Discover the Unique Art of Duck Decoys With This Impressive Collection
Over the past four decades, Steven Lloyd of Thomasburg, Ontario has built a collection of more than 500 antique duck decoys.
I was 20 years old and home from college when I asked my father if I could borrow his duck decoys for hunting. He said I’d started my new life as an adult, and it was time to use my own!
I put an ad in the local paper. Next thing you know, I was inundated by people wanting to sell their wooden decoys to replace them with plastic ones. I appreciated the unique art form of each wooden decoy, and I was intrigued as to why there were so many different-looking ones to represent the same species of duck.
I am now in my 60s. It’s been a wonderful journey of learning and sharing Canada’s unique art form of antique duck decoys with people from across Canada and around the world.
Ducks in a Row
Old wooden duck and bird decoys were created to invite wild game home for dinner by fooling them into thinking they were looking at a real bird. Each one is a unique work of art, and finding them has been a lifelong treasure hunt. How many people can say they’ve been hunting treasure most of their adult life?
I have many items in my collection that were made when wooden decoys were most widely used, between 1850 and 1940. At any one time, I have over 500 decoys, and I do trade them or, rarely, sell one or two. Often I will give one to a family member of the original carver.
I’ve displayed my decoys at hundreds of venues, including museums. I love having large numbers on hand so that when I’m asked to put on a display, I can bring some from that specific area.
Wooden decoys are very regional in style. Toronto and Hamilton-area decoys are very different from those crafted in Belleville or Trenton, for instance. Most decoys from Quebec have additional carvings on their bodies and heads.
The Story Behind the Decoy
Every decoy has its own story, which can sometimes speak volumes to a trained eye. My personal favourite is a bluebill made by Ambro Smith of Trenton, Ont., in the late 1880s. It was given to me over 45 years ago by an elderly gentleman, and I later met a number of his relatives as I learned more and more about the maker and his history.
Most old hunting decoys in Canada are valued from $50 to $100. Rare ones can be valued in the high hundreds, and some that are well-documented and in excellent condition could go for as much as $20,000—but you aren’t likely to find one of those in someone’s attic these days.
Perhaps you have a decoy or two in your cottage, garage, barn or basement. Don’t be fooled! A decoy is not just a beautiful old bird. It has history, and maybe value.
So which decoy in my own collection is the most valuable? I never like answering this question, just in case I leave my door open someday. The most valuable Canadian decoy ever sold was worth more than $200,000, and the most expensive one in North America went for nearly one million dollars. I don’t have any of those!
To me, in any case, a dollar figure is less important than a decoy’s historical value.
Next, check out 10 Canadian collectors and their quirky collections.