From ducks and geese to trout and frogs, vintage decoys have become valuable relics of
early American fishing and hunting. Decoys were used not only in the commercial supply of fish
and game to restaurants, but also for the personal need of feeding one's family.
The earliest decoys were made by Native Americans over a thousand years ago, with
grasses, plants, and bones used as building materials. As settlers came to North America in the
19th century and began to fish and hunt, they generated a great demand for decoys, sparking a
new industry of wood carvers and crafters that would cater to them. Of all bird decoys created,
duck decoys were the most commonly made, however it wasn’t unusual to produce other species,
such as geese, turkeys, swans, grouse, partridge, and pigeons. Winter spearfishing in the northern
climates also created a demand for fish decoys, and these were used widely until many
jurisdictions banned spearfishing in the 20th century.
Values of decoys today depend largely on several factors: rarity, condition, and form. For
example, an unused, handmade decoy from a famed carver will often be worth more than a used,
factory-made decoy. Of course, competitive bidding can always change that.
A number of companies produced wooden duck decoys in the late 19th and 20th
centuries including Dodge, Reynolds, Peterson, and Mason
A rare swan decoy made by Charles Birch sold for $186,500 in a 2011 Guyette & Schmidt,
Inc. auction. This was an auction record for the carver’s pieces
Until the Migratory Bird Act was passed in 1918, shorebirds were commonly hunted for
food and sport. Plovers, snowy egrets, yellowlegs, and flatties are a few of the shorebird types
made into decoys