In Jim Cook's Archive


Last week I flew to Chicago for the National Decoy Collectors show. It’s held every year at Pheasant Run, a down-at-the-heels resort in St. Charles, Illinois. I’ve been collecting antique waterfowl decoys for almost 40 years. These artifacts were used by hunters to lure in ducks and geese. To be valuable they have to be in original condition, although certain decoys in rough shape can still have value.

As you traverse the halls of the hotel one hundred rooms have their doors open for viewing. The beds and tables are covered with duck and goose decoys, fish spearing decoys, duck calls and hunting and fishing memorabilia. Hundreds of collectors and dealers circulate through the rooms. Most decoys on the beds are worth $200 or less. But occasionally a more desirable and more expensive decoy turns up. In 2007, a decoy sold at auction for a record $756,000. The greatest decoys in pristine condition and made by known carvers prior to 1950 are few and far between. Prices for these are usually in the six figures. A decoy auction is also held at the show. Prices went as high as $212,000 for a mint hen mallard decoy made in 1890 in Bureau, Illinois on the banks of the Illinois River. The seller and consigner of this decoy didn’t know what he had. He was going to sell it for a few hundred dollars. Then he happened to look on the internet and found a listing for a decoy auction which he called. He was shocked to hear the high value they promised him.

I had to leave the show early and accompany my wife to the Langham Hotel in downtown Chicago. Our granddaughter who lives and works in Chicago is getting married in a few weeks and we took her and her fiancé to Alinea, written up as the best restaurant in the world. You have to make the reservation months in advance and pay when you make the reservation. It was interesting, but the food was a little exotic for me. Although I did enjoy the edible balloon. In the morning we visited our granddaughter’s office with a view 70 stories above Lake Michigan. She walked us through the company which employs 160 ultra-young traders staring at banks of computers. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what they do. Then we had lunch at RL, Ralph Lauren’s wonderful restaurant on Michigan Avenue and headed for the airport. The TSA took a hard look at the duck decoy I was carrying in a cloth bag. It wasn’t too expensive, but I was excited to get it home and put it on a shelf in my decoy room.

Editor’s note: David Rockefeller the grandson of John D. Rockefeller (founder of Standard Oil and the wealthiest man of all time) passed away in 2017 at the age of 102. For years he was the president of Chase Manhattan Bank. His net worth exceeded $3 billion. This month, Christie’s in New York is holding a series of auctions to sell his art and antiques. Among these are his decoy collection. He and his wife Peggy decorated their home using antique decoys among their many valuable artifacts. The sale is expected to total $1 billion and the collection is considered to be one of the greatest art collections to ever come to market.

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