Decoy Prices Are Real McCoy
Posted December 1, 1996
HARKERS ISLAND — Most of today's duck hunters outfit themselves with plastic decoys that retail for about $5 each. Effective, but lacking the grace of the realistically carved wood decoys of the past. The carving is becoming a fading tradition, so prices have moved into the stratosphere. Some decoys go for as "little" as $50 but can easily be priced at $400 or higher.
The 9th annual Core Sound Decoy Festival will be held here Dec. 7 - 8, celebrating the art form. Decoy carvers will be on hand at the island school to demonstrate their skills and to show their wares.
The festival's organizers hope to raise funds to build a new structure for the tiny Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, which is chockablock with decoys, hunting guns and artwork about life close to the water.
According to Jul Hamilton, 71, the hunting of his boyhood was "to put food on the table. We made decoys out of whatever we could find.
"You could buy a decoy for $1.25, but money was scarce," said Curtis Salter, 68, another experienced carver.
Hamilton said he gave little thought to the artistic value of the decoys he made years ago. They were regarded as simply utilitarian, and when hunters stumbled in their boats and snapped off the wood heads and tails, Hamilton restored the decoys.
Many of the old decoys have moved into the realm of folk art, fetching big prices. And a stand of 200 hand-carved decoys today could cost about $10,000, with the owner never intending to set them anywhere near the water.
Decoys usually are carved from stumps of tupelo gum trees, a byproduct of swampland timber harvesting.
"You certainly have to be affluent to hunt over a school of hand-carved decoys," said museum director Carl Huff. "Everybody wants to return to the good old days, and this is a piece of it."