The Midwest Decoy Collectors Association History

Over the last 40 years The Midwest Decoy Collectors Association (MDCA) Sporting Collectibles Show has grown into an International meeting of sporting collectors and folk art enthusiasts drawing dealers and collectors from across the United States, Canada and, yes even Europe. Starting on Monday the last week of April this group takes over the Pheasant Run Resort, in St Charles, Illinois, beginning with exciting room-to-room trading the show includes a two day decoy auction presented by Guyette & Schmidt Inc, the National Game Call Makers And Collectors Association show, and the MDCA annual sporting collectibles Show with collectors seminars, a classic decoy exhibit and 400 exhibitors tables.

This show had very humble beginnings. As duck hunters replaced their wooden decoys with lighter plastic and papier mache` decoys developed after WW II, some of these hunters brought a few decoys into their homes to enjoy and remind them of their past hunts. And thus a decoy collector was born. Gradually these novice collectors found each other and became loosely connected by men like Hal Sorenson, Willis Pennington, Joe French, Ralph Loeff and Hal Sorenson , Burlington, Iowa, published a small pamphlet entitled the Decoy Collectors Guide which became a forum for collectors to share the information they uncovered about decoys and their makers.

Pennington, LaGrange, Illinois, was a traveling salesman who worked his central Illinois territory selling plumbing supplies and hunted for decoys along the way. Pennington loved to barter and was instrumental in introducing others to the joys of decoy collecting.

Joe French, St Louis, Missouri, also traveled along the Illinois River with his work in the painting business and collected thousands of decoys and tons information which he now share in his articles on ‘the good ole days of decoy collecting’ published in Decoy Magazine.

Hal Sorenson, Burlington, Iowa Was instrumental in unifying the decoy collecting community from coast-to-coast with his publication, The Decoy Collectors Guide which was published quarterly from 1963 through 1965. Three annuals were published in 1966-1968 and 1977.

Before the actual shows were organized in the Midwest, decoy collectors were meet socially, gathering for drinks and friendly decoy chats and bartering. Charlie (pictured here with his collection) was an architect from Palatine, Illinois. He and his wife, Isabelle Kloop hosted an annual picnic for years in their backyard.

Over drinks at one of these informal gathering Sorenson, Pennington and Ralph Loeff decided it would be fun to put together a decoy show with displays for the general public. Ralph Loeff, Chicago, Illinois, an advertising agent is pictured here on the left talking decoys with Sorenson and French at the first MDCA show in Ottawa, IllinoisAn invitations were send out using Sorenson’s mailing list from the Decoy Collectors Guide. These three men were the ‘Official Self-Appointed Meeting Committee’. As chairmen, they called on other local decoy collectors and their wives to serve on various committees created to make their show a well organized day. The ladies were is charge of decorating and serving as hostesses to entertain the wives while their hubbys talked decoys. As you can see from the committee list the show was organized following the format of business conventions of the day.
Originally They planned to hold their get together at the Ranch House in Bureau, Illinois, which was a well known restruant and motel near Hennepin in the heart of the Illinois River duck hunting country where duck hunters congregated. Some collectors will recognize The Ranch House as the sole distributors of Bob Weeks decoys from the 1950's until his death. As responses began to arrive it became clear the the Ranch House would not be able to handle the number of folks who wanted to attend. By March Pennington had to contact Blondie, owner of the Ranch House and explain that the show would have to be moved to a larger location. Click on photo at the right to read the original Letter from Ray and Elaine,"Blondie" graciously responding to the cancellation.

Held at the Ramada Inn, Ottawa, Illinois May 7, 1966 the first Midwest Decoy Collectors Show was a success. 40 collectors exhibited including Benjamin Schmidt, Lou Shifferl, Harold Haertal and Bill Schultz. .

Anyone interested to see just who signed the registry can click here to see full size reproduction of the original sign in registry. Collector were present from all parts of the Midwest: one even from Paris, France. Most came in the night before and stayed at the Ramada Inn overnight. Of course everyone was curious what the other had brought so the decoys were dumped out onto the bed and a tradition was started.

Shown here is Joe French in his room the night before the first MDCA show. Wouldn't you love to be able to go back to that night and buy a few decoys.:-)

At the dinner following the show Hal Sorenson gave the ketnote address with a slide show presentation. Here's a few more tidbits of interest. Approximately 140 invitations were sent out to individuals and newspapers at a cost of five cents each. The bill from the Ramada Inn for the display room and sit-down dinner was $224.28. Attendees paid $3.50 per plate.

The show grossed $311.50. The profit due largely to the raffle of a McAlpin pintail hen sleeper decoy donated by Cline McAlpin was $64 which was donated to DUcard. McAlpine requested a receipt for his donation in the sum of $12, his going price for a sleeper decoy! The purpose of the show then, as now, was not to make money but to provide a place for collectors to gather and share their decoys finds and information. check out original letter written by Willis Pennington to Ken McCreary, the Ducks Unlimited executive secretary describing the first MDCA show and its success. Have a selection of photos taken at the first Ottawa Show posted here Thought it would be fun to see how many decoys you can recognize in these. If anyone can identify any of these collectors please let me know. To be continued....