Red-Breasted Merganser Hen
Red-Breasted Merganser Hen
Captain Samuel Augustus Fabens (1814-1899) Rig Salem, MA, c. 1850 Decoys from the rig of Captain Samuel Augustus Faben’s have been associated with not only the best decoys from the North Shore of Massachusetts but are considered among the finely crafted decoys from any region. Born into a nautical family, Fabens carried on his family’s ancestral tradition, commanding a number of renowned tall-ships around the globe, including one of the finest of the day, the clipper ship Challenge. This vessel’s “faultless beauty, matchless speed, and unquestionable strength” were described in a Boston Daily Atlas article from June 16th, 1851. The following is an excerpt form that article: “…The Challenge, therefore, is the embodiment of her builder’s idea of the perfect in naval architecture, and his reputation is thus practically pledged for her success… Her sheer is not sudden or marked by any peculiarity, but is truly graduated along her whole length, presenting an outline of perfect beauty. Her bow rises nobly, and although its lines are concave below, yet as they ascend they become gently modified, still preserving their angular form; and, on the rail, blend in perfect harmony with her general outline.” It is therfore not surprising that the man who commanded such a meticulous and elegant vessel would have a rig of decoys that parallel The Challenge in design. This merganser’s construction shows the work of a confident and accomplished craftsman. The hollowed body’s lines are nearly faultless and rise towards the front of the bird supporting the upturned head that portrays the animated character of the species. The head sits atop a raised neck seat and features ever-so-slight eye groove carving and full cheeks that seamlessly transition to the gently upswept bill. The entire length of the delicate bill shows deep incised mandible carving with serrated detail (see p. 175). A thin wooden crest has been inlayed into the top of the head. In addition to superb form, this carving exhibits several features that are rarely if ever seen in working decoys. The body seam begins just above the slender paddle tail, and rather than running parallel to the bottom, it ascends upwards to the center of the breast. The flat bottom of the bird is fitted with a rounded wooden keel which is particular to the region. The top of the head shows a dowel that goes down through the neck for support. The paint features subtle blending in addition to the crisp lines of the wing patch and primaries. The high quality glass eyes are two-tone. The rarity of these unique sheldrakes cannot be overstated, only four Fabens rig mergansers in original paint have ever surfaced. The only drake and a matching hen reside in an important private collection, and the only other hen is held in another private collection. To our knowledge, this is the first time a Faben’s rig merganser has ever come on the public market.
Provenance: Private Collection,Connecticut, acquired c. 1960
Literature: Joe Engers, ed., The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys, San Diego, CA, 1990, pp. 45-47, related example illustrated. Robert Shaw, Bird Decoys of North America, New York, NY, 2010, p. 150, related example.
Original paint with even gunning wear and a pleasing patina. Top portion of crest is an old replacement. The bottom left side of neck has a small chip that has been replaced with unpainted wood. Tip of bill shows some wear.