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.

Duck Decoys - A bluebill by Ambro Smith.Photo: Steven Lloyd
A bluebill by Ambro Smith.

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.

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Originally Published in Our Canada