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Freeport, Maine — It’s a battered old bird– the paint is peeling and the cracked bill is held together with a nail– but the eyes are still bright, and its estimated worth is more than $600.
The “Pintail drake” is one of a collection of duck decoys that used to nest on the shelves at the headquarters of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee.
“It will be ten years this October 1 since my Dad has been gone,” says Lee’s daughter, Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng.
“As a child I remember he took up carving some ducks, so I guess that’s how the collection got started.”
Harry Lee was the popular sheriff for 26 years before he passed away, and his collection of decoys grew into the hundreds.
“It was just getting hard for me to manage the space for such a big collection,” says Councilwoman Lee-Sheng, “so someone referred me to the auction firm of Guyette and Deeter.”
Based in Maine, Guyette and Deeter specializes in decoys, and Sheriff Lee’s collection fits right in. They’re being sold individually, a few at time, in weekly online auctions posted on the company’s website.
Each decoy is meticulously photographed from several different angles, revealing details that make the ducks look both realistic and stylized, each one a hand-made work of art.
Some are so old, they’re broken and worn – one has had its head replaced- while others are so shiny and smooth you’d think they never touched the water. But Lee’s daughter bets that some did.
“My Dad was a real Louisiana sportsman, both a hunting and fishing enthusiast, so I’m sure some of the duck decoys were actually used to hunt.”
Councilwoman Lee-Sheng sounds wistful, talking about her father’s flock.
“Many of the duck decoys were gifts over the years, and I know many were purchased as well,” she says. “I wish I knew the story behind some of them- I’m sure there is some real history there.”
In fact, some of the decoys have clues hidden under their wings. On the bottom of one is a tag that reads: “Adler’s, 1974.” On another is a tag with the handwritten name of the person who gave it to Sheriff Lee: “Lindy Boggs.”
And not all the birds have migrated to Maine.
Councilwoman Lee-Sheng says she “wanted some of the decoys to stay in our community,” so she donated about half the collection to two local chapters of Ducks Unlimited.
“I know my Dad had attended many of their events,” she says. And among duck hunters, his collection must be legendary.