What To Look For in Antique Duck Decoys

When you go shopping for antique duck decoys, it's important to know what exactly to look for. Different factors such as who carved it or the history behind it can greatly affect the value of the decoy. Knowing what to look for will help you make a better purchasing decision, saving you money and possible heartache on your next antique duck decoy shopping trip.

Old Duck DecoyAge of The Decoy

As with most collectibles, age will be a one of the most influential factors in determining the value of an antique decoy. It should go without saying that older decoys are typically worth more money. This is simply the nature of collectibles, as the number of aged decoys in circulation gets slimmer each year. Some of them may get damaged, or others may get accidentally thrown out by their owners. In any case, just remember that the older a decoy is, the more money it's worth.

How To Determine The Age of a Duck Decoy?

All smart buyers should try and determine the age of any antique duck decoys they are considering buying. This is something you may or may not be able to determine, though. Look for any documentation with the decoy, as this is likely to have information regarding the history and date of the piece.

If you're unable to find documentation on the decoy, try asking the seller about it. It's not uncommon for antique decoys to be passed down from generation to generation. If this is the case, the seller is likely to have some knowledge about the age of the decoy.

Some duck decoys may come with labels. Check all sides and underneath the decoy for any labels which may include the date of its production.

What Are The Oldest Duck Decoys?

Duck decoys can date back to thousands of years ago, which is why age can be such a contributing factor in the value of an antique duck decoy.

The oldest known duck decoys were discovered in at an archaeological site near Lovelock, Nevada known as locklove cave (NV-Ch-18). The 11 duck decoys, which were discovered by an excavation group in 1922, are believed to have been made around 200 B.P. (give or take 200 years) by Native Americans. The various materials used in their construction consisted of marsh bulrush, tule rushes, and actual duck feathers.

drake merganserCondition and Wear

Inspect any antique decoys you're interested in for damage and wear. It should go without saying that over time most decoys will develop some wear. Some people actually prefer their decoys to show a little bit of this natural wear.

With antique duck decoys, many of them have seen their fair share of being thrown around, knocked down, and banged up over their years of being used in the water. You can't expect them to be in flawless condition, but you have to take into consideration any noticeable damage on the duck decoy. First, look for any major damage, such as holes, or chunks missing out of the decoy. You may want to use a magnifying glass to help give you a closer look. Second, check for surface damage, such as paint wearing off, or scratches on it.

It's important to note that damaged or worn decoys typically hold more value than decoys that have been restored or have their damage "masked". If it's a restoration, it should come with papers that say who and when it was restored.

Documentation / History

It's not uncommon for antique duck decoys to come with paperwork that includes information such as who carved it and the time period from which it was from. Any paperwork or documentation that comes with a decoy will greatly add to the value of it, so try your best to locate it. Of course knowing whether or not a decoy comes with any paperwork can be difficult to say the least. If you're shopping for decoys in person, ask the vendor or seller if they have any documentation for it. Sometimes vendors will put their decoys up for sale without even thinking about throwing in the documentation. The few minutes it takes to ask them could yield some valuable information about the decoy.

Who Carved it

Try to find out who carved the antique duck decoy. There are many famous duck decoy carvers and their decoys can be worth a considerable amount more. Oftentimes, if the decoy has paperwork, it will list the carver on it. If it doesn't have documentation, look on the decoy for a label, tag, or signature.

If you can find out the carvers name, do some research on it, and see how popular their duck decoys are.

Well Known Decoy Carvers

Born is Kingston, Massachusetts, Lothrop Turner Holmes (1824-1899) was known as one of the most sophisticated decoy carvers of the nineteenth century. Among his finest work is his lifelike merganser decoys, one of which was sold at auction for $856,000 dollars.

Madison Mitchell (1901-1993) was one of the most recognized duck decoy carvers in the U.S. and believed to have produced over 100,000 decoys in his lifetime. He produced a variety of types of decoys, ranging from ducks to pigeons.

Another famous decoy carver was a man named A. Elmer Crowell ( 1862-1952) who produced what many believe are the finest and most desirable decoys to date. A pintail drake and Canadian goose decoy produced by him were sold for $1.13 million dollars at auction.

Beware of FakesFake Decoy

Unfortunately you may run into some fakes as you shop for antique duck decoys. But, by using your best judgement and taking the time to carefully look at the decoy, you should be able to determine if it's authentic or not. If the decoy is from a known carver, look at some of his other work and compare it. Is the carving the same style? Does the painting resemble their work? Ask yourself these questions as you examine the decoy for its authenticity.

You should look for all of these factors when you go shopping for antique duck decoys. Doing so will help you make smarter buying decisions and allow collection grow into the masterpiece you desire.