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The collection: waterfowl calls are valued as American folk art.

PERHAPS YOU'VE HEARD THE OLD ADAGE, "Everybody collects something." Self-examination will more than likely prove the point. The list of collectibles seems endless: stamps, coins, baseball cards, photos, even automobiles and airplanes.

Dedicated waterfowlers tend to be among the most addicted of collectors. They never seem to accumulate enough camouflage clothing, guns, ammo, art work, decoys, boats, motors and maybe most of all, game calls. A lanyard of calls around a hunter's neck proves membership in the royal fraternity of marsh men and river rats.

One of my favorite stories about stockpiles of gear occurred several years back. A guy (who for obvious reasons will go unnamed) grew tired of a bunch of old, unusable wooden decoys Grandpa had stored in the shed. The old blocks were always in the way just gathering dust, and providing a haven for spiders and bugs. Finally, the decoys were carted to a burning pit and set ablaze Verb 1. set ablaze - set fire to; cause to start burning; "Lightening set fire to the forest"
set afire, set aflame, set on fire

combust, burn - cause to burn or combust; "The sun burned off the fog"; "We combust coal and other fossil fuels"
. Some time after the fire, the guy commented to a pal, "Got more room in the shed because I burned those old wooden decoys Grandpa bought years ago from some fellow in Henry, Ill."

Certainly, Grandpa turned over in his grave, as did Charles Perdew. The guy who burned a fortune of the most collectable of wooden decoys didn't have a clue. But he did have more room in the shed for junk.




Being the first-born male of my generation into a family of hardcore waterfowlers, I had little choice but to take the torch and continue the tradition as a camo-clad warrior. After some training and being found worthy, my reward was my grandfather's old black hard rubber D-2 Olt duck call. The call was to be blown sparingly and proudly displayed as part of my hunting attire.

In 1950, the Canada goose Canada goose

Brown-backed, light-breasted goose (Branta canadensis) with a black head and neck and white cheeks. Subspecies vary in size, from the 4.4-lb (2-kg) cackling goose to the 14.3-lb (6.5-kg) giant Canada goose, which has a wingspread of up to 6.6 ft (2 m).
 flute call, an invention of Olt employer Al Sonderman, took the waterfowl waterfowl, common term for members of the order Anseriformes, wild, aquatic, typically freshwater birds including ducks, geese, and screamers. In Great Britain the term is also used to designate species kept for ornamental purposes on private lakes or ponds, while in  world by storm. On my 12th birthday, an Olt A-50 goose call was added to the hand-woven lanyard.

Most mothers had strict rules about practice sessions when boys tried to imitate the calls of the majestic birds. Thus, as a pre-teen, my life as a game call collector had begun, and little did I know the enjoyment, entertainment, friends and travel the tools of the waterfowl trade had in store for me.

I hunted the flats, sloughs and backwaters of the Illinois and mighty Mississippi rivers, and my passion for 'fowling grew, as did my accumulation of duck and goose calls. Some were gifts, but most were purchased at the local hardware store. Most were of the common hunting variety of the day--Lohman, Faulk's, Herter's and Olt. For some strange reason, I kept the boxes in which the calls were packaged.


My collection continued to grow thanks to many of the veterans who retired from waterfowling. Many would give me a call they'd blown during their career stating, "This is to remind you, lad, of the days we shared doing our thing on the river."

Not only did I treasure their gifts, but the memories are priceless.

In 1987, a chance meeting with Illinois wildlife biologist '''

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A wildlife biologist is someone who studies wild animals and their habitats.
 Dave Harper David Douglas Harper (born May 5, 1966 in Eureka, California) was an American football linebacker in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. He played college football at Humboldt State University.  opened my eyes to the real world of game call collecting. Harper was ingrained in the central and southern Illinois world of waterfowl, first as the son of a duck club manager, next as a guide, and after his college degree, as a dedicated biologist.

Harper asked me if I'd ever seen a $500 duck call.

"No, and neither have you!" I said.

