Early Split-Tail Willet
Quogue, Long Island, NY, c. 1890
12 1/2 in. long
In 1890 Squires, a New York City sportsmen's supply store on Broadway owned by Henry C. Squires, published an over-the-top catalog featuring several decoy varieties listed for sale, including some known to be Dilleys. The Squires catalog describes the Dilley offerings as "Snipe decoys, hand-made, shaped and painted from life; the finest decoys ever produced; can be furnished only in limited quantities." Snipe was a catch-all term used by hunters for all shorebirds. It is noteworthy that the $12 per dozen price was 300% higher than other makers' "Snipe decoys" that Squires offered for sale. Over a century later, top decoy hunters still place a premium on Dilleys, considering his decoys to be among "the finest ever produced."
Indeed, when referring to Dilley shorebirds in "American Bird Decoys," Mackey states, "There is no question that the detailed, stylized painting is unsurpassed. They are beautiful examples from the hand of a fastidious workman."
Starting with clean lines and a solid form, Dilley applied some of the finest representations of plumage ever demonstrated. Using his exceptional brush technique, he was able to imply detail without carving or painting every feather.
The rarity of this grand willet, along with its exceptionally long and thin neck, excellent paint, and split-tail carving, place it in the upper echelon of Long Island decoys.
Original paint with light gunning wear, some touch-up to head, and replaced bill.
Provenance: Bud Ward Collection
Private Collection, New York, acquired from the above
Literature: Henry C. Squires, "Descriptive Catalogue and Price-list of Sportsmen's Supplies," New York, NY, 1890, p. 52, snipe decoys listed.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 84, related example illustrated.
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