Treasure: This old bird is highly collectible

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Tim Dudgeon couldn’t resist the unusual item he came across at a barn sale in northern Michigan. “I purchased this at an estate sale in Standish,” he wrote to the column in an email, asking for an appraisal and more information about the item.

“A man from Nebraska was liquidating his grandfather’s estate and this was one of the items in the barn. It’s about 52” wide. The body is wood, the wings tin, and the eyes are made of glass. There’s a hook in the back. I don’t have a clue if this thing had a purpose or was simply decorative. It’s quite heavy and very old,” he wrote.

Alex Diebel of DuMouchelles took a closer look at a February appraisal session held in downtown Detroit, where Dudgeon explained what attracted him to the possibly one-of-a-kind piece. “I just thought it was very cool,” he told the appraiser of the oversized wooden bird.

Dudgeon remembers paying a whopping $2 for it, and in response the appraiser told him he definitely snagged a treasure. “It’s probably about a century old and very interesting for a couple of reasons,” she told him. “The wings appear to be coated with lead and a material that could be nickel, zinc or tin, which is very light and allows it to achieve a feathery look,” she told him. It also has glass eyes.

Dudgeon asked whether she thought it was meant to be a weathervane, which she doubted because she said it probably would have had additional pieces and something that would have fit into a pole. “My guess is that it was in the barn for a reason, because it may have been used there at one point to scare away other critters.”

She said its large size, whimsical quality and the fact that it’s handmade qualifies the piece as folk art, a genre that remains “highly collectible,” she says. Given the condition, she says, it also appears to have been used outside. “I would have liked to see the original paint on this one,” she told him. “Also, it could do with a little less wear, which could ultimately bring the price down a bit.”

Despite this, she praised its carved wood body and mused that it would have been a bit heavy to be hanging from a barn ceiling. “I assume that it’s a crow, with the black body and its red eyes,” she told him. “I would also assume that he’d be fairly intimidating to other animals in the barn, and that was the point.”

Intimidating or not, she says the avian antique would be sought after at auction. “We have sold a lot of folk art through the years and generally the range for pieces of varying sizes is $90 to $450,” she told him. “This is very unusual and pretty special, but it’s hard to say for sure how it would do at auction without comparable items. Either way it’s not bad for a $2 investment.”

Dudgeon decided to sell the bird, which was featured in DuMouchelles’ March catalog and sold last week for $275. Dudgeon said he’s not surprised other people found him appealing. “He’s definitely beat up, but I think that gives him character.”

About this item

Item: Folk art bird sculpture

Owner: Tim Dudgeon

Appraised by: Alex Diebel, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: Sold for $275 at auction