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Mark Greenig: The gift of a local treasure

A vintage cork goose decoy from the Little Round Lake area. RECORD/Mark Greenig

It’s not often I get to talk with you about a sporting collectible which was found in our immediate area. That’s why this week’s discussion is so unique. Finding hunting decoys of any material is always exciting. But, obtaining an old cork goose decoy with a local story as a gift, well that’s special. This is one of those situations where it was better to be lucky than good.

First, the story behind this large cork folk art goose decoy and then its description. This hand-made cork decoy was given to me in 2001 by Jim Mendenhall of Detroit Lakes. At that time, he was a volunteer for our GED program. His story behind the goose serves as a great companion piece to this wonderful bird. He shared this decoy along with others were found at Little Round lake when Jim purchased a hunting camp there around 1967. The camp had been owned for many years by Haggerts, who at the time, operated a construction company in Fargo, N.D. Jim told me where the other goose decoys went. Sadly, I don’t recall that information.

Regardless, finding an old cork duck decoy is not uncommon. Vintage cork goose decoys on the other hand are. This is one of those items when you look at it you wish the decoy could tell its’ story. As a carver, I can share carving decoys out of cork is a tedious affair. Let go one second of your focus and the cork blank is ruined. Imagine carving semi-hard butter and you get the idea how fragile the composition can be. This decoy has all the trademarks of a hands-on maker and is a delight to look at.

The cork material is coarse, but durable. Body is crudely fashioned, yet that’s what makes this bird so appealing. As best I can tell, the lower half of the decoy is made of four pieces of cork glued together in a vertical fashion. The top part of the bird consists of an additional piece of horizontal cork glued on top of the of the bottom four vertical pieces. This design is unique to me, but has held up very well for over 50 years. Make note, cork rides well in the water, just not as durable as wood or the plastic decoys of today.

Body length is 14.5”, width at its’ widest point just is shy of 7”. Height is 5.5” which includes the wooden base. The base is angle cut on all four sides, 10 3/4” long, 1” thick and 5.5” wide. A wooden base gives added strength and durability to the decoy. The lead weight to balance the goose is made from a crude mold and nailed to the bottom of the wood base. The wooden head is of the simplest design, made of pine and 6.5” high. A wooden dowel was inserted, holding the head to the cork body. Old yellow string and lead strip weight were used to hold the bird in place.

To baby boomer hunters this decoy brings back fond memories. To the younger hunter, the usual comment is, “You hunted over that?” This is the type of decoy that keeps collectors on the “hunt.” It’s not the value, but rather the decoy design which triggers those memories mentioned earlier that make this item so collectible.

The value on a similar bird should run about $50 to $75, maybe more to the right person. This bird stays with me for its local history and more importantly because it was a gift from friend Jim Mendenhall. Thank you Jim and best regards. To the rest of you, until next time, may all your searches be successful.