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Getting downright Darwinian

Updated: Feb 4


Anas platyrhynchos lignum (Mallard duck in wood)


Let's explore the evolution of a Stevens Decoy in the manner of Charles Darwin. In order to develop the skills of a master decoy maker with a national decoy "manufacturing" business by age 27, we can assume that Harvey was carving decoys by age 18.


Harvey's Original Works (1865-1869)

Harvey's earliest decoys reveal extraordinary talent in construction and paint. The construction method is perfectly consistent with his later forms. The underside reveals Harvey's trademark recessed staple hole, but the lead-filled ballast hole had yet to be developed. These early decoys always have an oval shape primer color on the underside. The bills are very broad and flat. There are only 4 known examples to have survived from this period: 2 mallard drakes, a redhead drake and a single blue-winged teal.

The "Transitional" decoys or, as I refer to in my book; the "Early Tackeye Period" (1870)

These small bodied decoys show a natural evolution in construction, design and paint. Decoys from this period are extremely rare, only a dozen or so have been unearthed. The rounded lines, perfectly smooth transition from neck to body, the recessed anchor staple and ballast lead would become the physical traits of a Stevens decoy. Only 16 examples found, of which, only 12 are in good paint.

The Tackeye Period (1870-1888)

These decoys evolve from the Maker's shop as the hardiest made. The bodies are larger than any other period (George would make longer decoys, but never as robust). The bills have rounded edges and a rounded bulb-like tip; slightly concave head carving that often has a flat area about the size of a dime around the tackeye. The heads are more upright and further back on the body allowing them to be removed for utility storage. So far (Dec 2020), 67 examples are recorded, only 26 in good original paint.

The "Classic" Glassyeye Period (1888-1904)

The glasseye period decoys evolve as the creator's "modern classic" decoy. Natural selection whittles down the body to an efficient and streamlined form. The bill is flatter and more natural in its appearance. The national environment requires greater variations of species; Pintails, Widgeons and Canvasbacks are created to satisfy the need. Harvey dies in 1894 and George continues making decoys for another 10 years. Glasseye population outnumbers the tackeye production. Records to date (Dec 2020), 198 glasseye decoys made by Harvey (only 94 in good paint), and 149 glasseye decoys made by George (only 78 in good paint).


Survival of the fittest.


Evolution of the mallard drake decoy by Harvey A. Stevens in 4 diagrams...




To learn more about how to identify, date and authenticate a Stevens Decoys, refer to the The Essential Guide to Stevens Decoys.




Copyright 2020. Photography copyright by source. All rights reserved.

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