ABSOLUTELY PRISTINE!! c1950 "Very Rare" JOHN H. BAKER (1916-2004); BLACK DUCK "HOLLOW" Wood Duck Decoy; DELAWARE RIVER; (Edgely/Bristol, New Jersey)
JOHN BAKER'S DECOYS ARE COLD STAMPED "BRISTOL, PA.": Baker actually lived in the smaller town of Edgely, which technically is part of the larger and better known Burrough of Bristol.
Awesome Original Paint, Forged & Stamped Lead Ballast Weight, Red Glass Eyes & Leather Line-Tie!!
Beautifully Carved Raised Wings with Crossed Wing Tips and Carved Fluted Tail! (NICE PATINA with Red Taxidermy Eyes)
Absolutely Mint Condition Decoy without Even a Scratch or Rub Spot on it!!
Great Breast Bulges Up & Forward Like a Real Duck in the Wild When the Head is Tucked!!
Cold-Stamped, Hand-Forged Keel Weight Says: "JOHN BAKER; BRISTOL, PA."
Hot-Stamped Signature on Wood Bottom Says: "JOHN H. BAKER"
PROVENANCE: PETER B. BARTLETT COLLECTION; (Manhattan, NY and Bayhead, NJ)
SHIPPING INCLUDES INSURANCE
This 58+ year old, very hollow and nicely carved and painted Black Duck decoy was made by John H. Baker (1916-2004) of Edgely, Pennsylvania, which is a small town on the banks of the Delaware River and considered part of the Burrough of Bristol. Bristol and Edgely are in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 23 miles northeast of Philadelphia and opposite and across the Delaware River from Burlington, New Jersey. Burlington is around eight miles south of Trenton, New Jersey and directly across the Delaware from Levittown, Pennsylvania. Including Edgely, Tullytown, Bristol and Levittown, Pennsylvania, were all home to a myriad of Delaware River duck hunters and decoy carvers, including John Baker.
JOHN H. BAKER: John Baker was one of the last truly old-time Delaware River duck hunters and decoy makers. John Baker was born in 1916 in Garfield, New Jersey, although some articles cite Clifton, which is another city 4 miles due west and across the Saddle River. In 1933 his family moved to Edgely, Pennsylvania when his father's employer, Paterson Parchment & Paper, transferred him to the newly built6 facility in Tulleytown, Pennsylvania. John would eventually follow in his father's footsteps and also work for Paterson until his retirement in 1975. In Edgely, baker's family moved into a house on the Delaware River where they were able to observe the daily activity of waterfowl using the river. Over time, Baker had observed enough waterfowl that he formed his own opinions about how a duck, and hence a decoy, should look on the water. Baker often remembered the 1930's when there was little or no heavy industry in the area and and the geography was a succession of sleepy little towns and well-groomed farms. The clear waters of the relatively unspoiled Delaware River and its tidal marshes were home to abundant numbers of local and migratory waterfowl as well as plenty of fish and aquatic animals. Although having carved individual decoys at an earlier date, Baker carved his first rig of duck decoys in 1934 and it was comprised of black ducks that he used to supplement his existing Herter's bluebill decoys. He carved the bodies from red cedar blanks he got from a local lumberyard and made them into the traditional Delaware River style he had grown accustomed to: beautifully rounded, hollowed 2 piece bodies with protruding chests and usually low, contented heads. Baker inherited his painting style from a friend by the name of Joe King (not to be confused with New Jersey carving legend Joe King (1835-1913) of Manahawkin, New Jersey). Like the great majority of Delaware River carvers, Baker's decoys were for his own personal use and the size of his rigs were relatively small in comparison to hunters in other more open water areas. Baker's rigs averaged in the range of 50 or less and, like this decoy up for auction, were made as well as anything on the river. Like most any area in the country, the teal would arrive on the Delaware first and were later followed by black ducks and mallards and then the confluence of bluebills and canvasbacks. Baker noted that some of the last to arrive were the Canadian-born, "red-legged" black ducks that cold weather had busted out of the marshes and lakes north of the border. Baker carved many of the species that used the Delaware River, however it can generally be said that his output consisted primarily of black ducks, mallards, teal, bluebills, canvasbacks and redheads. Although an occasional Canada goose decoy was located near the Delaware River, Baker always contended that goose decoys were seldom seen in the area and the few that had surfaced were most likely used elsewhere or were deployed as confidence decoys within a rig. Baker was not only a master woodworker as far as decoys were concerned, but with the help of his brother Ralph, he made his own duck boats. He once read an article in Field and Stream magazine about Barnegat Bay New Jersey sink boxes, he liked the lines and form of the boats, and wrote and obtained the plans for one. Using white cedar for the planks and white oak for the ribs, which he steamed and bent himself, Baker began making sneak boxes boxes and he became well known for them. With his good friend Joe King, he made a number of sneak boxes for other hunters. Accompanied by his brother Ralph, Baker did most of his hunting along the river, and at the Penn Manor Club, he used the tried and true Delaware River hunting method of sculling or jump shooting. They would first