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Lot 93: Red-Breasted Merganser Pair
July 30, 2013
Plymouth, MA, USALive Auction
Description: One of the most important pairs of Virginia decoys ever to come on the market. These iconic decoys have significant relevance within the realm of Virginia and American folk art. Profusely illustrated and heralded by the most prominent figures of decoy collecting, this Southern pair holds a special place within the decoy collecting community. It is often difficult to track the genesis, history and transfer of ownership of early gunning decoys. This pair does not suffer that fate, coveted and illustrated by decoy legends; Hancock, Mackey, Colio, Thompson, Purnell, and Richardson. This outstanding pair of mergansers was first acquired from Hudson by fellow Chincoteague carver Miles Hancock (1888- 1974) who recognized them as something truly special. In the early 1960s after years of appreciation, Hancock sold them to pioneering decoy collector and author, William J. Mackey, Jr. (1901- 1972). In the late sixties, collector George W. Thompson (1907- 1994) of Cazenovia, New York, was visiting Mackey and bought the pair to reside at his Rolling Ridge Farm. Renowned Southern decoy collector William H. Purnell acquired the birds and admired them on a shelf in his home for decades. The consignor acquired the merganser pair directly from Purnell. Each is branded "WHP Jr" for the Purnell collection on the underside. Mackey, in his pioneering decoy collecting book, American Bird Decoys, writes that Hudson was "the most prolific and best commercial decoy maker Virginia ever produced..." The caption under the illustration of these decoys in Mackey's book reads: "A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers that illustrate the best work of Ira Hudson of Chincoteague Island, Virginia."
Condition Report: Original paint with light even gunning wear, both have age lines, including one along the hen's back, the hen has an early bill replacement.
Provenance: Chincoteague, VA
Artist or Maker: Ira D. Hudson (1873-1949)
Date: c. 1930