Cobb Robin Snipe

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Cobb Robin Snipe


A history of the Cobb family usually fills a large chapter in many of the decoy books. For the most insightful and detailed history of the Cobb family, Cobb Island and the famous Cobb decoys, check out my old friend Henry Fleckenstein’s informative book SOUTHERN DECOYS OF VIRGINIA AND THE CAROLINAS. This book is a must-have in any decoy library.

Cobb decoys are among the most sought-after and coveted decoys ever made. While there are lots of mysteries and questions about the Cobb decoys, there is no question that most of the really great decoys were made by Nathan Cobb, Jr. sometime between 1870 and 1890. Most of these are hollow, with inletted heads in various positions to give the rig a realistic look.  A few decoys were also made during this time by Elkanah, Nathan’s son, and Arthur, his nephew. Most of the better Cobb decoys have an “N” with serifs (Triangular embellishments on the ends of the “N”) carved into the bottom. One of the Cobb mysteries is that many great Cobb decoys have a backward “N,” (also with serifs) carved into the bottom. Many Cobb decoys also have “A” or “E” initials carved into the bottoms (sometimes these have serifs attached to the letters as well), for Elkanah and Arthur. Occasionally a Cobb decoy is found with “A.H. Cobb” branded in the bottom. And some of the very best Cobb decoys, both ducks and shorebirds, have no initials on them at all. Many collectors speculate that a lot of “Cobb” decoys were made by guides whom the Cobbs employed during the hunting seasons, and these guides simply adapted and copied the basic Cobb style, which for the most part were solid-bodied, rugged and serviceable decoys. These are usually identified as “Cobb Island” decoys, and the actual maker’s name is open to speculation.

Cobb decoys will commonly fetch $100,000 or more at auctions, and not only decoy collectors, but astute collectors of great folk art are competing to own some of these birds. While I do like the Cobb ducks and geese, the shorebirds are my favorites. Many are found with almost no paint left and dozens of shot holes attesting to their hard usage. Even without paint, these birds have marvelous personalities and most of them were made by artists whom, I am sure, never thought of themselves in that light. To see and handle a really great Cobb shorebird is a joy for a decoy collector. I have made quite a few Cobb style decoys, including “Knots,” (or Robin Snipe), Black-Breasted Plover and some really large Curlew, which have inletted and splined hardwood bills. Some will have paint similar to those decoys found in original paint but most will have little or no paint, lots of shot holes, and the proper look of 140 year old shorebird decoys.

The little Robin Snipe shown here has “original” paint in the Cobb style. He has a hardwood bill, typical carved eyes and wings, is just slightly aged and has my initials carved under the tail. He comes with a wood stand. Call me if you want to order one with less paint and more “seniority.”  

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