position their decoys in their desired location then row out of sight until passing ducks landed in the decoys. Then they would quietly approach the ducks, one manning the gun while the other silently propelled and steered the boat using a sculling oar. Another hunting companion, along with his friend Joe King, was very famous carver Bill Quinn. Baker's brother Ralph's father-in-law, Herbert Baines, also of Edgely, was another early duck hunter and carver also making his own decoys for use on the river. Carving before the turn of the century, Baines' decoys were also traditional Delaware River style with tack or painted eyes and semi-flat bottoms. Baines used cedar from discarded fence posts which he cut to length, split and then hollowed by hand for the bodies. A unique aspect of Baines' decoys was a 2-1/2" copper curl he placed on the bottom of the decoys near the rear to counteract the effects of the currents. Baker often said that in the olden days the dominant duck on the river was the black duck. He said that the mallards were not as abundant as they were in the late 1980's and 2 of his favorite hunting spots were Biles Island and Scott Creek. Biles Island is the large island on the Pennsylvania side of the river directly across from Bordentown and Trenton and just offshore from Levittown, PA. Like many other of the duck hunters from yesteryear, Baker fondly remembered the days when there was so many ducks that after a successful sneak, they hadn't even gotten back to their anchoring spot when another flight dropped into the decoy spread. He attributed this to his great decoys and the positioning of his decoys and boat. After his retirement in 1975, he began carving again after periodic absences and closely followed the tradition set forth a century before. All of his decoys from his first rig to his last decoys were hand gouged to hollow and his paint jobs extremely detailed. On his mid to later decoys, like this earlier Black Duck up for auction, he used a small gouge to scoop out the underside of the bill to prevent water from splashing up on the bill and icing up in frigid weather. Like this decoy up for auction, Baker chose to work with white cedar, hardwood dowels and marine glue to attach the heads and taxidermist or museum quality glass eyes as the finishing touch. The end result is a resume that contains a couple hundred decoys at most of which all are tremendously attractive, perfectly functional and made as well as any decoys anywhere in the country. Baker always believed that Delaware River decoys were the closest decoys made to a perfect decoy both from functionality standpoints but also to aesthetics. Some of his decoys, like this great bird up for auction, found their way into decoy shows as a great example of what a Delaware decoy should be and once was.
The decoys of the Delaware river rated among the finest in the country when it comes down to the beauty of the carving and painting. Like many areas in the country, like this John Baker Black Duck up for auction, the decoys were typically made with either white pine or cedar for the bodies and white pine for the heads and they had either rectangular shaped "pad" or block weights nailed or screwed on to the bottom, just like those used in a great many areas on the Atlantic coast. The Delaware decoys were also painted with oil-based paints and some carvers coated their decoys with a mix of beeswax melted in gasoline as a top coat preservative. The method of hunting on the Delaware River, much like Baker, dictated that the decoys that were used were as realistic as possible. The typical hunter used a double-ended sculling boat to sneak up and bushwhack ducks. The hunters would set up their rig of decoys at known feeding grounds, then anchor upstream or upwind and wait for ducks to land in the decoys. When the birds landed they would scull slowly toward the decoys while ducked behind the slightly raised cowling or a raised edge or lip on the front of the boat's compartment construction. This "sculling" method of hunting is almost identical to the "screen" boat hunters in Ontario or the "sneak" boat shooters on Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Canada. The Ontario screeners would often be on shore and oar toward the decoys hiding behind a medium height, horizontally shaped screen that acted like a shield and was often thatched with vegetation to match the shore background behind them. The Lake St. Clair, Michigan "sneak" boats have a similarly shaped shield to the Ontario "screeners", but since the sneaks are in open water with no perceivable background, the shield and boat are/were both painted the same color and closely match the color of the water they hunted. Vital to these ambush type styles of hunting, like the Delaware scullers, the decoys must be very realistic looking and perform life-like in the water to "hold" the birds in the decoys until the hunter gets close enough to shoot. The decoys had to have a relaxed appearance like tucked heads or sleepers and they needed to swim perfectly in any water conditions with no yawing, slapping or jerking as to not spook the holding ducks. Considering the mild currents of the Delaware River in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the smaller, very hollowed decoys of the time with their realistic paint jobs were considered some of the finest in the country. Most of the decoys, like this black duck up for auction, had