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 Nathan Cobb, Jr.  (1825 - 1905)

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Lived/Active: Virginia/Massachusetts      Known for: Wildfowl decoy carver

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Nathan Cobb, Jr. (1825 - 1905)
An important wildfowl decoy* carver, Nathan Cobb, Jr. was possibly born in Eastham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where his family lived until about 1837 when they moved to what became Cobb Island (formerly Sand Shoals), Virginia. Five of Nathan Cobb, Jr.'s decoys are on the "Top 50 Decoys Ever Sold at Auction" list (1) and five of his decoys are in the book Decoys - North America's One Hundred Greatest (see AskART book references). His work was also included in the 1987 Smithsonian exhibition "American Bird Sculpture" (2).
Attached below is courtesy of The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art:
Nathan Cobb, Jr. market hunted [see "decoys" in AskART glossary] and formed a salvage team with his father Nathan, Sr. [1797 - 1890] and his two brothers Warren [1833 - 1903] and Albert [1836 - 1890]. The Cobb family owned and operated a sportsmen's resort, the Cobb Island Hunt Club, on Cobb Island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. While it is possible that the Cobb men carved their own decoys, it is probable that Nathan, Jr. did the carving for the whole family, identifying each decoy with the respective hunter's initials.

Carving styles reminiscent of New England and Barnegat Bay [NJ] reflect Nathan, Sr.'s former residency in New Jersey and his sons' travels along the coast. Further influence from New Jersey can be attributed to Harry Shourds of Tuckerton, NJ who sold hundreds of his decoys to the Cobbs to fulfill their needs. Cobb carved the family decoys from the masts of wrecked ships, transforming the flotsam into well-rounded hollow decoys. The seams of these two-piece lures lie just below the mid-line. Relief-carved V-shape wingtips lie over a notched V-shape tail. Lead weights are attached to the flat bottoms with brass screws.

Cobb carved goose and brant necks from holly branches to create a virtually unbreakable neck. He only used glass eyes imported from Germany, but utilized the copper nails from salvaged wrecks. Bold paint patterns simplified seasonal maintenance. Minor details like the curve of a neck or the tilt of a bill make Nathan Cobb, Jr.'s decoys unique. Unfortunately, storms that ravaged the unprotected island claimed many of his fine pieces.
Source: The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury, MD.
(1) To date (May 2013), the highest auction price for a Nathan Cobb Jr. decoy is the $457,000 paid for Hollow Carved Canada Goose sold at Christies, New York on January 17, 2008. Sources: Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter, St. Michaels, Maryland; and Christie's, New York.  
(2) "American Bird Sculpture: Decoys to Decoratives", Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., January 1987. Sources: Smithsonian Institution Archives; and Decoys - North America's One Hundred Greatest (2011), by Loy S. Harrell Jr. (see AskART book references).
Additional sources:
Encyclopedia of American Folk Art (2013), edited by Gerard C. Wertkin; (see AskART book references)
Decoys - North America's One Hundred Greatest (2011), by Loy S. Harrell Jr. (see AskART book references)
Collecting Antique Bird Decoys and Duck Calls: An Identification and Price Guide (2003), by Carl Luckey and Russell E. Lewis (see AskART book references)
The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys (2000), edited by Joe Engers (see AskART book references)
Decoys (1992), by Gene and Linda Kangas (see AskART book references)
Folk Art In America: A Personal View (1984) by Adele Earnest (see AskART book references)
Decoys: A North American Survey"(1983), by Gene Kangas and Linda Kangas (see AskART book references)
Southern Decoys of Virginia and the Carolinas" (1983), Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr.(see AskART book references)
The Bird Decoy: An American Art Form (1976), by Paul A. Johnsgard (see AskART book references)
The Art of the Decoy: American Bird Carvings (1965), by Adele Earnest (see AskART book references)
The Countryside Transformed: The Railroad and the Eastern Shore of Virginia, 1870 - 1935 (website)
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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