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That old duck decoy could be the real deal

Associated Press

Looking to feather your retirement nest? Try scouring the attic for grandpa’s old duck decoys.

A pair of Minnesota-made duck decoys fetched $90,000 at a Christie’s New York auction in mid-January, though the carver’s name remains a mystery.

The wooden pintail hens, made around 1900, were a nifty investment for the Michigan antique dealer who sold them. He paid $25 for them during a Minnesota buying trip in 1972.

The same auction also produced the world-record price for a waterfowl decoy: A bidder paid $856,000 for a rare 19th-century red-breasted merganser made by Massachusetts carver Lothrop Holmes.

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In today’s investment world, duck decoys are the new junk bonds. A handful of wealthy investors are stalking the nation’s top auction houses like hungry foxes, hoping to make a killing on folksy wooden plovers, ducks and geese.

And prices are skyrocketing.

"What we’ve got is a dozen or 15 new collectors who make hundreds of millions of dollars a year," said Gary Guyette, co-owner of the world’s largest decoy auction house, Guyette & Schmidt, in Maryland. "If you have a $30,000 decoy and they like it, they might pay $130,000 for it."

Guyette teamed with Christie’s last in January to auction 50 antique decoys, including the Minnesota pintails. Guyette wouldn’t name the pintails’ seller and highest bidder, but he revealed the Michigan seller kept them in a cupboard for decades.

"I told him they’d be worth at least $20,000," Guyette said, "but certainly not $90,000."

That’s not even a record auction price for a Minnesota-made antique decoy. In 2005, Guyette’s auction house sold a snow-goose decoy made by John Tax of Osakis for $100,625. The same decoy sold in 2000 for $66,000.

"The market’s been crazy like that," Guyette said.

Tax, who lived from 1894 to 1967, sold his carved decoys for $2 to $6.

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