relaxed, tucked or sleeping posed heads to convey an attitude of a contented duck with little or no sense of danger to alarm the sitting birds. Size was a major factor as the sculling boats had limited room for gear so the smaller size afforded a larger number of decoys in the set. Another factor in creating an incredibly realistic looking and high performing decoy is the amount of competition for premium hunting spots on the river. In the hey-day of Delaware River hunting, when a large number of hunters were operating rigs on the river, hunters were very territorial which led to many decoy thefts. Also, from a creative standpoint, with a great number of hunters competing for wild ducks within close proximity to other rigs, carvers attempted to outdo their neighbors by making a more realistic, better performing decoy to get an edge. With all of these factors in mind, the typical Delaware River decoy was full-breasted and hollow constructed in the 2-piece manner for lightness and good buoyancy. Most of the decoys had fine glass eyes, a relaxed appearance and extremely well carved wing and tail detail like this black duck up for auction. The wings on this black duck were carved raised and with beautifully detail carved crossed wing tips. The nicely carved tail is detailed with nice fluting. It is also evident that the further downriver you got, the Delaware school of carvers paid less attention to carving detail, especially in the wings and tail. This was in part due to the decrease in the hunting pressure as the river widened substantially and competition thinned out dramatically. The realistic paint patterns were more consistent throughout the school of carvers, but like this black duck up for auction, the paint detail did increase the further upstream you went.
The group of carvers that make up the Delaware School of carvers includes many of the finest master carvers on or near the eastern seaboard. The area encompassed by this awesome network of carvers stretches roughly from the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey to the north and south to Philadelphia and Delaware Bay. Midway in between were the three most prominent carving communities, Bordentown and Florence in New Jersey, and the Bristol area of Pennsylvania. The carver heritage, in addition to Mr. John Baker, includes the likes of John English (1852-1915) and his sons Jack (1874-1944) and Dan (1883-1962) from Florence, New Jersey; John Dawson (1889-1959) of Trenton, John McLaughlin (b. 1911) of Bordentown, New Jersey; Bill Quinn (1915-1969) of Yardley Pennsylvania; Jess Heisler (1891-1943) of Burlington, New Jersey, John Heisler of Bordentown, New Jersey; Paul Green of Yardville, New Jersey; J. Baker of Edgely, Pennsylvania; Tom Fitzpatrick of Delanco, New Jersey; Lawrence McLaughlin of Edgely, Pennsylvania; Reg Marter of Delanco, New Jersey; Al Reitz of Croyden, Pennsylvania; Lou Boldizar of Roebling, New Jersey and Baker's friend Joe King, Tony Bianco, Richard Anderson and James West from various areas. Given the proximity of these carvers to each other and the overlap of their hunting grounds, many knew each other and thus the profound influence that reciprocated between them of styles and construction techniques.
These were the vintage carvers of the late 1800's and first half of the 20th century. Their smaller size and well-hollowed decoy's construction made them very transportable and effective but things changed significantly in the coming years. Starting in the 1920's and continuing until 1940, the river changed dramatically and thus did the vintage decoys. During this time, the Delaware River was dredged from its average depth of 12 feet to produce a 40 foot deep channel to accommodate the shipping requirements of the steel mills in Trenton, NJ. The Army Corps. of Engineers then used the dredged sand to straighten the direction of the river by filling in the surrounding flats and eddys, which reclaimed thousands of marshland and in doing so increased the rate of current of the river. The wonderful decoys that were carved from around 1870 to 1920 were small, 2-piece hollow construction and round, graceful, streamlined bodies that worked superbly in the slower, shallower water had to change. After the river was artificially reconfigured, the Delaware became faster and deeper particularly during tidal changes which presented new challenges. To adjust to these new conditions while the alterations to the river were taking place, carvers adjusted to make their decoys with flatter bottoms and less hollowed to enhance their water-riding ability. As time went on they changed even more. When the river dredging and filling was completed, the decoys were made bigger, more blocky and completely flat-bottomed with barge-like sides. Also, the rectangular bottom weights that were always located in the bottom center of the decoy and primary function was to keep the decoy righted, were moved to the back of the decoy to keep the decoy righted and swimming correctly in the faster current and rougher top water. With the deeper water and disappearance of the flats, marshland, potholes and shallower water conducive to plant-life and protection, there no longer existed the attractive environment for migrating and nesting waterfowl and hence the duck hunting and the pursuit of waterfowl declined exponentially, thus ending the reign of the turn of the century, vintage Delaware River duck decoy.
