Nathan F. Cobb Jr. (1825-1905)
Cobb Island, VA, c. 1880
12 1/2 in. long
"Every Nathan Cobb decoy had its own natural pose. Even his Hudsonian Curlews seemed to run, feed, and walk." - William J. Mackey Jr., discussing a rigmate in "American Bird Decoys," plate VII
"An original box of goose eyes found in Nathan's shed shows that he sent to Germany for them and obtained the finest.”- William J. Mackey Jr., "American Bird Decoys"
Nathan Cobb Sr. sailed his family south from Cape Cod to the Eastern Shore of Virginia where they settled around 1837. The family brought with them Massachusetts decoy concepts, including German bead-glass eyes and the refined split-tail carving style adopted by Lothrop Holmes, A. Elmer Crowell, and Joseph Lincoln. Over time, the Cobbs evolved this style into one of their own with robust elements and their signature ridged backs.
A well-balanced decoy, this curlew exhibits pleasing proportions with a gracefully rounded head, thin neck, full cheeks, and a plump body that resolves with a precise Cobb Island tail cut. This confident carving, featuring the Cobb's signature "V" feathering, represents the pinnacle of the Southern standard. The underside is marked with Nathan Jr.'s deeply incised "N" with serifs.
This decoy can be traced back to the collection of the Honorable J. William Middendorf II, who obtained it privately from William J. Mackey Jr. along with an eponymous "dust-jacket" plover, among other important works. Middendorf, a celebrated early decoy collector, served as the 62nd United States Secretary of the Navy.
This stunning curlew, with its original paint, crisp clean lines, and original bill, hits the highest level of craftsmanship seen in the decoys that survived the remote island's storm-wrecked history. Cobb curlews in any pose are highly sought after, and the running models have been among the most coveted decoys of all time. Indeed, three times they have posted auction results over $200,000, more showings than any other maker's curlew. The rarity of this animated decoy can not be overstated; according to Southern decoy specialist William H. Purnell Jr., it is the only known Cobb curlew in a true feeding posture. Moreover, it is one of the only known feeding curlew decoys by any maker.
Excellent original paint with even gunning wear.
Provenance: Nathan Cobb Jr. Rig
William J. Mackey Jr. Collection
Honorable J. William Middendorf II Collection
Ray Egan Collection
Dr. Peter J. Muller Jr. Collection
Literature: Dr. S. Lloyd Newberry, "Wings of Wonder: The Remarkable Story of the Cobb Family and the Priceless Decoys They Created on Their Island Paradise." Columbia, SC, 2020, p. 248, exact decoy illustrated.
Joe Engers, "Dr. Peter J. Muller: Bringing a good eye and an artistic approach to decoy collecting," Decoy Magazine, January/February 2008, p. 8, exact decoy illustrated.
William J. Mackey Jr., "American Bird Decoys," New York, NY, 1965, color pl. VII, rigmate with plover bill illustrated.
Richard A. Bourne Co., Inc., "Very Rare and Important American Bird Decoys from the Collection of the late William J. Mackey Jr. of Belford, New Jersey," Hyannis, MA, 1973, Session I & II, lot 57, related example with plover bill illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 214, McCleery Cobb curlew illustrated.
"North American Decoys: Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors News," Spring 1976, p. 22, exact decoy illustrated.
Please email condition report requests to email@example.com. Any condition statement given is a courtesy to customers, Copley will not be held responsible for any errors or omissions. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition.