Auctioneer Press Release Copley Fine Art Auctions

Wood Ducks and Pointers Lead the Way at Copley’s $3.4 Million Winter Sale

Mar 11,2022 | 09:30 EST By Copley Fine Art Auctions

HINGHAM, MA - Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC, the nation’s premier decoy and sporting art auction house, realized $3.4 million in total sales in their recent Winter Sale. It marked the second highest Winter Sale total in the company's history. The March 4–5 auction was live-streamed from Plymouth, MA. There was an unprecedented number of buyers vying through absentee and telephone bids, along with three online platforms. Active bidding was spread across the categories of decoys, paintings, prints, and folk art. New buyers, established collectors, and institutions were fully engaged over the two-day auction. Extending Copley’s unmatched track record in the industry, the 555-lot sale was 94% sold.

The top lot of the sale was the Wood Duck Pair by Charles "Shang" Wheeler from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. The duo set a new record for any lot by the maker, landing at $216,000, above its $100/200,000 estimate. 

The top decoy lot of the sale was the Wood Duck Pair by Charles “Shang” Wheeler (1867–1956) from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. The duo set a new record for any lot by the maker landing at $216,000, above its $100/200,000 estimate. The pair at one time sat atop the mantle of the world-famous philanthropists’ Maine home.

At the auction’s start, Copley owner Stephen O’Brien Jr. welcomed live-stream viewers to the sale and asked everyone to take a moment of silence for all those affected by the events going on in Ukraine.

Once the bidding was underway, miniature carvings came out of the gate strong, with a golden pheasant by perennial favorite Elmer Crowell (1862–1952) landing at $13,530 on a $5/8,000 estimate and a miniature goldfinch by the same maker flying past its $2/3,000 estimate to $7,380. When miniatures by A.J. King (1878–1963) began to cross the block, the excitement was tangible. Coming out of two distinct and well-curated private collections, several of these pieces had also set records roughly a decade prior. A rare miniature belted kingfisher pair landed at $33,825 on a $7/10,000 estimate. The previous world record for the artist was $22,140 for a related miniature dove pair with chicks, set at the Sporting Sale 2021.

Raptors next turned heads with a pair of King screech owls soaring beyond their $6/9,000 estimate to $20,400 and a bald eagle landing at $18,000 ($6/9,000 estimate). A wood duck family reached $14,400 ($5/8,000 estimate) and an important pintail family with the same estimate commanded $19,200.

Other world record miniature prices for carvers included a miniature ruffed grouse by Robert Morse (1920–1960), which jumped past its $2/3,000 estimate to $4,200, and a pair of unestimated miniature great blue herons by Wendell Gilley (1904–1983), which topped out at $10,200, also a new world record for a Gilley miniature.

Commenting after the auction, Copley owner Stephen O’Brien Jr. stated, “The recipe for our recent auction successes has been straight forward: single-owner collections, conservative estimates, and the right mix of unestimated lots. Our clients are pretty sophisticated; they know what they want and they know what they are willing to pay. Our team views Copley as the ultimate free market. Our specialists, Leah, Colin, Chelsie, and Sloan, write up the objects in the context of each of the fields and let the works find their own levels.”

A major factory decoy enjoyed the Midwest limelight, with the only known Dodge Wood Duck in original paint, hailing from the J.N. Dodge Factory (1883–1893), stretching out to $108,000 ($50/70,000 estimate) and establishing a well-deserved new world record for the maker. Other Midwest carvings performed well, with the Trinosky Family Kankakee Pintail Hen from the Herman R. Trinosky (1874–1956) Rig landing at $84,000, within its $75/95,000 estimate. Representing Wisconsin, the High-Head Canvasback Drake by Joseph Sieger (1871–1959), previously out of the McCleery Collection, achieved its high estimate of $30,000.

West Coast decoys continued to be strong with a pintail pair by Sonoma, California, carver Richard "Fresh Air Dick" Janson (1872–1951) selling for $16,800 on a $2,5/3,500 estimate.

Miniatures and full-size works by “Father of American Bird Carving” A. Elmer Crowell (1862–1952) continued to be in high demand. The top lot by this carver, the Raised-Wing Canvasback Pair, landed at $102,000 on a $50/80,000 estimate. The maker’s Golden Plover in Winter Plumage more than doubled the high estimate of $24,000 bringing $60,000, and the Payson Crowell Preening Dowitcher surpassed its $30,000 high estimate on its way to a $55,350 sale price.

Nantucket decoys from the collection of Lew Horton soared high at the auction, with the Hollow Golden Plover flying past the $65/85,000 estimate to land at $108,000, and a pair of wind bird willets besting their $14,000 high estimate to reach $15,600. In addition, the Hollow Merganser Pair realized $22,800, beating their $20,000 low estimate.

While the Maine decoy market has been languishing a bit recently, several Downeast carvings perked up this important sector of the folk art market. An eider hen by an unknown Maine carver brought $32,400, a rare feeding merganser drake carved by Maine carving legend Augustus “Gus” Aaron Wilson (1864–1950) surpassed its $18,000 high estimate when it hammered at $21,600, and a merganser pair by Willie Ross (1878–1954) of Chebeague Island, swam past their $12,000 high estimate on their way to $20,400.

The top Southern decoy lot was the Mackey-O'Brien Dudley Canvasback Drake, which landed at $60,000, squarely between its $50/80,000 estimate. The Haid Cavanaugh Ward Mallard Drake shot above its $24,000 high estimate hitting $36,000, and a brant by Charles Birch (1867–1956) surpassed its $9,000 high estimate to land at $13,200.

