The Unlikely “Rest of the Story” of Two Sibley Redheads

The Sibley Decoy Company was run by James A. and George M. Sibley of Chicago, Illinois, father and son. The history says that the Sibley family was one of the old guard American families that dates its origins to 1629 in the New England colonies, when it began producing decoys. James A. Sibley financed his son George's decoy firm. One of the original members of the Hennepin Shooting Club on the Illinois River, George was a great waterfowl hunter. Prior to relocating to Whitehall, Michigan, George had resided and worked in Chicago. Whitehall is a city in central lower Michigan on White Lake, which is next to Lake Michigan. It appears that his cousin had a huge lumber mill there, which supplied all of the decoy timber.

Sibley decoy bodies were made on a similar production line to Mason decoys. The parts were turned on a lathe, put together, hand finished, and painted by hand. One of the most distinctive features of the Sibley Decoy is its hardwood mitered into the head inserted bill. This technique was employed to minimize bill damage. All Sibley decoys have visible insert joints on the head. According to their sales brochure, Sibley created canvasbacks, redheads, bluebills, ringbills, pintails, widgeons, blue wings and green wings teal decoys.

The decoys had beautifully sculpted heads and taxidermist-quality glass eyes. The majority of the bodies were hollowed by machine, with a strip of strap steel inserted inside to provide weight. A thin leather rope was attached to the bottom as an anchor line. Sibleys' paint scheme was rather basic, with no mixing involved. The Drakes had vermiculated backs and prominent painted wing patches on the rear. The wings of the birds in "The Story of Love" were similarly feathered, with wing patches that matched. The bottoms were all coated with a thick layer of white lead paint and the words “patent applied for” were stamped in ink. There was, however, no indication of a patent ever having been applied for or granted to Sibley! Some of the decoys were engraved with an "L" in the center of a diamond, but for unknown reasons.

Collectors for many years were unable to determine the carver of the inletted bill decoys, and they were known as Mr. X decoys. Luckily, a collector from Illinois found a Sibley Co. ad which clearly described the way their decoys were made and some distinctive elements, not found in other pieces. It's uncertain how long Sibley made decoys, but, clearly, because of the distinct bill design, they are highly valued by collectors. Even decoys in bad condition with no bill insert appear to be valuable, according to our research, unless the bill insert is badly damaged or replaced. The low end values are around $1,000, while certain pieces in good condition may be worth tens of thousands of dollars. A Sibley decoy with an inletted bill is almost certainly a Sibley. But, as always, verify the carver and condition with a reputable collector or dealer.

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