Antique collectors may have different interests when it comes to the items they hunt for. A peculiar  antique object is the duck decoy, with its long and captivating history.

As a matter of fact, dedicated shows, auctions, and conventions across the U.S. and even worldwide are committed to this art. Passionate people are exchanging impressive amounts of money to satisfy their hobby.

A duck decoy may be worth lots of money, whether it has been mass-produced, with exquisite realistic details, or carved by craftspeople hundreds of years ago. Passionate collectors know how to identify key markings, but those new in this domain might have struggles learning to recognize antique duck decoys.

It can take years of study to become a true expert, but if you are really interested you can learn to check the key ID features and spot specific elements of an antique duck decoy.

This guide will take you through all the essential tips, and information you need to complete your antique duck decoy collection.

Duck Decoy History

Duck Decoys History
Credit: @longtaildecoys

So what are duck decoys, and where does their popularity come from? A long time before British colonists entered America, Native Americans made these birds and other animals decoys for hunting purposes.

The primary materials were mud and carcasses to conjure the outlines of these creatures. Later on, colonists started to imitate this technique and build upon the success of their hunting tactics.

Starting in the mid-19th century and going to the early-20th, the building and usage of painted, hollow, wooden, or solid decoys in the shape of ducks, shorebirds, and geese became a true fashion. Most bird hunters used this special technique in their hunting process.

Huntsmen today do not use duck decoys due to modern technology and materials, so these items are now considered genuine antique and vintage treasures. Hence, auction houses and antique specialists are buying and selling these magnificent works within the folk art category.

Who Started The Duck Decoy Collection Trend?

Duck decoys were not so popular among collectors until the mid-20th century. However, the market started with small niche interest groups in the United States. Beginning in the 1950s, these enthusiasts began collecting old, antique duck decoys. Everything changed, and the antique market exploded when Han Sorenson of Burlington published “The Decoy Collector’s Guide” magazine.

Suddenly, people got crazily excited and started realizing the meaning and value of collectible duck decoys. People were sending information about their items and began an unprecedented communication movement. Soon after that, decoy shows and affairs started being organized all over the country.

What Makes Duck Decoys Truly Valuable?

What Makes Duck A Decoy Truly Valuable?
Credit: @hummingbearstudio

Today’s antique market is subject to continuous change. Birds of wooden feathers might not always flock together. Therefore, it is pretty hard to predict how much money they are worth and determine the final price.

These are the main factors that determine a duck decoy’s value:

1. The Maker

Some manufacturers are more valuable than others, especially famous or notorious companies. More information on this further down in the “Duck Decoy Makers, Regions and Types” section.

2. Region

The prices also vary by region. For instance, Long Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, and New England are areas that have specific elements, decoy types, and collectors. Areas which are better equipped for the trade of duck decoys are likely to have a more lively market and therefore items will fetch a higher price.

3. Decoy Species

There are many different decoy species – from geese to ducks, shorebirds, and many more. Shorebirds, for instance, are rarer because the popularity for this type of hunting dates back to 1928. Therefore, the prices might go higher. But specialists say that most collectors will go for antique duck and goose decoys.

4. Condition

Besides their provenance and makers, the condition of duck decoys is also a major factor in affecting their value. Some antique decoys may not be so valuable because a significant percentage of them have been repainted or parts have been replaced over the years .

Those in the best original condition will sell for higher prices. According to specialists, most decoys in a perfect state can be worth a fortune.

5. Rarity

Unique models are more likely to be worht more than mass-produced ones. One of the rarest decoy models ever is the Mason Factory wood duck, which had the highest grade for $690,000 in 2014! (here is another example of their work)

Credit: @aandm_decoys_and_folkart

6. Strength of Maker Attribution

Are there any particular, unusual features the maker has added to the wood ducks? If the answer is yes, then you might be dealing with a unique duck decoy model that is worth a lot of money.

7. Size

There are many variations in duck decoy designs, shapes, and sizes. Larger models have higher chances of being worth more.

