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Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1930s
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Decoys Attributed to Robert Lange, Circa 1900:
The carver of the pair of decoys pictured above is unknown, although there is some thought that they originated in Scotland in the 1st quarter of the 20th century. They have exaggerated high foreheads, glass eyes, incised wings and are a bit on the smallish side, measuring an inch or so shorter than most wood pigeon decoys. Not exactly rare but not a commonly encountered decoy either, they do show up at auction from time to time.
One of the finest wood pigeon decoys I have seen to date, second only to the best of those by Trulock and Harriss. A solid-bodied decoy with applied wings, raised wing tips and a full, protruding breast, it shares many characteristics with the carvings attributed to Robert Lange and Robert Sainz (See http://www.woodpigeondecoys.com/), both from Yorkshire, characteristics that seem to be common to that area. However, there are just enough differences to make me believe that it was made in the late 1800s to early 1900s by a third carver from that area. The incisions on the wings and form of the flared and fluted tail as opposed to the tapered tails most often seen in decoys from this area are unique while the shapes of the head, bill and full body are not. The decoy, measuring 13" in length, is in near mint original condition with an incredibly deep patina.
Trulock and Harriss decoys, circa 1880 – 1920):
Unknown Suffolk Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1920s:
Gradewell Last Company, Ltd., Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa Mid-1930s:
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy Trio, Circa Late 2nd Quarter to Early Third Quarter, 20th Century
Edward Arthur "Ted" Grace Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1951 - 1977:
Perhaps the oldest wood pigeon decoy I've seen, the maker and area of origin of this fine carving are unknown. I estimate that this decoy was made circa 1860 to 1880. Although I haven't seen another, the mounting mechanism at the stick hole would certainly seem to be a well thought out and repeated feature, used on more than a few decoys. I am uncertain as to how the mechanism worked, but the stretched-out form of the bird indicates that it was intended to be held in either a running, or more likely, a feeding position. The primaries and tail feathers are crisply scored with the wing and shoulder outlines more deeply cut in. The most unusual eyes are somewhat opaque and made of an unknown hard composition with pumpkin-colored pupils.
Heeding his own advice, Ward began offering what were perhaps the first commercially-produced wood pigeon decoys through his company somewhere in the last quarter of the 19th century. I’ve corresponded with several authorities on Roland Ward and his work, and there is no evidence that these decoys were made by either Ward or a member of his staff. Instead, they were probably made for Ward on a seasonal or “as needed” basis by an unknown carver or carvers from the London area where Ward had his shop. One supposition is that the decoys were carved by the same craftsmen that made the gun stocks for the company. The decoys exhibited heavily carved raised and extended wings, a fanned tail, carved or tack eyes and overall carved feather detail. The bills were carved and inset. A number of these early carvings have a brass tag affixed to the belly, reading “R. Ward Co. Naturalists, 166 Piccadilly, London”.
Shortly after the introduction of Trulock and Harriss’s cast metal TRU-ISS decoy, Harry William Turvey (1876-Unk.), of Holloway, a London suburb, followed with a wooden-bodied decoy with a cast aluminum head that he dubbed ”Dreadnought”, presumably in honor of the famous WWI British battleships. A copper tag attached to the bottom of these decoys references British Patent No. 193738 which was issued to Turvey on April 13, 1922. The patent is not for the pigeon itself, but for the mounting system (2nd photo) which allowed the pigeon to move by means of springs and wires in conjunction with the attached mounting plate and stick. The unusual cast aluminum alloy head with glass eyes was apparently not covered by the patent. It is attached to the body by what appears to be a nail driven into the body through a hole cast into the head. The wooden body is extremely well-carved with flowing lines, a fluted tail, carved wing outlines and finely carved primaries similar to what Elmer Crowell did with his better early shorebirds.
