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Great Canadian Ripoffs

Auction Fakes - The Case of the Disappearing Decoys

Sold for $8,000 US.
John R Wells Canadian Decoy, c 1910

Above an extremely rare John R Wells hollow Black Duck Drake decoy. John R Wells was head carpenter-foreman of boat building in Toronto, and recognized as a master carver along the Toronto waterfront. In 1919 he was selected to carve the decoys for the Prince of Wales' hunting party. It must have been the highlight of his career.

This decoy, recognized as one of his finest, is hollow, with leaded keel (below) and great style.

Sold for $8,000 US.
Lem Ward Decoy, The Sleeping Pintail, c 1946

Sold for $11,359 US.
Antique Decoy

Auctioneer Rip-off: Auctioneers are constantly called out to evaluate items people are thinking of selling at an auction. Perhaps someone in the family has died, or a widow would like to find an honest person to give her a fair estimate on what her late husband's lifetime collection of decoys would be worth - to tide her over in her old age... alone...

Such an event happened recently in eastern Ontario, when a prominent regional auctioneer was called in to assess the worth of his collection.

He gave her an estimate for what the items would bring and offered to put them up for auction on a consignee basis - he sells them for her at one of his auctions; she gets a percent of the gross.

In her grief, she trusted, and agreed.

What Happened According to Informed Sources:

"Well when he saw some of those decoys his mouth watered with greed, you'd better believe it. He could see some of those ducks would get eight, ten thousand dollars apiece - US that is, or more!

Yeah, but not at his auction!

A friend of mine knew that collection real well; he was a friend of Harry - he's the collector - and they often discussed the value of those things. So he knew the good ones, the carvers, what they were worth, you know, being a collector himself.

So the auctioneer knew that he certainly was not going to get the best bids for some of those birds, not in ________ where he usually holds his auctions. More'n likely a few hundred for some; maybe a thousand tops for the rare ones. But he knew they would go for a lot more than that in the US.

Trouble was, at the auction, some of those birds failed to show up. The widder didn't know that; I mean she let the auctioneer do that for her, catalogue the stuff, you know; he probably said they would do that for free, as part of the auction handling service... She was in grief too - you know what they call in real estate as a "motivated seller."

Get my drift...

As I said, some of those birds never showed up at the auction. Cause my friend was looking for them. They never came up. He was some teed off; he had hoped to buy some; he's a high bidder. Not just for the birds but for the widder - he knows she coulda sure used the money. Harry was kinda solitary like, his last few years; only spent money on his collection. I don't believe she saw much of it for groceries and the like. She was kinda deprived herself.

The sale woulda helped her through the tough times ahead...

Well you know what happened, eh?

The auctioneer pulled out the most valuable birds - about a dozen or so we figure - and sold them stateside; that's what happened. So instead of getting five or six hundred he got ten to fifteen thousand.... US that is.

My friend watched the decoy auctions - as a collector that's his gig - and he swears on a pint, that he saw some of those decoys sell in New York; he recognized them he's sure. He fondled them enough; he ought to know. Huge amounts they went for.

And I ask you now, how much of that money do you think the widder ever saw?

Narry a nickel believe you me.

That's what we think; hell we know! Other people know from the widder, oblique like - they didn't want to upset her - but she said enough that we know the local auction money is all she ever got. That's all! Enough to make old Harry roll over in his great blind in the sky.

It was a great day for the auctioneer when he tied into that estate, believe you me...

But the widder, she's no wiser. She just misses Harry, not the John Wells or the Lem Ward.

Funny grieven' people are like that. Natural born targets for the parasites who smell an opportunity - used to be only the funeral directors - now it's the auctioneers too...

Kinda makes you sick, don't it?"

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