Decoys That Travelled
Our “Cover” story in this issue is all about the intriguing decoy history of Wisconsin’s Lake Koshkonong. As you will see when you read Alan Steffen’s thoroughly researched article, we make no claim of “Breaking News!” but we do present a comprehensive summary (in a single article) of what’s been previously documented; and we move the “Koshkonong Knowledge Marker” up several notches on the scale.
The recording of “Decoy History” has come a long way since Joel Barber’s trailblazing book appeared in 1934, not to be followed-up for 31 years when seminal books by Adele Earnest and William Mackey burst upon the Decoy World in 1965. But, aaaahhhh… since then, a veritable plethora of riches! Excellent decoy histories of literally dozens of geographical regions in the U.S. and Canada!
Lake Koshkonong is one of those regions. But there was something different about the decoys found there. Not unique, exactly, but different to a significant degree. If you’re reading this as a veteran decoy enthusiast, you already know the answer to “What was different?” about the decoys found around Lake K.
For those who don’t already know the answer. Here it is. “What was different” was that the region’s decoys were different from each other; they were not all of the same type or “School.” And the reason for this was…. That they were not all from the Lake Koshkonong area. Many of them came from somewhere else! But enough of that for this column. Go have a most enjoyable (and edifying) “read” of Al’s article.
The not-so-astounding truth is that wooden ducks don’t do much flying, but they do travel! Let me share a personal experience about a decoy that traveled all the way from Lake Koshkonong to an antique shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. About ten years ago, in Winston-Salem on business, I decided to check out a small antique shop that we had noticed on several occasions but never explored.
A half-hour was sufficient to see most of what was there for the viewing. Multiple dealer spaces were filled with mostly yard sale and flea market stuff. I was about to leave when something on a high shelf in a very crowded booth caught my eye. In retrospect, I’m not sure that I actually saw the three old decoys that were crammed into the midst of a clutter on that upper shelf, but I did step into the booth for a better look. Sure enough, there were three old, well-used decoys just within reach on the top shelf of what had likely been an old green-painted kitchen cupboard.
I can’t say that I held my breath in great anticipation of what I had found, but I did want a closer look. Two of the old blocks were chunky and rough. You could tell that they were supposed to be ducks; that was about it. But the third decoy… Hmmmmm. It was small, just 10 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 5 ½ inches from top of the head to the bottom of the v-shaped body. The neck and head were swept-back in Lake Koshkonong fashion, though I didn’t know that at the time; and it had a brand, a very big brand – H O A R D. The capital letters are a half-inch tall. Of course, I didn’t know the significance of the brand at the time I spotted the old decoy; I didn’t know that HOARD was the name of an historic Lake Koshkonong Hotel (and family). If you’re in the same boat that I was in when I discovered this decoy, just read Al’s article. He’ll tell you all about it.
Long story short, this old decoy had travelled! Relatively speaking, a long way! My guess is – from Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin to the coast of North Carolina “by way of” New York, or Boston, or Baltimore. The fact is that many of the wealthy “Sports” who travelled from the metropolitan areas of the Northeast to Wisconisn’s Lake K also travelled south along the Atlantic Coast to the great gunning areas of Virginia and North and South Carolina.
Finally, just one additional thought about decoy brands. Larry Cook has brought us information and photos of “Decoy Brands of the Rich and Famous.” Not all of the decoys that were in the rigs of the “Rich and Famous” were what we would call “collectible” today… except for the fact that the brands on them made them special. Read his article and you’ll see.
Happy Collecting, Everybody!