Two Canada geese of note performed well. The first by Nathan Rowley Horner (1882–1942) achieved $33,000 on a $15/25,000 estimate and the Sleeping Canada Goose by Charles A. Safford (1877–1957), only the second of the form to ever surface, was a relative buy, inching close to its low estimate of $100,000 and making $96,000.

Unestimated lots once again proved enticing to bidders. The Maine eider hen garnered $32,400, a Floyd Scholz (b. 1958) barn owl reached $22,000, an early North Carolina Canada goose pair reached $13,200, and a decorative carving by James E. "Jim" Hazeley, entitled "The Lek" Sage Grouse, sold for $9,600, believed to be an auction record for the world champion master.

Contemporary carvings saw lots of action at the Winter Sale with the top work by Mark S. McNair (b. 1950), the Stavis Preening Mallard, hammering down at $8,400, more than doubling its $4,000 high estimate. Carvings by Oliver "Tuts" Lawson (b. 1938), of Crisfield, Maryland, maintained their perennial popularity as a whistling swan shot to $9,000 on a $5/7,000 estimate. Works by Frank S. Finney (b. 1947) attracted bidders with his top lot, a life-size great horned owl, bringing $7,800 and his top miniature carving, a woodpecker, making $3,997. A miniature American woodcock by Connecticut carver Keith Mueller (b. 1956) finished at $4,612.

Colin S. McNair, Copley’s Decoy Specialist, states, "New collectors continue to arrive and they're participating at every level. Beginning with the O'Brien Collection in 2017–2018, followed by the Muller, du Pont, and Johnson Collections in 2020–2021, Copley has been bringing high-profile single-owner collections to the marketplace, and bidders have responded to these curated offerings."

Paintings started off with a bang as active interest and bidding led to multiple bidders vying for Snowy Owl, a work by contemporary Dutch painter Ewoud de Groot (b. 1969). The work soared over its high estimate of $12,000 and struck the block at $51,000, selling to a museum.

Copley’s Fine Art Specialist Leah Tharpe reports, “Fresh works with conservative estimates continued to lead the day, and I was thrilled to see so much active bidding across all platforms, indicating a broad base of collectors seeking high-quality sporting and wildlife art.”

Lot 80, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905) Dog with Three Quail, 1883. Sold for $90,000

96% of the 145 painting and print lots found buyers, with spirited bidding across the board. The top painting lot of the sale was Dog with Three Quail, a well documented oil by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819–1905) depicting a pointer on bobwhite quail, which sold for $90,000, above its $50/80,000 estimate. The painting came out of a prominent Long Island estate and had been in the same family for over seventy years.

Golden Hours, a watercolor depiction of fly fishing by renowned sporting artist Ogden M. Pleissner (1905–1983), sold for $69,000, within its estimate. A watercolor by the artist depicting Atlantic salmon fishing, titled Down the York, leapt over the $35,000 high estimate to $39,000. Pleissner’s Grassing the Boat brought $46,125, landing within its $40/60,000 estimate.

Aiden Lassell Ripley’s classic Grouse on a Winter Morning sold for $33,000, just shy of its $35,000 high estimate. The noted sporting artist’s watercolor, The Rock in the River, proved to be a good pick up at $39,000 on a $40/60,000 estimate.

Always on the Move by the 2022 Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Featured Artist, Mark A. Susinno (b. 1957), brought $13,200, outstripping its $10,000 high estimate and setting a world record at auction for the artist. Half of the proceeds from the sale will go directly to BTT, whose mission is to conserve and enhance global bonefish, tarpon, and permit fisheries and their environment.

Copley continued to be the “go-to” firm for major works by Gruppe, with Hauling the Nets, a bold commercial fishing scene by Emile A. Gruppe (1896–1978), sailing to $42,000 on a $30/50,000 estimate.

The Winter Sale also included a selection of works by contemporary artists. Interest in the paintings by Chet Reneson (b. 1934) continued, with an acrylic on board titled Leaping Tarpon jumping to $14,400, above its high estimate of $7,000, and establishing a new world record for the artist. An oil of ruffed grouse by David A. Maass (b. 1929) flew to $13,530, well above its $6/9,000 estimate. Mountain Pool by Brett James Smith (b. 1958) more than doubled its high estimate, landing at $10,200. A watercolor by David A. Hagerbaumer (1921–2014), titled Flushing Quail Covey, sold well for $9,840, the third highest result for this perennially popular artist. The firm has now sold the top four Hagerbaumers at auction.

Mallards, a gouache by bird artist Basil Ede (1931–2016), soared to $12,000 on a $2/3,000 estimate, setting a new world record for the artist. Mandarin Ducks, also by Ede, was not far behind at $8,400. Works by Rodger McPhail (b. 1953) saw strong interest with a watercolor titled Stag and Grouse landing at $10,800, well above its $6/9,000 estimate, and setting a new U.S. record for the British wildlife artist.

Leading the works on paper was a hand-colored engraving titled Iceland, or Jer Falcon by John James Audubon (1785–1851) which sold for $36,000, more than double its $15,000 high estimate.

Works by Frank W. Benson (1862–1951) were led by the ink wash In the Marsh, which brought $26,400. Benson’s top etching was The Guide which brought $2,214. Two Bird Maps by Richard E. Bishop (1887-1975) sold for $3,690, and an etching depiction of “Dogs in the Field” by Marguerite Kirmse (1885-1954) landed at $2,580. Kirmse’s three etchings of Scotties achieved $1,968. Aiden Lassell Ripley’s top etching was Goose Shooting which brought $1,800.

There was active bidding on seven powder tins and a match box which brought $4,750. A sperm whale carving by Mark S. McNair lept to $7,380.

By Copley Fine Art Auctions