Harper produced a "Carved Mallards" call and explained that a serious collector had offered him $500 for the crown stopper piece. I then recalled an article in an outdoor magazine featuring Gary Rieker, an avid call collector from northern Illinois For the university, see Northern Illinois University

Northern Illinois is a region generally covering the northern third of the U.S. state of Illinois. Economics
. Further research produced Rieker's phone number. After a lengthy conversation, during which he suggested an even higher value for the Perdew Carved Mallards call, we scheduled a meeting for Rieker and Harper. My friend, Nick Siemer, and I were invited to the rendezvous with the invitation to bring our calls for inspection and evaluation.

At the meeting, during a discussion about Perdew's famous "Duck's Head," Rieker sorted through my box of "junk." One call caught his attention immediately.

"Where'd you get this call? Would you like to sell it?" he asked. My answer to selling was a simple "no." Rieker identified the old wooden, checkered check·ered  
1. Divided into squares.

2. Marked by light and dark patches; diversified in color.

3. Marked by great changes or shifts in fortune: a checkered career.
 piece as an early J.T. Beckhart. Furthermore, he suggested the Arkansas call had substantial value.

My now-identified Beckhart call had been a gift from a retired senior duck hunter who insisted I add it to my assortment. Although I never used it, the call became very special. I also remembered the old fellow saying he had bought the Beckhart call for $5 in the early 1900s from the maker himself.


The remainder of the Harper/Rieker evening was a learning session on the history of game calls, call values and the hobby of collecting. Rieker's knowledge of American folk art folk art, the art works of a culturally homogeneous people produced by artists without formal training. The forms of such works are generally developed into a tradition that is either cut off from or tenuously connected to the contemporary cultural mainstream.  seemed endless as he shared his passion and knowledge about the legends of the waterfowl world. My journey as a true collector reached a new level.


The next step in the dance came from David Jackson David Jackson is the name of several notable men:
  • David Jackson (delegate) (1747-1801), American physician, Continental Congressman for Pennsylvania
  • David Edward Jackson (1788-1837), American explorer, frontiersman, and trapper
  • David S. Jackson (died 1872), U.S.
, then the shop manager for the P.S. Olt Game Call Company of Pekin Pekin (pē`kĭn), city (1990 pop. 32,254), seat of Tazewell co., central Ill., a port on the Illinois River; inc. 1839. A processing, rail, and shipping point in a grain, livestock, and dairying area, Pekin has a large food industry. , Ill. Jackson knew many of the big-time collectors because of his occupation and personal world-class collection of Olt game calls and memorabilia.

Philip S. Olt began making duck calls in the late 1800s, and in 1904, started manufacturing and selling his product to hunters in the tradition-rich Illinois River Illinois River

River, northeastern Illinois, U.S. Formed by the junction of the Des Plaines River and Kankakee River in Illinois, it flows southwest across the state, joining the Mississippi River after a course of 273 mi (440 km).
 Valley. The venture was highly successful. The Olt Company lasted into the 21st century, nearly 100 years. During that time, Olt products dominated the game call business, marketing many varieties of waterfowl calls, as well as calls for owls, crows, squirrel, pheasant pheasant, common name for some members of a family (Phasianidae) of henlike birds related to the grouse and including the Old World partridge, the peacock, various domestic and jungle fowls, and the true pheasants (genus Phasianus).  and other game species. Untold thousands were sold throughout the world, and virtually every waterfowl hunter in America possessed a call bearing the P.S. Olt name.


Jackson suggested that my son, Todd, and I attend an event in the spring at St. Charles, Ill., to further our knowledge of calls and collecting. The gathering, hosted by the Callmakers and Collectors Association of America, was a weeklong event attracting waterfowl enthusiasts from across America. After attending the 1988 show, it was apparent the Reid assortment of game calls was not only special to the family, but many were highly sought by collectors.

The purchase of Brian J. McGrath's book, Duck Calls and Other Game Calls, began my study and advanced my appreciation of game calls in general, duck calls in particular. The Texas author was the first to publish a book that pictured, discussed and rated calls as to their place in history and their rareness. Soon to follow McGrath's work would be master duck call maker and major collector Howard Harlan, with his book, Duck Calls, An Enduring American Folk Art. Harlan and W. Crew Anderson's publication gave collectors photos, documentation and detailed information on hundreds of calls.