William Jaggard Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1940s
The Geo. G. Bussey Co., one of London’s premier sporting goods dealers, sold wood pigeon decoys by a number of carvers made offsite by craftsmen on a contract basis. Whether or not Bussey produced decoys in his manufacturing facility in Peckham, a district of London, where a number of the products carried in their stores were made, is unclear, but a distinct possibility. The example on the upper left above is a very fine solid-bodied decoy with orange glass eyes and inset bill, circa the 2nd quarter of the 20th century. Reminiscent in form of the earlier decoys by Trulock and Harris, this decoy has detailed wing, shoulder and tail carving with raised wing tips and high quality paint in the breeding plumage. The three decoys in the second row also bear the Bussey decal, a black and gold sticker with the company's GGB logo. They appear to have been made by three different carvers, although the first of the three may be an earlier version by the same hand as the decoy at the top left. The company was founded by George Gibson Bussey (1829 - 1889) around 1860 and remained in business until the late 1940s.
Harry Earnest Boddy of Walderslade, Kent, carved in a variety of styles in his shop from 1922 until 1951 when he sold his business to neighbor Ted Grace. Styles included half-bodied feeders with a cavity beneath for attachment of a spike, fully-rounded solid decoys, string-actuated "flappers", winged flyers known as "settling" decoys and at least one fully rounded hollow-bodied decoy. To my knowledge, all of Boddy’s decoys incorporated cast lead bills and screws set into shoe eyelets for eyes. Overall, the paint on his decoys and those of Grace were the most artfully accomplished of the commercially produced wood pigeon decoys, with flowing brush strokes, subtle shading and elaborate wet-on-wet blending. The first photo above is of a rare early stationary hollow model by Boddy, circa 1932, the only fully-hollow wood pigeon decoy that I've encountered, other than the hollow "settling" decoys (second photo) developed in conjunction with Arthur Horace Penn of London. Penn submitted a patent application in 1932 that was granted in 1935 for what they called a "settling" pigeon decoy (second photo). Employing a system of wires and springs, a suspended decoy with hinged wings could, solely by manual operation, simulate the action of a wood pigeon hovering or about to settle. The fully rounded bodies were hollowed out to reduce the weight. These decoys were carried exclusively by Charles Hellis and Sons, Gunsmiths, London. Boddy's half-bodied decoys (See last two photos above) used his patented (Pat. GB431190 issued in 1935) mounting spike and attachment plate to allow the decoys to bob in a breeze in the manner of a feeding bird. While the bottom cavity in these feeders was usually formed by nailing a second convex piece of wood, cut out as an elongated “donut”, to the solid upper concave portion of the body, some probably earlier and more labor intensive one-piece examples do exist. In addition to pigeon decoys, Boddy also carved duck and goose decoys. His waterfowl decoys have been mistakenly identified in North America as having been carved by Austin Johnson of Colchester.
Decoys Attributed to Francis and James Rolph, Circa 1900 - 1940:
(A). Francis Rolph Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1900 - 1910:
Highly stylized and imaginative wood pigeon with a "Christmas tree" design on its back. The maker and area of origin are unknown. Although I've seen no similar examples, the quality of this decoy suggests that it wasn't the only one made by this talented carver. Crafted with black hatpin eyes, an upswept tail and deftly painted with vivid plumage, this fine decoy offers all you can ask in an early decoy. Appears to be circa 1900.
Geo. G. Bussey & Co., Ltd., Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa 2nd Q, 20th C:
Examples by unknown carvers such as the two pictured above share characteristics with the early wooden decoys sold by both R. Ward Co. and Trulock and Harriss, but differ enough to open the possibility that they were crafted by other as yet unidentified makers. It is also possible that they are later examples from Ward or earlier examples from Trulock and Harriss. Almost certainly commercially made, the tails on both are most similar to the Ward decoys while the wings are more similar to the offerings of Trulock and Harriss, yet the heads differ from both. In the first example, the breast is laminated in a manner similar to those found on a number of examples by Trulock and Harriss. Overall, each is more accomplished than the Wards, but they lack the sculptural finesse of the Trulock and Harriss birds. The later decoys of the Geo. G. Bussey Co. are similar in many ways to the decoy in the second photo.