John Baker carved decoys from around 1920 to 1985, with the majority coming before 1965 and a few after retirement in 1975. Baker carved many puddle ducks with raised and carved wing tips, and like this black duck up for auction, they always had extraordinary paint jobs and many with exquisite comb painting. Like most Delaware River carvers, Baker's decoys are known for their low heads (some resting on the chest), in a complacent, relaxed posture with nicely carved in tail feathers and very intricately painted wing tips and perfect blending between feather groups. Also like this black duck up for auction, he was known for his full heads with slight eye-line indentations and brow ridges with carved nostrils, bill/head delineation and mandibles that run the full length of the bill. John Baker decoys are also noted for being light and hollow and also for their, rectangular "forged and brass screwed" lead ballast weights. John Baker decoys were constructed with the traditional 2 piece, hollowed design and were carved very rounded with well-rounded bottoms. John Baker quite possibly lived during the later end and right after of one of the most prolific eras in waterfowling history with its unchecked and unregulated tactics and limits.
The paint on this black duck decoy up for auction is in mint original condition and as you can see by the many close up photos the thick, original coat of oil-based paint has very nice patina. This decoy is in excellent original condition and is as solid as the day it was made. This decoy is perfectly symmetrically carved and painted and from a structural standpoint this decoy is mint. The bill is extraordinarily accurately carved and has perfect head/bill separation, nostrils, mandibles and the head and neck were so perfectly carved and blended that he had no need for neck putty where it was attached to the slightly raised head shelf. The full breast is also nicely carved as bulges up and forward as a real duck in nature's neck does when it is tucked back. This vintage Baker decoy is as solid as the day it was made and although I am sure someone was tempted to gun over this bird, I am sure it went straight from Baker's workbench and onto a collector's shelf or at the very least in a safe spot in a garage or pole barn. This Drake was carved modestly-sized in the manner of most Delaware River decoys and measures 15-3/8" long x 5-1/8" wide x 5-5/8" tall and weighs a very rig-manageable 1-lb., 9-oz. This truly important Delaware River decoy would make a great addition to any collection of historic duck decoys and shorebirds. If you have any questions or would like any additional photos feel free to email me. Thanks for looking.
The first 2 photos are of this Very Nice John Baker Black Duck decoy up for auction. The 3rd photo is a 24 year old photo of Mr. Baker taken in 1989, 15 years before he passed away in 2004. The following 13 photos are also of this awesome Black Duck decoy up for auction. The next 7 photos are of various photos of John Baker decoys ranging from 1928 to 1958 including one of his black ducks that sold at auction for $2600. The last photo is of a pintail carved by one of his hunting partners, Bill Quinn, that sold at auction for $28,600.
PROVENANCE: PETER B. BARTLETT COLLECTION; (Manhattan, NY and Bayhead, NJ)
Peter Barry Bartlett: February 21, 1934- June 27, 2012. Peter Bartlett was a longtime decoy collector and over the years he amassed one of the most impressive decoy collections in the country and one of his decoys was prominently featured in Loy Harrell's book North America's 100 Greatest Decoys. Bartlett was born in Boulder, Colorado in 1934, an only child to Christopher Hammond Bartlett and Marie Powers Bartlett. He graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1952 as a varsity basketball and soccer player. He then graduated from Yale University in 1956 where he was the Captain of the 1955 soccer team. As goalie, he held the career shutout record for over 30 years. Upon graduating, he moved to New York City and joined Brown Brothers Harriman, Inc. where he was named Partner in 1974. He served on the Steering Committee for 15 years and was the supervising partner of Banking and Treasury. Peter remained a Limited Partner until his passing. He was a 30-year member of the Board of Directors for Kennametal Inc. and also a board member for Erie Insurance. He served his community as a member of the Board of Directors for Beekman Downtown Hospital and as a member of the Pension and Investment Subcommittee at Meridian Health System, Inc. An avid outdoorsman and sports enthusiast, he raised his family in Summit, NJ and in later years divided his time between his homes in Bay Head, NJ (Home to one of the most famous waterfowling areas in the 1800's and early 1900's) and Kiawah, SC. He served on the Finance Committee at the Bay head Yacht Club and was a founding member of Briar's Creek Golf Club on St. John's Island, SC. He also enjoyed spending time at The Links Club in New York and Rolling Rock Hunt Pony Club in Ligonier, PA.