with those shaped like other shore birds.

Who were some notable carvers of duck decoys?

While many people hired a local woodcarver who also made axe handles, tools, and many other things from wood, there were some individuals who specialized in making wooden duck decoys. Some names included:

  • Elmer Crowell: This Massachusetts woodworker was known for his carved wings, realistic glass eyes, and attention to feather detail when making preening pintail drakes and Canadian geese. Collectors tend to favor his work created between 1912 and 1927 over his later creations.
  • Benjamin Holmes: Holmes created his duck decoys from white pine, unlike most decoys that were made from white cedar wood. All heads on his ducks pointed straightforward, and all were made of two parts, causing them to float slightly under the water's surface. While this Connecticut carver made more black ducks, goldeneyes, whistler, and scaup decoys for local hunters, his canvasbacks and redheads are collected as well.
  • Charles and Edna Perdew: This Illinois husband-and-wife team produced two- and three-piece duck decoys from pine wood. While Charles did most of the carving with a drawknife or pocketknife, unlike many creators who used a rasp, Edna painted the decoys.
  • Ward Brothers: Stephen Ward and Lemuel T. Ward, Jr. were responsible for many innovations in carving decoys starting in 1916 and lasting until 1950s when they turned their attention strictly to folk art.

What were some of the factories making duck decoys?

In addition to those operating individual operations, many people worked in factories making duck decoys. One of the most notable was the Mason's Decoy Factory in Detroit, Michigan, where carvers produced over 1,000 decoys resembling mallards, canvasbacks and scaup, squaws, swans, scoters, wood ducks, crows, and doves. Another factory operating at the same time was L.L. Bean, which sold over 1,000 decoys created by George Soule annually.

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