Francis Rolph of Lakenheath, Suffolk, was the area's largest dealer in all manner of birds and game. After inquiries from customers, he began making decoys as early as 1880, concentrating on pigeon decoys. While most English wood pigeons were carved with integral heads and bodies, one sizable group of decoys in particular from the late 1800s to early 1900s was carved with separate heads. I believe those decoys, pictured in (A) immediately above, were carved by Francis. In addition to the separately carved heads, they had inset wooden bills, white glass eyes and somewhat blocky bodies.
Decoy such as example (A) above that were fitted to be suspended from a tree branch were called "lofters" while the trees they were set out in were known as "sitty trees"
Francis had two sons, Frank and James. Frank went on to co-found Taylor-Rolph, a lawn bowl manufacturer, while James, born in Lakenheath in 1875, became a master carpenter, crafting furniture and musical instruments as well as pigeon decoys in his shop in Elveden, Suffolk. I attribute the examples in (B), (C) and (D) above to James, although it is certainly possible that there was some cooperative overlap between father and son, particularly regarding examples such as (B). After the end of WWI, James acquired a motor bike engine and built himself a motorized band saw for cutting out the rough decoy. As seen in photo (D) above, these later decoys (on the right), finished with drawknife and spokeshave, had more rounded bodies and often included raised wingtips as seen in (C) above, features his prior decoys lacked. His earlier birds, similarly to those of his father, were more rectangular in cross section, reflecting the exclusive use of hand tools in the making of his decoys. James had four daughters; Muriel, Sybil, Ena and Freda. Sybil, who married William Jaggard in 1930, himself a master carpenter, along with her sisters, is known to have painted the decoys made by Jaggard as he joined and continued the family business. It is possible, if not probable, that the sisters also participated in the painting of James's decoys.
A decoy attributable Francis can be found in Wild Fowl Decoys written by Joel Barber in 1935 (Plate 54), while one by James is included in the Guyette/Sotheby catalog of Dr. Jim McCleery's collection (Lot 559, Jan 2000). Another example was included in the a Guernsey's auction catalog (Lot 281, June 1993). It was cataloged as being made by James, circa 1890. While it is possible that James carved it, he would have been only 15 years old at the time. I believe the pictured decoy is actually somewhat newer and more probably carved by Francis. Nonetheless, some basis must have existed to match this decoy to the Rolph family.
The B.S.C. Mechanical Decoy Pigeon, circa 1940 (Collection of H.F. Arentsen, Volendam, The Netherlands, Europe)
Full-bodied wood pigeon decoy by an unknown carver, circa 1900. Somewhat shorter and more plump than most decoys of this species, the wing outlines, shoulders and wing tips are deeply incised. The wing primaries are cut in as well. Screws serve as the eyes.
R. Ward Co. Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa Late 1800s:
I have been unable to learn anything about Robert Sainz of Yorkshire other than his name and home. However, I've seen enough examples and photos of decoys carved in this style to believe that he existed and did, indeed, carve a fairly significant number of decoys, circa early 1st quarter, 20th century and perhaps as early as the late 1800s. As with North American decoys, the influence of one carver within a region upon another is common. Such appears to have been the case with decoys from the Yorkshire region. The carvings are heavy bodied with an exaggerated breast and oftentimes a slightly uplifted head. However, enough variation in the decoys exist to make it possible if not probable that they were made by more than one craftsman, hence my identification as Robert Sainze "type" decoys. Hopefully, further research will provide more insight into the craftsmen from this region and their decoys. Although not of the same quality of those attributed to Robert Lange, they are nonetheless quite handsome early decoys.
