Trio of plovers carved by Crowell claims top roost at Copley auction

The ‘Dust-Jacket’ black-bellied plover trio, carved by Elmer Crowell, sold for a collective $984,000.

The ‘Dust-Jacket’ black-bellied plover trio, carved by Elmer Crowell, sold for a collective $984,000.

PLYMOUTH, Mass. – Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC, the nation’s premier decoy and sporting art auction house, just completed its 16th annual Sporting Sale, realizing $4.44 million in total sales. The auction results pushed the company’s auction sales total for 2021 to more than $9.3 million, surpassing the company’s previous annual high water mark and extending Copley’s unrivaled track record in the industry. The two-day, 507-lot auction, live-streamed on July 9 and 10, was 92% sold by lot and averaged more than $9,500 per lot sold.

This sale contributed four more birds to Decoy Magazine’s “Top 100” decoys at auction list. Since 2009, Copley has placed 31 lots on this tally, more than the rest of the field combined. The recent Sporting Sale set new world records for both decoy makers and sporting artists.

"Masterworks" Elliston preening mallard, which sold for $100,200

“Masterworks” Elliston preening mallard, which sold for $100,200

Important single-owner collections and estates once again led the way. Day one kicked off with The Johnson Collection Of American Bird Decoys, which brought $1.8 million. The historic collection of predominantly shorebirds received a dedicated 140-page catalog. The 37 shorebird lots sold averaged more than $41,000, making it one of the most successful decoy offerings ever. All seven of Copley’s single-owner catalogs have now eclipsed the $19,000 average price per lot, a benchmark set at the sale of the Distinguished Collection of Dr. James M. McCleery, a bellwether auction held in New York in 2000.

The “Dust-Jacket” black-bellied plover trio by Elmer Crowell brought an impressive combined $984,000 total for the three on estimates of $300,000-$500,000 each. The skyward-gazing plover led the trio in order and price at $372,000. It was followed by the turned-head model at $324,000, and the third to cross the block was the feeder at $288,000.

Kankakee pintail drake, which sold for $186,000

Kankakee pintail drake, which sold for $186,000

Bidders also enthusiastically vied for carvings originating from the Midwest. The Kankakee pintail drake shot to $186,000, surpassing its high estimate of $150,000 and setting a new world record for the maker. The “Masterworks” Elliston preening mallard realized $100,200, and the McCleery slope-breast mallard hen achieved $96,000, more than three times what it last sold for in 2000 at the McCleery sale. The “Masterworks” Perdew wood duck pair also saw action, racing past its high estimate to land at $49,200.

Contemporary carvers’ best works were on display and the market spoke, with a preening wigeon by Mark S. McNair bringing $9,200, more than three times the high estimate. The maker’s kildeer shot to $5,540 and a turnstone reached $4,600. A pair of wood ducks by William Gibian achieved a record $10,500, and a decorative stilt sandpiper by Arnold T. Melbye landed at $8,600. World records for Colin S. McNair entertained the live-streamed auctioneer as they were set for three lots in a row, finishing with a circa 2004 merganser at $6,150.

Copley broke several of its own artist world records. A record for David A. Hagerbaumer was set on day one at $10,200 for a watercolor of bobwhite quail, only to be topped by grouse on day two, nudging the record to $13,530. William Goadby Lawrence’s oil, Leaping Marlin, sold above the high estimate for $10,200 and a record for the artist.

Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is currently accepting consignments for The Winter Sale 2022 next February. For a free confidential auction estimate, call Decoy Specialist Colin S. McNair or Fine Art Specialist Leah Tharpe at 617-536-0030 or email


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