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Purchase Story

Safford Sleeping Canada Goose Brings $517,500

Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo | July 26th, 2017

Guyette & Deeter, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Photos courtesy Guyette & Deeter

Decoy auctions are collegial events. Collectors from all over know the birds and track them as they pass from collection to collection. Gary Guyette and Jon Deeter, who are Guyette & Deeter, welcome collectors and trade alike to their quarterly events, although their clientele is primarily collectors. The July 25 and 26 sale in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, kicked off with a cocktail party preview before the sale, an evening cruise around Portsmouth harbor on the second night, food throughout the sale, and a Buy, Sell, and Swap of 50 tables that ran throughout three days, including preview day. The auction’s gross was about $2.25 million for fewer than 600 lots.


The first lot of day one was a rare decorative miniature flying black duck on a wooden base by Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, that brought $15,525. The duck bears Crowell’s oval brand on the bottom of the base and is carved with a fluted tail and an 8" wingspan. It came from an Exeter, New Hampshire, collection. Mascolo photo.

The annual summer feast of feathers began on July 25, when everyone waited patiently for lot 89. The prize was a sleeping Canada goose by Newburyport, Massachusetts, carver Charles Augustus Safford (1877-1957). Estimated at $400,000/600,000, it brought $517,500 (includes buyer’s premium).

The price was the 12th-highest for a decoy at auction. The goose went to Connecticut dealer Arthur Liverant buying for a client. Liverant told M.A.D. that his client knew about the bird and asked him to examine it, authenticate it, and represent him at the sale. Liverant described it as “sculpturally powerful, captivating, and a remarkable piece of architecture.” He added, “It represents what collectors of decoys and Americana pursue: great form and design, authenticity, and creativity.”


Dealer and collector Dick McIntyre (and everyone else) admired the prize of the decoy auction—the sleeping Canada goose by Newburyport, Massachusetts, carver Charles Augustus Safford (1877-1957) that brought a world record price of $517,500 (est. $400,000/600,000). It was the 12th-highest price for a decoy at auction. The prize went to Connecticut dealer Arthur Liverant, buying for a client. From the collection of collector and author Cap Vinal of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and described by several in the gallery as a masterpiece, the laminated oversize goose was one of two dozen or so Safford made. It is unique, being the carver’s only known sleeper. Carved between 1900 and 1910, the goose retains its original paint. Beautifully sculptural and seemingly cradling itself, the goose would have been left in the marsh for the hunting season. Mascolo photo.

From the collection of collector and author Cap Vinal of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and described by several in the gallery as a masterpiece, the laminated oversize goose was one of two dozen or so Safford made. It is unique, being the carver’s only known sleeper. Carved between 1900 and 1910, the bird retains its original paint. Beautifully sculptural and seemingly cradling itself, the bird would have been left in the marsh for the hunting season.

While Safford may have been less well known than other masters of carving until now, his birds are among the finest. He was a carver, boat builder, sculptor, and housewright, and his passion was for the bird life of nearby Plum Island. He had worked as a market gunner, but in 1934 he became the first warden of the Annie H. Brown Wildlife Sanctuary of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, where he built the current warden’s house at what is today the 4662-acre Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.


This canvasback drake by Ferdinand Bach (1888-1967) of Detroit, Michigan, was carved with relief wings, a fluted tail, and on the underside “F. BACH.” Provenance includes the collections of Roberta Holcomb of Birmingham, Michigan, and of Phyllis Ellison of Southfield, Michigan, and Savannah, Georgia. It had sold in the October 1991 Julia & Guyette auction for $10,175. This time out it brought $25,875.


An A. Elmer Crowell preening greater yellowlegs carved with its beak slightly open with a feather within was exceptional and sold for $28,750.


Ivar Fernlund (1881-1933) of Hamilton Bay, Ontario, was a pattern maker working for Westinghouse and living on the waterfront who made about 150 birds for his own use. Among them was this rare pair of hollow-carved blue-winged teal, believed to be the only pair by Fernlund known, that came most recently from the Peter Brown collection. The pair brought $31,050.

Retired Long Island, New York, art teacher Howard Nepo is an artist and carver. He came to the auction to bid and to see and touch the birds for sale. As he eyed the Safford goose, he explained that a bird can often look splendid in a photograph, while not so much in life, and vice versa. For him, color, paint, and form are the guiding principles in admiring an object. He was highly complimentary of Guyette & Deeter, hailing its integrity and judgment, noting that he feels very comfortable buying from the firm. He was observed bidding on a number of choice birds. His companion, Irena Romovacek, a New York landscape architect, has an eye for great design.


