Updated November 17, 2015. Added duck photo.
Dudley Duck at Auction. From Frank Jennings.
Rare Lee Dudley Ruddy Duck from North Carolina Shatters Record
Guyette & Schmidt, Inc., St. Charles, Illinois
by Karl H. Pass
Guyette & Schmidt held its 23rd annual spring decoy auction on April 24 and 25, 2008 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois. The total gross of the 572-lot two-session sale was $3,579,797 (including buyers' premiums), making it the fifth-highest grossing decoy auction on record, according to the firm. There were 500 registered bidders, including individuals from each North American country and across the Atlantic in England.
The Guyette & Schmidt auction was held during the Midwest Decoy Collectors Association convention week, a week that is always busy with activities and networking for every level of decoy enthusiast. The association hosted its annual antique decoy and sporting collectibles show, which included nearly 400 dealer tables. Events also included seminars and a call-maker's carving contest and competition.
The inclusion of many birds from several "old-time" collections added an element of excitement to the auction. At a certain level of advanced collecting everyone knows each other and their birds, and when a particular member of the fraternity sells, it is well documented what, when, and where. Some of these well-known decoys coming onto the market along with an influx of new, high-level buyers to the specialized field helped establish numerous sales records. In fact, record prices were achieved for 15 makers, including Enoch Reindahl, Phineas Reeves, Dave Watson, and Lee Dudley.
Collections featured in this year's St. Charles sale were from Howard and Jean Waddell of Connecticut, Joe French of Florida, David Galliher of Indiana, Knute Bartrug of Maryland, Gene and Linda Kangas of Ohio, and several other important but anonymous collectors.
Composed of many premier examples of Charles Perdew's work, the David Galliher collection was appropriately offered in St. Charles. It was 15 years ago that Galliher published Perdew: An Illinois River Tradition, written by Ann Tandy Lacy. The first day's highlight was Galliher's Perdew straight-head model mallard drake pictured on the dust jacket of the book. It sold for $137,000 to Boston dealer Stephen O'Brien Jr., bidding on behalf of a client. It had sold in July 1991 at a Richard Oliver auction for $22,000.
"Many in the field consider this the finest drake mallard that Charles Perdew ever made. There was a lot of talk before the auction that the bird might bring upwards of two hundred fifty thousand dollars," stated O'Brien after the sale. The drake's painted surface by Edna Perdew was remarkably executed and preserved. The price is not, however, a record for the maker. Last year on April 26 in St. Charles, Guyette & Schmidt sold a mallard hen in a rare sleeping pose by Perdew for $252,500.
One of the stars of day two, and one of the rarest birds to be sold, was the Lee Dudley ruddy duck. From Knotts Island, North Carolina, it sold 17 years ago for what was then a record for a North Carolina decoy—the staggering sum of $52,800. It sold this time in St. Charles for $269,000, setting a new record for the maker and a North Carolina decoy.
"The ruddy is the rarest example," proclaimed Gary Guyette. "The three first-tier makers from North Carolina were James Best, Alvirah Wright, and Lee Dudley," stated Guyette. "We had seven phone bidders compete." It eventually sold to a dealer/collector from the South, underbid by a collector from New Jersey.
A portion of the bill was restored, there was a severe crack in the neck, there were several shot marks over the body and head, and it had an overall worn surface. It should be noted, even with the condition issues, almost all Dudley birds have a bill repair, and this particular example is a rare survivor.
The decoy is one of four Lee Dudley ruddy ducks known to exist in original paint, according to Gary Guyette. One notable example is in the Shelburne Museum, Electra Havemeyer Webb's institution situated in the Lake Champlain valley in Shelburne, Vermont. Shelburne is home to a comprehensive assemblage of nearly 1000 decoys. Even with so many important birds in the museum's collection, including an impressive group of Charles Osgood Canada geese, the Dudley ruddy duck is one of its rarest. The museum actually has two Dudley ruddys, both ex-Joel Barber, but one is a repaint.
The sale provided a boost to this market, not only with the top-tier lots mentioned, but across the board. Many birds from the Midwest, Louisiana, and Long Island sold well. This is noteworthy after what was considered an unsuccessful sale in January in New York City during Americana Week. The captions tell more of the story.