Dear Helaine and Joe:
I purchased these decoys at a flea market on Cape Cod in the 1980s and cannot seem to find a match online for the brand name “Hard,” which is stamped into the bottom of each. Are you able to assist with any information?
If so, thanks,
R.E., Wayne, New Jersey
We would like to have ducked this question because we know so little about hunting decoys. But with more than a little help from our friends — namely, Russ Goldberger of RJG Antiques in Rye, New Hampshire — we are willing to take a proverbial shot at it.
The photographs told us these were a pair of cork-bodied decoys, but beyond that, we were at sea. The type of duck depicted does not go “quack.” But the females make a discordant sound that gives it its name: “scaup.”
More specifically, the cork birds are depictions of lesser scaup, which are sometimes called “little bluebill” or “broadbill” after the shape and color of their beaks. The name “scaup” also might have come from their diet (clams, mussels, and oysters), since that’s the Scottish word for the crustaceans.
According to Goldberger, the decoys were made on the South Shore of Long Island, New York. They have pegged wooden heads and bodies made from cork, which Long Island hunters often salvaged from recycled life vests and life rafts.
They appear to have been made about 1950, and the maker was probably John Boyle of the Incorporated Village of Bellport, New York. (Suffolk County, Long Island). The Boyle family came to Brooklyn, New York, in the 1860s and established itself in the sail-making business, but John H.B. Boyle had little interest in the family business and moved to Bellport, Long Island in the 1920s.
There Boyle established himself as a hunter and maker of decoys both for himself and for his friends. According to the Ward Museum of Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, Boyle patterned his black duck and broadbill decoys after the work of George Robert of Mastic, New York. Boyle is credited with helping organize the 1923 Bellport Decoy Show, which is thought to be the first decoy show held in the United States.
Our specialist Goldberger also tells us the “Hard” mark refers to Aaron Hard, the gunner who owned the group of decoys (called a “rig”) and branded them with his name. The name also appears on Mason Brant decoys, but the pair was not made by that prestigious Detroit factory.
Unfortunately, the duo of decoys in today’s question appears to be repainted and their tails look to be chewed up. If the photos we have are deceiving and the pair is not repainted, the value might be as much as $200 for the pair. But if they are indeed refurbished, that value would drop to approximately half that figure.