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa 1st Q, 20th C
Unknown Commercially-Produced Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa 1900:
(B). James Rolph Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1910 - 1920:
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy Rig, Circa 1920s-1930s
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1900 (Collection of Jim Stewart, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada)
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 3rd Q, 20th C
Robert Sainz-Type Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa Early 1st Q, 20th C:
Rig of English wood pigeon decoys by an unknown carver, circa 1920s - 1930s. Found in Carmarthen, Wales, UK, they are possibly from that area. Included are a scarce flying decoy known as a "wing-flapper". These decoys were typically mounted on what was called a "bouncer" or "floater" pole. Relatively rare, they decoys were used to introduce an element of movement to an otherwise static decoy spread. In the case of this decoy, the wings are spring-loaded to move up and down in a breeze. The other two decoys in the rig are standard ground decoys, although one does have a spring fitted into the stick hole to allow the decoy to move in a breeze, a characteristic that the maker obviously believed in. The heads of the flyer and one of the other two were mortised into the bodies while the head of the third was mounted directly on the body. On the flyer, the well-thought-out separate wing assembly was also mortised into the body and held in place by a screw to allow removal of the assembly for safe transit and storage and to facilitate any necessary repairs or replacements. Variations in size, paint, structure and finesse lead me to believe that this rig of decoys was carved by a hunter for his personal use rather than by a commercial maker.
In approximately the same time frame as Ward, the London gunsmith firm of Trulock and Harriss began to offer carved decoys as well. Like their R. Ward Co. counterparts, they, too, were heavily carved with deeply-cut shoulders, raised wings with extended wingtips and carved primaries, wide-spread fluted tails and overall feather carving. Their eyes were high quality glass and the bills were cast from lead and inset. Oftentimes, the bellies of their decoys were a separately laminated piece of wood. The form of these decoys, however, was superior to that of the Wards, displaying much more fluidity and grace. While many examples can be described as "angry", "brooding" or "hawkish" in appearance, their artistry is undeniable; they are the best of the English wood pigeon decoys. They were carved in several styles, including at least one flying model with fully extended wings. As with those of the R. Ward Co., these decoys also appear to have been carved by an unknown carver or carvers for the company as needed.
Trulock and Harriss “TRU-ISS” decoy, circa 1912-1916:
Trulock and Harriss offered their wooden decoys for sale until roughly 1912 when they were replaced with a metal decoy. Patterned closely after their wooden predecessors with molded wings and fluted tails, these hollow decoys were made of two cast and embossed aluminum alloy halves, a top and a bottom, secured by a wing nut. The bottoms are impressed with “THE TRU-ISS DECOY” along with the company name and address. Earlier models with stamped metal eyes are marked “PATENT APPLIED” while later models with glass eyes include the inscription, “HARRISS’S PATENT No. 21550”. Both models featured a separate cast head, secured to the body by means of a leaf spring in a “bobble-head” style that lent motion to a set of decoys although I have seen one example with a fixed head. A bit of an oddity, they are highly collectible in their own right, sought after by both decoy enthusiasts and cast metal collectors. There was also another model with stamped metal eyes and an integrally cast stationary head, perhaps the earliest of this group.
Native to Great Britain and avidly hunted there since the advent of the breech-loading shotgun in the early 19th century, the wood pigeon is often referred to as “the poor man’s grouse”, considered by many Englishmen to be the ultimate sporting quarry. Not to be confused with their multi-hued North American kin, the rock dove (domestic or feral pigeon), they are totally wild, keen-eyed and unpredictable in flight. Approximately the same size as the now-extinct passenger pigeon, they are now the most commonly seen bird in the UK and are considered a pest by farmers who readily make their lands available to hunters in an effort to minimize crop losses. The largest survivor of the pigeon species, they can occur singly and in both large and small flocks. The birds are predominantly grey with rosy breasts, a white patch on each side of the neck of adults and a characteristic broad white bar on the wings of both adults and juveniles. Typically measuring 15 to 17.5-inches in length with a wingspan of around two feet, they are capable of 50 miles per hour in level flight and are very aerobatic flyers, making shooting a challenge.
