HCJ conference shines a light on duck decoy production in Jefferson City
Some people collect stamps, baseball cards, or books.
Dr Greg Renner collects duck decoys.
The Columbia men’s collection focuses on lures produced by the Hays, Gundelfinger and Benz companies in Jefferson City. The companies made decoys between the early 1920s and 1945, selling different models around the world.
The historic town of Jefferson hosted a Renner talk on Thursday night on the history of lure and wood product production in Jefferson City in the Clydesdale Hall at NH Scheppers Distributing. Renner detailed the history and uniqueness of the decoys and the companies that produced them.
Hays, Gundelfinger, and Benz made wood products – including duck decoys, car bumpers, toys, and outdoor furniture – from 1911 to 1945. Production of wood products in Jefferson City began in the Missouri State Penitentiary, where the successor to JM Hays Wood Products, the JS Sullivan Saddle Tree Company, produced pommels using inmate labor.
JM Hays Wood Products began producing duck decoys in the early 1920s, with the first advertisement featuring “True-to-Life” decoys being published in 1921.
Hays and his successor, Gundelfinger Wood Products, produced decoys at a facility on what is now Industrial Drive. Gundelfinger’s successor, the Benz Wood Products Company, continued production of decoys on present-day Missouri Boulevard after the sale of the Industrial Drive facility to Oberman Pant Company.
More than a century after the production of the first decoys, Renner and several others collect and research the decoys made in Jefferson City. Meanwhile, the Industrial Drive and Missouri Boulevard facilities are still standing.
Today lures are known for their high quality and uniqueness. Renner said lures made in Jefferson City were more durable than lures produced by other companies, such as Mason Lures, because of the grain pattern used.
“Many, many Freemasons have divisions within them,” he said. “They have a nice paint, a nice shape and everyone loves them, but they have cracks. The outer rings of the wood tend to dry out more than the inner rings and you get a crack. … (T) that’s what Hays seemed to have recognized and it happened in the other factories as well. “
While Renner believes that the decoys made in Jefferson City are “under-recognized and undervalued” in the decoy collector community, certain traits – such as the aforementioned grain pattern and a scratch-and-comb paint style – them. make it desirable to many.
“The people of Jefferson City have become very adept at this scratch and comb paint idea,” Renner said. “If you can find any birds, or decoys, in fair or very good condition that have this trait, they are desirable pieces to enjoy.”
Renner assembled a study group dedicated to researching the history of decoys made in Jefferson City and their correct identification. He said many decoys are misidentified, which prompted him to delve deeper into researching the story behind them.
“I was buying birds (decoys) and later decided for different reasons that they weren’t actually Hays decoys and realized the reports in the books were inaccurate,” said Renner.
Renner said the study group consists of collectors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Iowa and Arizona.
While lure-making in Jefferson City stopped in 1945, the products of local talent were not forgotten.
“I think it was admirable what Jefferson City was able to do around the time they did it,” Renner said. “I think they made a good product, and it has filled a great niche in the decoy hunting world.”