The highlight of the sporting art that sold was this oil on canvas depiction of a pair of goldeneyes landing on a wintry lake, 18" x 24", by carver and painter Shang Wheeler (1872-1949) of Stratford, Connecticut. With a plaque inscribed “Wedding Present to Leo and Mabel (Weeks) Miller from Shang Wheeler 9/11/46,” it sold for $9200 (est. $3500/5500).

After auctioneer James Julia got the preliminaries out of the way at the beginning of the sale, the first lot of the day was a rare, decorative miniature flying black duck on a wooden base by Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, that brought $15,525. The duck bore Crowell’s oval brand on the bottom of the base and was carved with a fluted tail and an 8" wingspan. It came from an Exeter, New Hampshire, collection.

A rare pintail duck in the original paint by Joseph Lincoln was published by Cap Vinal of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and came from the Berry/Kalinsky collection. It brought $10,925.

A robin snipe in spring breeding plumage from the last quarter of the 19th century was carved by Harry Vinuckson Shourds (1861-1920) of Tuckerton, New Jersey. The bird was part of the collection of Joe French, who had acquired it from Bud Ward in 1980. In 2017 it sold for $20,125.

Four fish decoys carved by Frank Kuss (1871-1950), who arrived in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, from his native Germany in 1878, went to a single determined phone bidder who saw off all competition. An 11" trout, created with tack eyes, five metal fins, and a carved mouth and gill, was curved for swimming. The paint in hues of copper, green, and gold transitioning to the white belly was strengthened by Kuss many years ago. Estimated at $5000/7000, the decoy brought $12,075.


A wood plaque of a brown trout carved by John Tully and painted by Dhuie Russell Tully at their studio in Fochabers, Scotland, was estimated at $2000/3000 and sold online for $5060. The plaque was inscribed, “Killed June 26, 1913. by Gertrude Greville Willmott.” Dhuie Russell Tully was the daughter of Scottish sporting artist and carver John Bucknell Russell (1819-1893).


An unknown carver on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York, made this 12½" long muskie with glass eyes, metal fins, and a leather tail carved with fin lines. It sold for $12,075.

Guyette & Deeter offers weekly online decoy sales throughout the year. For information about online sales and other matters, visit the website (www.guyetteanddeeter.com) or call Gary Guyette, who is based in St. Michaels, Maryland, at (410) 745-0485, or Jon Deeter at (440) 543-1416 in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.


A red-breasted merganser drake from the last quarter of the 19th century was found on Long Island, New York. It is a two-piece decoy with a hollow body and centerline seam, made with square nails. It was found with an old squaw body by the same maker, who remains unidentified, and had been in the collection of Oceanside, Long Island, collector Bud Ward. It was estimated at $10,000/14,000 and realized $34,500 from a phone buyer. It is illustrated in Decoys by Gene and Linda Kangas.


A green-winged teal drake by Joseph Lincoln, one of only two working examples made and used in New England, is rare, as those birds are attracted to other puddle duck decoys. This bird retains the original paint with only minor wear. Old overpaint has been removed professionally from the sides and neck and remains on the underside. Most recently from the Duxbury, Massachusetts, collection of Cap Vinal, the bird realized $74,750 (est. $45,000/55,000). Earlier provenance includes the collections of Jim McCleery and of William J. Mackey.


A very rare old squaw (or long tail) drake in original paint by Joseph Lincoln (1859-1938), who lived at Accord Pond in Hingham, Massachusetts, brought $143,750 (est. $75,000/100,000). Such birds are great divers and are seldom observed close to shore, obviating the need for decoys. Lincoln was one of the few carvers to produce them at all, and his production was limited compared to his other birds. The bird, which retains the original paint and is one of only two known examples by Lincoln, came most recently from the collection of Cap Vinal, the author of Lincoln’s biography.


Day two of the auction began with this rare full-size decorative yellowlegs by A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, who carved the bird with raised wings in the landing position. Estimated at $30,000/35,000, it brought $47,150. The bird, from a Rhode Island estate, retains the original detailed paint and Crowell’s brand beneath the base. It is illustrated in Songless Aviary by Sagamore, Massachusetts, antiques dealer Brian Cullity.


Originally published in the October 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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