Unknown balsa-bodied wood pigeon decoy. It appears to have been influenced by the decoys of Harry Boddy and Ted Grace. It was most likely made in the late 1950s to early 1960s after Ted Grace's retirement from full-time carving in 1957. The eyes are somewhat similar in makeup to the Boddy and Grace decoys with a black-headed tack seated in a white grommet. The shoulder and wing edges are lightly carved; however, the bill is wooden rather than poured lead and the paint, while similar in pattern, lacks the free-flowing brushstrokes of those by the earlier makers. In all likelihood, this was one of the last of the wooden decoys made for resale, soon to be replaced by counterparts made from fiberglass and other man-made materials.
Flapping or flying wood pigeon decoy (repainted) dubbed "The B.S.C. Mechanical Pigeon Decoy", circa 1940, although the actual maker (B.S.C.?) is unknown. The advertisement above is from a 1941 issue of a Parker Hale catalog. The decoy could be ground-mounted on a stake or on a tall rod, called a lofting pole. The wings are attached to the body by spring hinges and were controlled by a long cord through the body to make them move realistically.
A1: From the collection of Ludovic Du Faux, Bruges, Belgium. Photos by Pascal Wibaut, Brussels, Belgium.
A2: Photos and background courtesy of Wendy Wallis, daughter of Ted Grace.
Sleek wood pigeon decoy made of cast and embossed aluminum alloy by an unknown maker from the United Kingdom, circa 2nd quarter, 20th century. The half-bodied shell, open from below, measures 14-3/8" in length and 4" in width. Although the shell measures less than 1/8" in thickness and weighs less than one pound, it is nonetheless rigid and very durable. The decoy is heavily embossed, including raised primaries, a fluted tail and back, scapular and rump feathers. It is in original paint, including painted eyes, showing moderate wear. A flange with threaded receptacle is riveted to the body from below to accept a similarly threaded post for mounting. Although not as elaborate as the aluminum "TRU-ISS" decoys of Trulock and Harriss, the light weight, durability and life-like silhouette of these decoys would have made them popular with gunners. I have seen a modest number of these decoys which influenced the development of the fiber and synthetic shell decoys by Max Baker and others that would eventually be the demise of these decoys and their wooden predecessors. Most likely made in an industrial area such as London or Suffolk by an established metalworking enterprise, these decoys form an important link in the developmental progression of the wood pigeon decoy.
In 1951, after a 6-month apprenticeship with his neighbor Harry Boddy, Edward Arthur "Ted" Grace (1914-1985), pictured above in his shop in Walderslade, Kent, purchased Boddy's business, continuing it with only relatively minor changes that can make the decoys by the two men difficult to distinguish between. The body of work of the two men taken together makes them perhaps the most prolific of the English carvers. Grace made his decoys with narrower and more tapered heads and necks (See last photo immediately above; the Grace decoy is on the left) and painted his decoys with a lighter palette than seen on those by Boddy. Learning from Boddy, Grace roughed out the birds from western red cedar on a bandsaw before finishing with spoke-shave and draw-knife. As Boddy before him, Grace also made duck and goose decoys. Patterns included in the last two photos include those for full-bodied decoys, half-bodied feeders and a wing pattern for a "flapper". His decoys were sold through gunsmiths in London, Birmingham and Cambridge. Many of his decoys bore the paper label above; however, few of these fragile labels have survived. A Royal Navy submariner during WWII, Grace averaged about 24 decoys per week while working full-time from 1951 through 1957. He continued working part-time until 1977. As with the decoys of Harry Boddy, his decoys have often been misidentified in the USA as having been made by Austin Johnson.
While a large majority of the wood pigeon decoys found today were made in quantity to be sold commercially, unique hunter-produced examples made in smaller rigs are found with regularity. Many of these are somewhat primitive in execution and were patterned after commercial examples, particularly in the 2nd quarter of the 20th century before inexpensive mass-produced commercial decoys became available but are interesting and collectible nonetheless. Other decoys that appear to be hunter-produced examples such as the two pictured above, can rival or surpass the best of the commercially produced birds. For the most part, the makers are unknown. Unfortunately these decoys are quite rare but eagerly sought after by collectors.
