Arts and Leisure

Joe Lincoln, Champion Decoy Carver

Joe Lincoln, fascinated by the waterfowl on a nearby pond, began carving miniature decoys as a boy. He grew up to be one of the greatest decoy carvers ever.

Joe Lincoln, detail from photo, Courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Joe Lincoln, detail from photo, Courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Joe Lincoln

Joseph Whiting Lincoln was born in 1859 in Hingham, Mass., and lived across from the Accord Pond. He probably had a relationship to Abraham Lincoln.

He started carving just for fun. Then as a teenager he sold his first decoy to a sportsman (they were actually used in hunting) and he was off to the races. He chopped the bodies by hand from cedar or pine and then smoothed them with a drawknife. He refused to use power tools because he thought power tools too blunt for decoy carving. The photo was taken in 1926 by longtime Boston Herald photographer Leslie Jones.

The New York Times called Joe Lincoln “a talented Yankee tinkerer and craftsman who could make everything from a camera to a pair of shoes.”

He died in 1938 after spending his life carving decoys from a 10’ by 12’ shed in his yard. Collectors prize his work. In 1986, a wood duck drake by Joe Lincoln sold at auction for $205,000.  His work can be seen at the Ward Museum in Salisbury, Md

Duck decoys

Museum Pieces

The birds portray several attitudes. Some swim, some preen, some have their bills nestled under a wing.

The museum describes a typical Lincoln decoy. It “has a gently raised neck seat that flows into a low rounded chest. Arched backs give way to horizontal tails above flat bottoms.

Lincoln’s painting displays symmetrical lines, and plumage patterns are simplified to further complement the unadorned carving of the decoy,” according to the Ward Museum. “His style of painting is highly stylized and reflects both brushed and stippled feathers. Lincoln did not limit himself to carving just a few species, but carved brant, buffleheads, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, mallards, mergansers, old squaws, pintails, redheads, ruddy ducks, scaup, teal, whistlers, wigeon and wood ducks. He also produced a handful of other species for special orders.

Image of decoys: By schmuck-by-nature – originally posted to Flickr as Decoys, CC BY-SA 2.0, This story last updated in 2022.

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