Well before the big box sporting food stores of Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse, or Bass Pro Shops, the sporting goods business was dominated by Herter’s Sporting Goods Co., of Waseca, Minnesota. George Herter started his sporting good business in 1936 from his parents’ garage. Herter began to manufacture cork decoys for their customers from 1936-1939. A redesign in 1939 covered the cork bodies with a “plastic ink” printed cloth attached at the bottom with a metal ring and wood head. These were their earliest decoys.
George was called to military service in 1942 and returned to the business in 1946. Decoy production never ceased during this time but new models did not come out until after his return.
The first wooden Herter’s decoys were produced in 1946 and were hollow. They were advertised as the “model perfect” decoy. Plastic heads were added to the wood bodies from 1953-1956. Santa Malta balsa decoys began to be produced in the late 1940’s through 1950 in an effort to reduce weight for hunters in the field. Hundreds of thousands of balsa decoys were produced and distributed nationwide. Herter’s model 72 (oversized) balsa decoys are still popular for collectors and waterfowlers to this day.
Herter’s was the largest mail order sporting goods store for years. Many sportsmen looked forward to receiving their yearly advertising catalogs that were 1-2 inches thick!
In the 1950’s-1960’s, Herter’s met customer’s demands by producing a lighter decoy made from styrofoam under the trade name of “durlon”.
They also produced a line of field shells and fiberboard silhouette decoys during this time. Decoys were also made out of plastic, trade named “tenite”, during this period as well. Model 50’s tenite decoys were considered as superb decoys at the time!
Needless to say, numerous models and series of decoys were produced by Herter’s for their ever demanding customers. George Herter was considered a marketing genius at the time and personally wrote most of the advertising in his catalogs. Currently, old Herter catalogs are highly sought after by collectors of sporting memorabilia.
In 1977, Herter’s was sold to Cabela’s. While some decoy production was continued by Cabela’s of the Herter’s line of decoys, most decoy production was discontinued by 1990.
Herter decoys were produced in a variety of species including crow, owls and even rabbit decoys. Herter owls are considered quite rare and very collectible and can exceed $2,000 – $3000 in value!
Old Herter decoys are in high demand today by collectors. The most common today have balsa bodies and heads. The tenite (plastic) model 50’s are slowly taking over sales numbers however. Herter’s introduced a decorative decoy in the late 1960’s and labeled them with a (Herter’s Inc. 1893) stamp on the bottom which were produced until 1977.
Many waterfowlers currently use older Herter’s “styrofoam” (durlon) decoys and modify them with a “restle ” coating or a burlap to provide a very realistic and durable decoy today.
According to Warman’s Duck Decoys price guide by Russell Lewis, the following value range can be used as a general guide for Herters decoys:
- Wood owl decoys: $1000 – $4000
- Wood crow decoys: $500 – $2000
- Balsa duck decoys: $100 – $200
- Ancient cedar/cork decoys: $200 – $500
- Durlon (styrofoam) decoys: $25- $100
- Model 50-59’s: $25 – $100
- Catalogs: $5 – 50
As always, some rarer species can demand higher prices. Be sure to consult with reputable decoy dealers for actual values in your area before any purchase.
Many waterfowlers continue to use Herter’s decoys in their everyday spreads, but more and more of these 50-70 year old blocks are ending up on the shelf. Either way, if you have a Herter’s Decoy, enjoy their past history as you watch them on your mantel or in the marsh.