Lange, Sainz or ???, circa late 1800s to early 1900s
In the earliest documentation of the use of wood pigeon decoys that I have found, renowned London taxidermist Rowland Ward wrote in “The Sportsman’s Handbook” in 1880, “The employment of dummies and decoys for birds, and especially for shore-birds, is interesting and useful. Probably in all parts of the world ingenuity can adapt this resource in degree. As a rule gregarious birds are those most subject to the fascination, for such it is. To give examples in our own country, wood-pigeons can be attracted thus: Any carpenter can make the shape of a wood-pigeon in rough; no legs need be shaped, but a stick should project from the lower part of the breast, so that the dummy can be fixed on the ground, or placed in a tree, as may be required; this figure must be painted in colour to represent the pigeon, and the paint must be ‘flatted’, that is, not glossy. It is astonishing how the wild birds will come down to their haunts when they see this dummy there to assure them”.
Unknown Cast and Embossed Aluminum Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1st Q, 20th C
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 2nd Half, 19th Century (Collection of Jim Stewart, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada)
Harry Boddy Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa 1932 - 1951:
English Wood Pigeon Decoys
While waterfowl and shorebird decoys are known to have been made in Britain, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium and the Mediterranean coast, wood pigeon decoys appear to be almost exclusively English. Their development closely followed that of North American decoys. One notable exception is that the majority of English wood pigeons were commercially-produced by "cottage industries" rather than by factories or hunters. Most collectible examples were made between 1875 and 1960, before being replaced with canvas, plastic and fiberglass models which are still extensively used.
Very nice wood pigeon decoy by an unknown English carver, circa 2nd quarter, 20th century. The decoy exhibits characteristics most often seen in carvings from the Suffolk area such as those by Harry Boddy and Ted Grace; however, as seen in the second photo, this 15-inch long decoy (on the right) is slightly larger and fuller-bodied with a thicker head and neck than those of the aforementioned carvers (Grace decoy on the left). As with Boddy's and Grace's birds, the front wing and shoulder outlines are cut in; however, this carver continued the lower wing outline along the sides, culminating in a "V" atop the tail. In original paint, also of the typical Suffolk pattern, the decoy has glass eyes. The bill is also original and appears to be carved integrally with the rest of the decoy rather than being carved or cast separately and inset into the head.
On the one hand, you have a family of decoys from the Suffolk area that show up far too often for their carver or carvers not to be known. On the other, you have a family of carvers also from the Suffolk area known to have carved too many decoys over too long a span for their products to not be recognized. What if the solution to each mystery is staring you in the face? I believe such is the case regarding the decoys of Francis and James Rolph of Elveden, Suffolk. Barring evidence to the contrary, I feel confident in making such an attribution.
William Jaggard of Elveden, Suffolk, was another commercial maker that enjoyed a lengthy and successful career, stretching from the 1930s to 1957. Jaggard was taught to make decoys by his father-in-law, James Rolph, and continued the family business. The three decoys shown in the last photo are believed to be earlier developmental examples from the 1930s, before he settled on his more recognizable pattern (first two photos) in the 1940s. They were full-bodied birds with relief carved wings and shoulders, glass eyes, a cast metal bill and a very precise paint pattern in fall plumage. The decoys were painted by James Rolph daughters, Muriel, Sybil, Ena and Freda. Jaggard married Muriel in 1930. Kenneth Jaggard, William and Muriel's son, helped with the sanding and painting but never carved himself. Kenneth estimated the family's output to have been "many thousands". Family records show annual outputs of 225, 209 and 259 for the years 1947 - 1949, respectively. Jaggard's business ledger shows that his last order was from Darlow & Co., Gunsmiths, or Norwich for one dozen pigeon decoys priced at 11 shillings each. Judging from the number of examples found today, Jaggard was one of England's most prolific makers.
