I began collecting decoys on April 20, 1987. I know because I began a handwritten journal about what I found that same day. Like most collectors starting out, I bought anything cheap enough and I bought them as fast as I could. Some collectors avoid this early mistake, but I didn't. I happily displayed my decoys on old wooden planks in my small apartment located in northern New York (below).
My first decoy collection: plastic decoys on the top center, balsa bodied Wildfowler Decoys along the sides, a partially crushed paper mache mallard (my first $3 purchase) and a few wooden decoys, with and without paint . Age, 27. It was a very modest start.
Later that year, while reading Joel Barber's book, I discovered Stevens Decoys. Then and there, my collection would have a lifelong direction. I made a shaving horse (foreground above) similar to the one used by Harvey and George Stevens (right) . I also found an old fedora hat (top right above) similar to the one worn by Albert Lamphere in the 1955 photographs published in the article "The Stevens Story" in 1966. I didn't own any Stevens Decoys yet, but I thought I'd wear that hat like some kind of "Indiana Jones" and scavenge them right out of the Montezuma Marsh. Ah, to be so naive. I never found a decoy that way. The red binder (center shelf) is the start of my decoy records and I still have it. Record keeping is something that I've enjoyed most of my life and, in this case, the record would eventually become the Stevens Decoy book and Stevens Decoy database.
In 1992, my collection (below) is entirely Stevens Decoys. The draw shave is all that remains of my shaving horse - I was never to become a decoy carver. As a husband and now father of 3 children, my old fedora hat gets thrown away. Decoy collecting becomes a diverting sanctuary rarely afforded.
In 1994, I designed a shelving system (below) modeled after Joel Barber's famous display shown in the preface of his book. I even replicated his specially designed decoy stands. I commissioned a few Barber style watercolors to top it all off. I still use those shelves and stands for my collection today. Note the Stevens Decoys across the top shelf and a small rig of W.S.O. rig Stevens Decoys on the side tiers.
In 2013, my display was redesigned into three sections for easier moving. My collection consists of three primary categories: Stevens Decoys (of course); Joel Barber decoys (after all, he is the Godfather of decoy collecting); and a small group of decoys that I enjoy just for their form, patina, and the story that came from collecting it. The Stevens Decoys remain on the top shelf.
Unlike legacy decoy collections, my collection constantly evolves. Except for my rarest and most treasured decoys, I reinvent my collection every 8-10 years for deeper study while keeping to my general theme.
I'm sure we all have a similar story about starting with one decoy. My paper mache mallard is long gone but what it started is a personal treasury of happy pursuits and lifelong friendships.
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