Additional books that expanded knowledge for the hobby are Christensen's Duck Calls of Illinois, The Arkansas Duck Hunter's Almanac almanac, originally, a calendar with notations of astronomical and other data. Almanacs have been known in simple form almost since the invention of writing, for they served to record religious feasts, seasonal changes, and the like.  by Bowman and Wright, Russell Caldwell's Reelfoot Lake and Donna Tonelli's Top of the Line Hunting Collectibles.

The craze of attaining waterfowl memorabilia has grown over the last four decades to the point that never-imagined dollars are paid for special pieces. No one in their wildest dreams would have thought that a shotshell box would sell for $34,000, a Kinney & Harlow duck call for $63,000, carved shorebirds and duck decoys for six figures and an Elmer Crowell goose decoy DECOY. A pond used for the breeding and maintenance of water-fowl. 11 Mod. 74, 130; S. C. 3 Salk. 9; Holt, 14 11 East, 571.  for well over a million dollars. Most would say, "Unbelievable." But folks, it's a fact.

Undoubtedly, the Callmakers and Collectors Association of America, founded in 1987, has played a major role in the popularity and enthusiasm for acquiring this American art form. With 370 members in 41 states, Canada and New Zealand New Zealand (zē`lənd), island country (2005 est. pop. 4,035,000), 104,454 sq mi (270,534 sq km), in the S Pacific Ocean, over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) SE of Australia. The capital is Wellington; the largest city and leading port is Auckland. , the organization publishes a quarterly newsletter and a membership directory. They gather at special waterfowl events and host their major rendezvous each year the last week of April in St. Charles, Ill. Modern-day call makers attend the event to display their works of art and compete for special honors in the fancy call contest. The show, which is open to the public, focuses on buying, swapping, trading and spreading the hobby of collecting. Without fail, someone is always shocked as to the value of a piece of family history that Granddad passed along to the kids.


Since the beginning of my waterfowl career, the years have flown by as rapidly as a green-winged teal teal: see duck.

Any of about 15 species (genus Anas, family Anatidae) of small dabbling ducks found on the major continents and many islands. Many are popular game birds.
. The Reid call collection numbers more than 200. My collection doesn't come close to the extremists of the hobby. Many of the calls are proudly displayed in our riverside home, my wife says, to remind me of the past and look toward the future. We have a detailed catalog that describes each call, its origin and the date obtained. For some calls, I even wrote a story about the friend who passed it on to me. I take pride in possessing calls of Perdew, Hooker, Beckhart, O'Dean, Allen, Major, Quinn and Harlan, just to name a few. But other calls hold personal significance: Granddad's D-2 Olt, Dad's Lohman, calls I bought as a kid and the variety given to me by the old timers who took the time to train a boy.

It is apparent that once an individual is hooked on collecting, the trend is to acquire more and more. Vintage wooden calls from the early makers seem to be the most sought-after, but modern-day craftsmen have certainly made their mark. In this age of acrylic calls, another generation of collectors has arrived. The attractive, bright, multi-colored calls now dominate the commercial market and are the choice of many hunters, as well as competition callers. Hunting catalogs feature pages of the eye-catching pieces endorsed by pro staffers and world champions.


Many of the calls have gold- or silver-colored bands around the barrels bearing a logo name, some with special edition numbers. The calls of the 21st century are more numerous and attainable than those of the ages gone by.


I could write volumes concerning the history of my collection and calls, but I'm sure you've gotten the message about the passion, pleasure and memories of the tools of the trade. The bottom line: If you're a waterfowler wa·ter·fowl·er  
A person who hunts waterfowl.
, you are a collector.

On Ernest Hemingway's writing desk in his historic home in Key West, Fla., sits an old wooden decoy and a small sign that reads, "To remind me of a place I'd rather be."

Maybe that is why I collect duck calls.

Larry Reid is host of "Outdoors With Larry Reid," which airs at noon every Sunday on WBGZ radio, 1570 AM in Alton, Ill.

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Author:Reid, Larry L.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 30, 2010
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