Harry William Turvey “Dreadnought” decoy, Circa 1922:
Unknown Hunter-Produced Wood Pigeon Decoys, Circa 1900):
Unknown Wood Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1900
(C). James Rolph Pigeon Decoy, Circa 1920s - 1940:
(D). James Rolph Pigeon Decoys, 1910 - 1920 (L), 1920 - 1940 (R):
The Gradewell Last Co., Ltd., of Leicester, England, made excellent solid-bodied decoys circa the 1930s. This decoy pictured above is one of only two by this maker that I have seen, but I have heard of a pair being given as an award at a pigeon shoot in Leicester where they were made. Gradewell, a maker of wooden shoe lasts, was incorporated in 1912 and dissolved around 2004. The duplicating equipment used by the company for making shoe lasts made the manufacture of decoys a natural fit, but it is unknown whether this decoy was part of a special order, a regular product offering or a product made as a filler only during slow periods. Regardless, it is a high quality decoy that is heavier than most pigeon decoys, probably due to the use of the same hardwoods such as maple, hornbeam and beech that the company used in the production of shoe lasts. These hardwoods were chosen because they were free of knots, cut cleanly with no fraying and were unlikely to split. This resulting decoys were well-formed with crisply incised wings and shoulders and smoothly finished. The birds had white glass eyes and inset wooden bills. Embossed on the bottom of the decoys is "Gradewell Last Co. Ltd, Leicester, Eng".
Well executed and stylish decoy by an unknown carver believed to have been from Suffolk, circa late 1st quarter to early 2nd quarter, 20th century. The decoy exhibits characteristics compatible with those of William Jaggard, also from Suffolk. The decoy is in original paint with moderate flaking and wear. It has small glass eyes, an unusual upswept tail and deeply carved wings and shoulders particularly reminiscent of Jaggard's decoys. The inset wooden bill is also original and shaped in a similar manner to the lead bills used by Jaggard. The decoy measures 13-1/2" in length and is about3-1/2" wide across the shoulders. Suffolk was home to a number of gunsmiths and gun shops that sold pigeon decoys. It is known that a relatively large number of decoys were made in the area by various carvers to be sold by those concerns. It would not come as a surprise if the characteristics of one carver's work carried over to that of another.
A striking rig of decoys by an unknown carver, circa late 2nd to early 3rd quarter of the 20th century. Each is carved in a different pose, from the rather quizzical decoy on the left to the standard ground decoy in the center to the running decoy on the right. Not only are the poses different, the sizes vary as well, making it most likely that each was made without a master pattern. These differences lead me to the conclusion that the rig was made by a hunter for his own use rather than by a commercial maker that repeatedly carved and painted an inventory for sale. As such, they are folk art at its finest, a synergistic effort of great appeal. The bills were crafted from nylon rather than wood or cast metal. The original paint patterns, while not as practiced as you might find on a commercial product, are nonetheless effective. The placement of the glass eyes, somewhat out of kilter, only adds to the charm of this group.
Circa late 1800s to early 1900s, Robert Lange of Yorkshire carved and sold an interesting and very desirable decoy in a style quite similar to North American shorebirds. Glass-eyed with inset wooden bills and nicely rounded, his decoys were much more stylized than most English decoys. The plump bodies with rosy breasts and artfully-applied characteristic white markings at the neck and wings were smoothly carved and are found in both one-piece and laminated examples. The wings on some are delineated only by the paint pattern while those on others are skillfully laminated to the bodies. Another characteristic that seems to hold true from his earliest carvings such as the example in the first photo to his later work as seen in the last photo is the flattened crown of the head. Although his decoys appear to be more limited in number than those of some of the better known commercial makers, they have an undeniable appeal. Disagreement exists as to whether or not these decoys were carved in Yorkshire by Lange, with some believing they were made in Scotland by an unidentified carver, but the overall style is so congruent with that of other decoys from the Yorkshire area that a Scottish origin seems doubtful to me. If not the "father" of the Yorkshire school, Lange was certainly the best. I found the Lange attribution in a 1993 Guernsey's auction cataloged by Gene Kangas and have chosen to use it until otherwise disproven. Regardless, these stand as some of the United Kingdom's finest.