In a year that has been anything but normal, decoy sales have seen an uptick as collectors continue buying and selling these artistic and historic artifacts. In a strange twist, the pandemic and subsequent shutdown has helped fuel Guyette & Deeter’s success as the world’s largest decoy auction firm with over $220 million in sales.
There has been a huge influx of new collectors as well as increased participation from seasoned collectors in 2020. People are reallocating their travel and leisure dollars, explained Jon Deeter, co-owner of the firm with Gary Guyette. Spending months in isolation, people are re-evaluating their decoy and sporting art collections to make room for more or to simply upgrade. People have a thirst for decoy collecting that began in the 1960s and has steadily grown since.
Guyette & Deeter has recently expanded its operations in St. Michaels where it is headquartered, moving into new space at 1210 South Talbot Street in the former Gatsby’s building earlier this year. In many ways, St. Michaels is the epicenter for decoy collecting along the Chesapeake Bay where there were so many prolific carvers, craftsmen, and hunters who perpetuated the “can do” spirit. To lure flocks of geese and ducks to the rig or blind, these innovators had to make the working decoys themselves. Over time, these worn decoys have become prized possessions to collectors and thought of as objects of art, not just tools for hunting. Many of those early carvers from the area have become world famous, like the Ward Brothers from Crisfield and the early makers from the Have de Grace area, John and James Holly, Bob McGaw and Madison Mitchell.
Decoys have become so prized in some cases that in January 2007, Guyette & Deeter sold a Merganser hen by Lothrop Holmes for a world record auction price of $856,000. Just two years ago in the summer of 2018 they sold a pair of Mallards by the Caines Brothers of South Carolina, circa 1890, for $1,144,600.
It’s not just decoys the collectors covet. Each auction typically offers over a hundred pieces of original artwork by some of the country’s best outdoor and sporting art artists. Frank Benson, Lynn Bogue Hunt, Aiden Lasalle Ripley, Chet Renneson, and Edmond Osthaus are typically represented and can usually be seen hanging in the gallery prior to each auction.
In 2013, the firm began operating a successful weekly online auction year-round at www.decoysforsale.com. Sales end on Thursdays by 7 p.m. with roughly 50 new items weekly. These auctions include decoys, duck calls, shotgun shell boxes, and sporting collectibles.
Guyette & Deeter now holds three cataloged auctions per year. Locals will be familiar with the November auction held at the Talbot County Community Center in conjunction with the Waterfowl Festival. An auction is also held annually in New Hampshire in July and the next event, traditionally held in the Chicago area in conjunction with the North American Vintage Decoy and Sporting Collectibles Show, will be held on April 31 and May 1.
Jon said, “Collectors continue to feel comfortable bidding remotely given Guyette & Deeter’s guaranteed condition reports, which most other auction houses do not offer. That has been key to our success during these pandemic sales when live audiences were not allowed.”
Since 1989, Guyette & Deeter has dominated the decoy auction market with these auctions boasting upward of 600 lots. And the expanded St. Michaels space allows for previewing some of the auction items, an exciting and welcome new feature. Since 2004, when Guyette & Deeter moved to St. Michaels, there has been a working space only. Now, collectors have the opportunity to preview auction items in a gallery allocated just for this purpose, showcasing original sporting and wildlife art, collectibles and decoys.
One month prior to each auction, a 350-page color auction catalog with guaranteed condition reports are available for sale ($45). Then, a week later, the full auction catalog is viewable online. The gallery space is ideal for collectors to bring in their decoys for appraisals by appointment as well. In the future, Guyette & Deeter plans on offering presentations regarding decoy collecting, along with other events.