Friday, April 8, 2011

The Benz Decoy Company-Jefferson City, Missouri

When Harry Benz began his decoy company, decoy production was nothing new to Jefferson City, Missouri. Starting in the early 1920s, the J.M. Hayes Wood Products Company manufactured many different wood products including duck decoys. A failed business venture in 1922 eventually forced the company to declare bankruptcy in 1925. The Gundlefinger Wood Products Company purchased some of the machinery and some of the inventory and began to produce a variety of decoys. By 1928, The Gundlefinger Wood Products fell upon financial problems.

Harry Benz’s decoy production began with the purchase of The Gundlefinger Wood Products Company in 1929 after the company declared bankruptcy. By a collective bid of $6,000, Harry Benz bought the machinery and stock of the insolvent company.

The Jefferson City resident was already operating a host of other businesses when he took over The Gundlefinger Company. He owned a new and used furniture store, a taxi service and garage as well as used a car and rent-a-Ford business. Harry Benz was now assuming the business of decoy production on the eve of the Great Depression. Producing decoys from the basement of his rent-a- Ford business, Harry continued the tradition of decoy manufacturing in Jefferson City.

Benz decoys were produced in mallards, black ducks, bluebills, pintails, whistler, widgeon, canvasback, redhead, teal species as well as geese.  Two wooden models were offered – Grand Prix and Superior.  Grand Prix were made of light weight wood and were larger than life size.  The Superior grade was slightly smaller in size. Both models were produced on duplicating lathes, sanded semi-smooth and finished with hand painting.

The Benz Decoy Company survived the great depression, but the pressure of World
War II and the increased marketing of lower cost paper mache and plastic decoys proved too great for Benz.  The end of the war in 1945 also brought about the closing of decoy operations for the Benz Company as well as bringing an end to over two decades of decoy production in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Benz Mallard Drake
Jefferson City, Missouri • Circa 1930s
This nice example is in virtually mint condition, having never been used. This is the last one I have that came from a rig found several years ago. He has never been rigged and shows just the slightest amount of box wear. The small various tan marks/spots on him are traces of the original newspaper he was wrapped in after he was painted. Wonderful dry and crisp original paint that features Benz’s typical comb painting on his back and tail. Great crisp example from the last of the Jefferson City factories. Item #207008

Gundelfinger Black Duck
Jefferson City, Missouri • Circa mid 1920s
If you looking for a hard species of Gundlefinger decoys this might be your bird. Believe it or not, I have seen more teal than black ducks by Gundelfinger. Overall, this bird in nice original condition with even gunning wear. The nail that is now visible in his neck is original and was used by the company to secure their heads. The neckfiller is cracked all the way around and the left side of the bird has two small paint scrapes as well as a tight age crack under his eye. Thick original comb paint. The original company ink stamp is still visible on the bottom. Item #207020

Gundelfinger Canvasback Hen
Jefferson City, Missouri • Circa late 1924-1929
Rare special order oversized sold canvasback hen. This decoy measures just over 16 inches long and 8 inches tall. The paint is 100% original with a few paint "pops" to the top of the head and neck and some rubbing to the breast. Structurally she is in excellent shape with "No" cracks or splits. She features her original deep red eyes and nice comb paint on her back. A similar example can be seen in Ken Trayers" North American Factory Decoy book. I have only seen three or four of this style and all have come out of the Wisconsin area. Rare Gundelfinger decoy!
Item #207007
So here you have the history of Decoying in Jefferson City, Missouri; The final carver was put out of business by modern technology but as you can see the decoys are still in demand. Enjoy the descriptions of these decoys that are for sale from collectors-I know that the next time I see a decoy setting in an antique shop out here I am going to pay more attention to the decoy.  So far the ones I have looked at have been in bad shape or cleaned up and repainted.  A word of caution, if you decide to buy an old decoy DO NOT repaint or repair anything because as soon as you do anything like that you have just lost money.

The next post I plan to talk about my Loon Decoy, have some pictures and maybe even give some really interesting (not) information on how I am doing this with hand tools only.  PIctures should give you some idea of progress.  Hope you enjoy.  Thanks for stopping by.
Remember to measure twice and cut once.  Peace

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