Duck Decoy Makers, Regions, And Types

Mason Decoys

The Mason Decoy Company was the most popular and successful commercial maker of hunting decoys. This manufacturer has sold its products worldwide. The aesthetics of this company’s decoys are iconic:

  • Made out of cedar
  • Carved
  • Lathe patterned
  • Pleasing forms
  • Hand-painted in elaborate and realistic shades
  • Easy to identify

Some of the finest decoys manufactured by Mason Decoys were Mason Premier Grade and Challenge Grade. These models had detailed paint patterns and were mainly hollow-carved, with flat bottoms. Their bodies are solid and time-resistant.

The Mason Decoy Company did not stop only at these premier models but also offered Standard Grade Decoys for a lower budget option.

For instance, the painted eye decoy was the lowest Standard Grade and was smaller but more solid. However, the painted details were quite rudimentary.

Mason Decoys also produced a full line of shorebird decoys, divided into two categories: Tackeye and Glasseye. These models were larger in size, with solid bodies and iron nail bills.

The earliest models had only wooden features. The whole process of making the glasseye patterns was more elaborate than decoy making had ever been before.

Duck Decoys By Region

  • Canadian carvers were producing wooden decoys for waterfowl hunting. Their techniques led to some of the finest decoys ever made.
  • Antique decoys from the Ontario area were hollow-carved and had flat bottom boards. On the other hand, Quebec decoys were more solid and had feather-like carved ornamentations.
  • Chesapeake Bay was a leader in terms of production. Manufacturers from this area were producing vast quantities of decoys. These were mainly made of solid cedar with a heavy body and lead weights. Look at this massive model of Chesapeake Bay duck decoy.
  • Illinois River decoys were also hollow-carved and had elaborate paint patterns to best resemble the genuine birds.
  • Many antique duck decoy models come from the New Jersey area, a popular area for hunting. Most of these duck decoys have simple patterns, perhaps due to the fresh water species found in that environment.
  • Last but not least, New England was by far one of the most abundant sources of duck decoys due to the rich waterfowl hunting area. Huntsman here needed a huge variety of decoys for both individual and commercial use. Hence the decoy models reflected the species of duck that was easiest to find and hunt. The bodies were solid, while the details were most delicate.

Other Important Factories

It was not only Mason Decoy Company that had a monopoly on the duck decoy market. Some commercial decoy factories preceded the famous name, and many others followed. Factory Decoys in original condition are also highly collectible today.

Most Common Types Of Duck Decoy

As you know by now, duck decoys are replicas of real birds used back in the day by hunters to attract birds, easing their job especially during the winter months.

When attending antique affairs, expect to find:

How To Evaluate Antique Duck Decoys?

You might struggle to find genuine antique decoys if you are new in the duck decoy collectors’ niche. As long as you keep in mind some simple tips, the process will be straightforward.

1. Handle the duck decoy carefully and start a slow and detailed inspection.

Antique items should look and feel old in your hands. Check the paint and wood consistency and texture, as well as the overall pattern. Do you notice bullet holes, cracks, or tiny chips? Then you might be dealing with an antique. Conversely, it is likely to be a more recent model (i.e. vintage rather than antique) or have been repaired if the paint looks new.

2. Inspect the eyes.

Most antique duck decoys have glass eyes. Some may have metal tacks or nails for eyes.

3. Check the bottom of the decoy.

Some manufacturers have carved their initials or logo and mentioned the date of manufacture. Factory-made decoys would often display this information on a metal tag placed on the bottom of the wood decoy.

4. Study specialized books on these subjects.

Compare the pictures in the book with your items and try to find similar models. Experts in antiques recommend these three sources in particular: “American Bird Decoys,” “The Art Of Decoy,” and “Wild Fowl Decoys.”

Be Aware!

Identifying antique duck decoys is a form of art. Hence you should study the historical pieces and attend hunting shows, antique decoy auctions or talk to expert collectors.

