Politicians, lovers, and merchants have practiced the art of deception for centuries. But one of the purest forms of the art perhaps originated and certainly blossomed in North America over the past couple of centuries. It's celebrated in Decoy Magazine, a recent addition to the MagSampler.com newsstand.
Carved waterfowl decoys were once purely utilitarian, created to be placed in water and to bob up and down, luring live fowl to join them under the guns of waiting vice presidents and other hunters. Apparently mallards, geese, and the like are not stupid, and the more realistic the decoys, the more success the hunter can expect. Many a hunter in America's past was also good with his hands, and the happy result has been a significant number of hand-carved and painted decoys. Our mania for collecting has taken many of these old ersatz birds out of the water and on to mantels or inside display cases.
Decoy Magazine, published bimonthly in Lewes, DE, chronicles the stories of these decoys and monitors the many shows and auctions where they pass from hand to hand, often at what seem to be outrageous prices. In a recent issue, editor and publisher Joe Engers notes that the biggest decoy auction house, which runs three sales a year, has reported gross sales in excess of $2 million for each auction over the past two years, with at least one decoy in every sale going for more than $100,000.
Stories of these decoys, their carvers, and their collectors fill the pages of the magazine. The cover article of a recent issue is about Alfred Moes, a strong, silent Minnesotan, son of an expert woodcarver, who ran a gas station and garage in the little town of Lakeville. For some reason, the 44-year-old Moes, an avid hunter, decided in the winter of 1938 to carve a group of mallard decoys, the first he is believed to have made. The 15 decoys he created are now legendary for their craftsmanship and artistic appeal. He never made any more. Some are sleeping, some upright, and some are headless. Can't figure out why they have no heads? Because they're supposed to be feeding, with their heads in the water. It took me a while to get it, too. A real mallard sure has to think fast to avoid becoming a dead duck.