Knott’s Island Ruddy Duck
When I set out to do my “Classic Miniature” decoy collection , this Dudley Ruddy Duck was at the top of my list. It was made by Lee Dudley (1860-1942) of Knotts Island, NC sometime around 1890 and is currently the prize bird in the decoy collection of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. There is a great story about Joel Barber, one of the earliest decoy collectors and author of the first book on decoy collecting, WILDFOWL DECOYS (1934). On a visit to Knotts Island, Mr. Barber was given a well used pair of Ruddy decoys by Mr. Dudley himself. Barber asked Lee Dudley to paint one of them (which he did) and the other is in the exact condition in which it was found. Both are now in the museum.
In 1981 there was a symposium of decoy experts held at the Shelburne and the unpainted Dudley Ruddy was voted to be the greatest duck decoy ever made. Back then, everyone agreed that if that little decoy ever came onto the auction block it would probably bring a million dollars. It is still the crown jewel in the Shelburne’s collection, and since several other decoys (Crowell’s) have already sold for over a million dollars, this bird, if ever offered for sale, might be the first two million dollar decoy. Lee Dudley sold them for a couple of dollars for a dozen!