Specialized forums are also a great source of information. Research as much as you can to learn the main subtle characteristics to look for in antique duck decoys.

Check these videos for valuing tips:

Buy And Sell Antique Duck Decoys

If you are interested in buying and selling antique duck decoys and prefer the mainstream online platforms, check these sources:


Check the wide range of vintage and antique duck decoys on eBay. Make sure you pay attention to the seller’s activity and credibility, considering there are lots of replicas out on the market.


Get the top deals from trustworthy sellers. Etsy is one of the best online sources for genuine antiques. The wide range of products and prices is the most significant benefit.

The Ultimate Guide For Antique Duck Decoy Collectors

What should a collector focus on when looking for an antique duck decoy?

  • Determine what you enjoy seeing in your collection and focus on the style, origin, or particular craftsperson or company you are passionate about.
  • Choose quality over quantity and define the construction method you are interested in. Look for original paints if you search for genuine antiques.
  • The ideal alternative to antique duck decoys is vintage or contemporary carver’s work if your budget is lower.
  • Distinguish a collection from an investment. Not all passionate can collect $10,000 decoys and make this type of investment. If you are a novice, consider collecting  cheaper decoys to begin with.
  • You have a collection, but how can you maintain its value? Try to keep the objects away from the sun and dust. Avoid touching the items too much, as skin grease may affect the colors.
  • Avoid repainting, treating, and varnishing the antique decoys. Professional collectors recommend cleaning the antiques with a simple cloth.
  • Keep records of all your collectible items. Make sure you write down your antique items’ history, value, and previous owners.
  • Consider a decoy collection insurance. Some items might be irreplaceable to you, so think about a fine art policy.


Q: Are old antique duck decoys worth the money?

A: Yes, they are genuine collection pieces. Considering the manufacturing of duck decoys started in the early part of the 20th century, it is easier to understand why antique hunting collectors look for these kinds of items.

However, those repainted or repaired might not be as valuable as those in perfect condition. Hence the price ranges will differ. If you want to have precious items in your collection, pay attention only to trustworthy sellers with a good reputation, as the market is full of replicas.

Q: What was the most expensive duck decoy ever sold?

A: The most expensive duck decoy was sold in 2014 for $690,000! It was a Mason Premiere Wood Duck Drake. Check out more auction listings which sold duck decoys for thousands of dollars here!

Q: What Are Duck Decoys Made Of?

A: Historically, duck decoys were carved from Atlantic white cedarwood (especially on the east coast of the US) or cork.

On the other hand, more modern types were made of canvas and plastic. Artists paid more and more attention to details, so the painting started to be more elaborate and accurate. This way, the decoys could resemble various kinds of waterfowl, and the hunting process was much simpler.

Also Read: 

Q: What duck decoys are worth the most money?

A: These are the duck decoy models that represent a fortune in any collector’s portfolio:

  • Mason Wood Ducks
  • Lothrop Holmes, Red-Breasted Merganser Hen Carving
  • Graves Mallards
  • The Crowell Bundle
  • The Wilson Merganser Drake Duck Decoy

Q: Do duck decoys attract ducks?

A: Adding life-like decoys around the water was an effective method to attract birds to the area Since ducks will always feel safer in groups, the more decoys the hunters added to the water, the more likely they were to attract their next prey.

Q: How can you wash duck decoys?

A: Antique duck decoys are very sensitive to any external factor (humidity, sun exposure, etc.). If you need to wash them, use only water and a cloth, never soap. Most soaps contain ultraviolet brighteners, which will affect the color shades and make duck decoys look unnatural. This will lower their value.

Q: Who are antique duck decoy collectors?

A: Most antique duck decoy collectors are usually waterfowl hunters that cherish the heritage of past waterfowl hunting techniques. Therefore, they look for wood, cork, or canvas antique duck decoys.

On the other hand, some collectors have never hunted but appreciate this kind of art for functionality and form. For sure, antique duck decoy collectors will always appreciate the beauty of these pieces or simply carry the nostalgia of antique creations.

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