Hurting For Herter's
- Blog Post by: Bill Klein
- August 29, 2011 - 11:23 AM
You're looking at the first decoy I ever bought. It's a great horned owl. Circa 1955. I used it with much success crow hunting in my youth. I can't remember what I paid for it but it was likely at least a month of my Des Moines Register and Tribune paper route profits. I considered it a bargain, whatever the price, because it was made by the Herter's Company of Waseca, Minnesota.
Through the years I have bought many dozens of decoys from Herter's. Mostly waterfowl. And the circular weights, string and touch-up paints to go along with the decoys. The Herter's catalog was ever-present on the night stands near my boyhood and, later, manhood beds. You can say I am a Herter's purist. Until now.
I saw the end coming in 1994. I was literally standing at the check out counter at the Herter's store in Waseca when the sad news of the passing of George Herter was announced. After having founded the company in 1939, George was a pioneer, decades ahead of his time, in direct mail marketing. The Herter's catalog was the Cabelas of that time.
I asked the clerk at the check out counter what would become of the company. She said George's son, who lived in Chicago, would commute to Waseca by private jet to run the firm. George had build a grass landing strip next to the store to accomodate out-of-state customers. I didn't like the sound of an absentee owner.
Sure enough, a short time later Herter's went into a tail spin. The catalog still arrived but it was looking thin and anemic. Gone were the listings for George's self-published books. Books with titles like: How To Buy An Outdoor Knife and How To Live With A Bitch. (And, no, Geoge wasn't talking about his bird dog.)
When news came of the store closing in Waseca I hustled down and bought a box full of decoy paints. Insurance against the inevitable. The Herter's brand was ultimately sold to a direct marketer in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. But it languished there without the support of the world-famous Herter's catalog.
Then later, Cabelas, well aware of the Herter's brand loyalty, bought the rights to the decoys. But now, probably because the Herter's decoys were expensive to make, Cabelas has dropped them from their catalog. In a panic, I talked to a Cabelas telephone agent and begged her to check their storerooms for the last remaining Herter's diver decoys. She reported all the remaining stock had been send to the retail stores' bargain caves and sold.
If you want to buy Herter's duck decoys today you'll have to go to eBay. But, since they are now considered collector's items, be prepared to pay a lot more than your paper route profits.
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