Late in the 19th century, a Massachusetts cemetery superintendent named Lothrop Holmes carved some red-breasted merganser decoys to hunt over. In January, one of the hens sold at a Manhattan auction for $856,000, breaking the world auction record for a decoy.
The antique decoys market is small (compare about 500,000 gun collectors in the United States to 25,000 decoy collectors in North America), but prices are skyrocketing. Buyers in 2006 paid double what they did four years earlier, and in that January auction, held by Christie’s in association with Guyette & Schmidt, more than 50 lots of dekes brought bids totaling $2,333,800. “There’s been an influx of buyers with money,” says Guyette & Schmidt president Gary Guyette, who averages six decoy appraisals a day. “Many are bird hunters who remember shooting over wooden decoys.” Not unlike old Mr. Holmes.
Browse our gallery of rare decoys (and see how much they sold for).