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Phillips Rig Preening Black Duck, A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)

Phillips Rig Preening Black Duck, A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)

Item Description:

Phillips Rig Preening Black Duck
A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)
East Harwich, MA, c. 1912
13 in. long

This decoy is a rigmate to the Dr. John C. Phillips (1876-1938) preening pintail that has set the world record for a decoy on three separate occasions. A testament to the standard Crowell set for his major patron, this Phillips rig black duck also holds the distinction of setting the world record for any decoy at auction when it was last offered for sale in 1986. The similarities of form, raised wing carving, and exceptional paint execution between the Phillips rig pintail and this black duck are striking and showcase the maker's fine skills as “the father of American bird carving.”

This early carving conveys Crowell's complete understanding of the species, with the full-bodied duck exhibiting perfect proportions, clean lines, and a head that fully extends back over the left side. The head reveals meticulously blended paint and refined carving details. The wingtips are both crossed and raised, and the tail showcases the carver's very best incising. The body displays the maker's exceptional wet-on-wet dry brush feathering and is perhaps the best paint seen on any Crowell black duck. While the extreme refinement of the carving and paint initially suggests that this bird was made as a decorative, the rigging marks on the bottom attest to its use on the water as a hunting decoy.

Black duck decoys were Crowell’s signature species with hundreds carved in typical straight-head positions. His preening models are indeed rare and reside in the country’s top private and museum collections. "The Magazine Antiques" cemented the iconic status of the Crowell preening black duck when they chose a related example for their September 1989 cover.

Outstanding original paint with minor touch-up.

Provenance: Dr. John C. Phillips Rig
Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Collection

Literature: William Doyle Galleries, Waterfowl and Shorebird Decoys, New York, New York, April 16, 1986, front cover and lot 81, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert H. Boyle, “The Art of Deception,” Audubon Magazine, May/June 2002, p. 44, exact decoy illustrated.
Stephen B. O'Brien, Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney, "Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving," Hingham, MA, 2018, exact decoy illustrated.
David S. Webster and William Kehoe, "Decoys at Shelburne Museum," Burlington, VT, 1961, p. 23, no. D-43-W, similar decoy illustrated.
Adele Earnest, "The Art of the Decoy: American Bird Carvings," New York, NY, 1965, p. 172, pl. 148, similar decoy illustrated.
Laurence Sheehan, "The Sporting Life," New York, NY, 1992, pp. 82-83, exact decoy illustrated.


Condition report requests can be made via email or by telephone ( or 617.536.0030). Any condition statement given is a courtesy to customers, Copley will not be held responsible for any errors or omissions. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition.

$ 500000.00 ( Sold Price )


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Listed price: $200,000.00

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Phillips Rig Preening Black Duck, A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)

Listed price: $200,000.00

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