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Illinois hunting and fishing

Ex-gov.Thompson buys rare decoy

May 10, 2010 at 11:21 AM

LaSalle News Tribune

SPRING VALLEY, Ill. (AP) - A century-old wooden duck decoy carved in Bureau Junction went from being forgotten and neglected to becoming a prized possession of former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.

In the world of collectibles and antiques, the decoy discovery and then $100,625 sale at auction was a true believe-it-or-not story, says Joe Tonelli of Spring Valley.

Tonelli, Midwest representative for the Guyette & Schmidt auction during the Midwest Decoy Collectors Association 25th annual decoy show, isn’t certain how often a wooden duck decoy carved perhaps 110 years ago by Robert Elliston of Bureau was used and how many waters it floated in over the years, but he figures it sold last month for about 100,000 times its original sale price.

“It’s kind of a fairy-tale story. Elliston originally sold that decoy for about 75 cents,” said Tonelli, noting Elliston resided south of Bureau, kept bees, carved decoys and built boats and supplied most o f the decoys and boats for the Princeton Game and Fish Club in Bureau County and Senachwine Duck Club in Putnam County.

Here’s what happened:

Tonelli said he cannot tell the names of the sellers or all the details of how the decoy was discovered, but a young couple that originally “met at a church thing” bought an old, extremely dilapidated farmhouse north of Indianapolis. The new buyer of the old house climbed up into the attic for restoration work and to put in some insulation. He was up in the rafters and in the corner found a gunnysack, which came open to reveal about 10 antique duck decoys.

As Tonelli tells it, the owner took the decoys to the basement and set back to work. His wife discovered a lead keel strip on some of the ducks stamped “The Elliston Decoy.” She went to a friend’s house, Googled that phrase and came across stories Joe Tonelli’s wife Donna had written about Elliston for Decoy Magazine.

“He does a search and he’s telling me abou t this stuff. Elliston decoys are relatively common unless they’re in the original paint. But these are in the original paint,” Joe Tonelli said.

Joe told the seller seven of the decoys were by Mason Decoy Co. from Detroit, Mich. and brought about $15,000 total; but three were rarer Elliston decoys.
Judging from the decoy cord and the big lead weights still attached to the rig of decoys, Tonelli estimated “Those ducks had probably been stored for a minimum of 60 to 70 years and forgotten.” His theory is the ducks were used on the Illinois River first and, just maybe, taken to Indiana for hunting on the Kankakee River marsh before they were put up and out of sight.

One of the Elliston ducks was a mallard drake with head pointing straight forward, a fairly common example. Another was an extremely rare “turned-head sleeper” a sleeping hen mallard that eventually brought $40,250 at the auction in St. Charles.

Tonelli said the young couple that found the d ucks had hoped they might get $5,000 for them or even up to $25,000 to help pay for restorations and a garage, “and I said, no way, you’ve got a minimum of $50,000.’”

The decoy with the turned head in a preening position was the real prize, and when it showed up in the auction catalog, former Governor Thompson contacted Tonelli to ask about it.

Tonelli knew it was rare and old because it had the round-backed characteristics of Elliston’s pre-1900 decoys. He also figured the estimate listed in the catalog was way too low at $12,000-$15,000, and he told Thompson he thought it was “the finest decoy in the auction.”

“It’s a very rare one,” Thompson told a NewsTribune reporter. “I got a collection that I started about eight years ago. It’s a collection of Illinois River duck decoys only those decoys hand-carved and painted by known Illinois River carvers, in original paint, no repairs.

“The only major carver I didn’t have was Elliston.”

Because Ellis ton’s ducks predate even those of famous carver Charles Perdew of Henry, a lot of Elliston’s decoys are in poor condition, Thompson said.

“Up came this, not only in wonderful shape but it’s a rare one, a preener. OK, this is the one I’ve been waiting for.”

Thompson was bidding against a man from New Jersey and another man from Iowa, he said.

Thompson has installed the decoy in his collection in Michigan, he said.

“It’s a wonderful bird. Very folky,” he said.

He added that Elliston’s wife was, much like Perdew’s, an outstanding painter. Thompson has about 40 decoys, and considers the Elliston specimen his crown jewel.

He said it’s easier to list what he doesn’t collect. He has a collection of every signature of every Illinois governor. He has campaign buttons going back to about 1870, he said.

Thompson’s decoy collection also reflects his hobby of duck hunting, which he started up when he began collecting decoys, he said.

“Your area is a great area for hunting,” Thompson told a NewsTribune reporter. “If anyone has any good Illinois River decoys, call me.”

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

wonder where big Jim got the money for that..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/10 at 11:36 AM

He’s a lawyer I think.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/10 at 12:44 PM

The decoy market is a joke.  What ever the gurus want the decoy to be worth then they will “sell” it as the best decoy on the market knowing that they have one like it in their collection and that sets the standards for future prices.  Decoys are scalped at cheap prices from individuals that have no clue what they have then the scalpers make huge profits.  Not all collectors are bad but that is a rare commodity in todays world.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/10 at 02:11 PM

Well for those commenting here that also commented in Marc Anthony’s blog (In Line For Self-Destruction) about how toxic PSO has become and never stays on topic should perhaps practice what they preach. Here we have a fellow hunter (ducks) and decoy collector who just completed his collection and most posts are sarcastic innuendo totally off topic. Maybe you should hope Lampe doesn’t take your advice, he may have to ban you.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/11 at 09:05 AM

No offense taken Murdy I was just pointing out how these bash fests get started and I get he’s a ex – gov. and open to a higher level of scrutiny however I don’t know that higher level of scrutiny includes having a Elliston preening duck decoy lodged in his butt.
It was about Thompson buying a duck decoy period. I’m not the forum cop type what you want. I’m not asking for anyone to be banned that even includes the little child that’s taken to stalking me, I could care less.
BTW just so you know Thompson and the law firm Winston & Strawn represented Ryan Pro Bono.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/12 at 08:47 AM

Only pro bono after all the special fund accounts of
the gov. were exhausted.
They also tried to expense thier pro bono work
against other revenue - not sure if IRS let them.
Why pro bono?  My opinion and not every bodies -
pay back for non pro bono work given out by Ryan’s
admin. - funded by taxpayers.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/12 at 09:01 AM

It’s good to be a Gov..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/12 at 10:20 AM

Easy guys. He borrowed the money from Blagovich. Its all good!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/12 at 12:37 PM

I don’t see what the big deal is.  The man can spend his $ however he chooses.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/13 at 04:57 PM

Jerry Reinsdorf(white sox owner) probably bought the bird for Big Jim. Our wonderful gov. paid for a stadium for the white sox(believe last week being Gov) and gave them super low rent for the next 20/30 years.The high school championship game can’t be played there any more because the sox own the field and the kids might damage it.Too bad Big Jim sneaked under the radar.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/18 at 05:42 PM

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