The Mackey Birch Swan
Charles Birch (1867-1956)
Willis Wharf, VA, c. 1920
25 1/2 in. long
Working swan decoys of any type are exceptionally rare as most were used as confidence decoys, with typically only a single or pair, if any, used in a gunning rig. There are only a few Birch swan decoys in original paint known to exist and none any finer than this example which hails from the legendary collection of William J. Mackey Jr. Two closely related Birch swans currently reside in the Haid and Doherty Collections. Born in Maryland and raised on Chincoteague, Birch moved south to Willis Wharf, Virginia, in Northampton County at age thirty-nine. He was a boatbuilder, a waterman, and a decoy carver. His decoys were very well regarded in their own time and his rigs were hunted over from North Carolina’s Gooseville Gun Club to Illinois’ Georgia Pacific Paper Gun Club, also referred to as the Island 29 Club. This hollow swan, with its long neck and arching head with rounded cheeks, features a full body and refined tail carving. Its graceful form, dry original paint surface, and provenance make it not only a pinnacle Birch, but also one of the finest swan decoys known to exist. Attesting to this fact, the Muller example was one of the only decoys within the pages of the eight Mackey sessions to be illustrated on a page by itself.
The importance of the great Birch swans has been widely recognized by decoy scholars. The closely related Haid example was selected for the "Hundred Greatest" book and the Doherty example, which set the world record for the maker at auction when it sold for $186,500 in 2011, was featured in "The Great Book of Decoys." This Mackey Birch Swan has also been prominently illustrated and was most recently exhibited in the landmark Ward Museum exhibition "Classic Hunting Decoys & Sporting Art" in 1994.
Charles Birch swans have achieved a hallowed status among decoy and Americana collectors, with many considering them the most elegant of the antique swans to have surfaced. With their timeless classic designs, Birch swans, along with the Holly swans, are regarded as the finest representations of the species.
Offered here for the first time in over forty-five years, the Mackey Birch Swan provides an opportunity to acquire a crowning jewel treasured by two of America’s greatest decoy collectors.
Original paint with even gunning wear and some working putty at neck seam and small area on top of tail.
Provenance: William J. Mackey Jr. Collection
Dr. Peter J. Muller Jr. Collection, acquired from the sale of the above, 1974
Literature: 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, 1974, Sessions VII & VIII, lot 440, exact decoy illustrated.
Jackson Parker, “Bourne Completes Auction of the Great Mackey Collection with a Flourish,” North American Decoys Magazine, Spanish Fork, UT, Winter 1974, p. 19, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert Shaw, Bird Decoys of North America, New York, NY, 2010, p. 213, exact decoy illustrated.
Sam Dyke et al., Classic Hunting Decoys & Sporting Art, Salisbury, MD, 1994, p. 9, 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, front cover and p. 9, exact decoy illustrated.
Joe Engers, ed., The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys, San Diego, CA, 1990, pp. 160-161, Doherty example illustrated.
Loy S. Harrell Jr., Decoys: North America’s One Hundred Greatest, Iola, WI, 2000, pp. 166-167, Haid example illustrated.
Alan G. Haid and Brandy S. Culp, The Allure of the Decoy: Historic Charleston Foundation Presents Masterworks from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alan G. Haid, Charleston, SC, 2013, p. 49, Haid example illustrated.
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