The Meadowlark Gallery: Mason Decoy Factory

Mason's Decoy Factory (1896-1924)
The Mallard, sometimes referred to as Mallard (Grey), was the featured decoy in early advertising of Mason's Decoy Factory. They were manufactured in a variety of styles and in all of Mason's grades and models. William J. Mason, with a partner, George Avery, founded the W. J. Mason Company in 1882. They ran a well equipped sporting goods store which carried a full line of products. The Mason Decoy Factory had a rather inauspicious start in a shed behind William Mason's house on Tuscola Street in Detroit, Michigan. The official date the business was established is 1896, but many feel it was much earlier than this. William Mason was an excellent hunter and a member of the 'Old Club' on Harsen's Island in the St. Clair Flats delta area. His decoys proved to be so successful that he moved his decoy business from his home to 456-464 Brooklyn Avenue in 1903. His shop was in the back of the Nicholson Lumber Company. Patterns were used when cutting the bodies on the lathes. Heads were rough-turned and sanded later. Before taking the decoys upstairs in crates, the head and body were joined, Upstairs there were three benches with an apprentice and a senior painter at each bench. Drying racks were on each side of the painters. In addition, this is where the puttyers did their work. They filled in around the necks of the Standard Grades decoys with white putty. The fit of the head and body on these grades wasn't perfect, so the putty gave the neck a smooth look. The apprentices put on the primer coat of white lead, linseed oil, and turpentine after the puttying was done and put them on the racks to dry, The senior painter first painted the body with the correct plumage, let it dry, and then painted the head. The glass eyes were added last. Before insertion, the eyes were painted on the back. On hollow-bodied Premier and Challenge models, white lead sealed the two body parts before being nailed together. When the decoys were completely finished, they were balanced by floating them in a wash tub and adding the lead weight. All decoys were wrapped separately in newspaper and packed by the dozen in wooden crates. The Premiers had the newspaper they were wrapped in coated with linseed oil. This kept the paper from sticking to the paint. Successful as the business was, it was dependent on seasonal demand. They needed to utilize the factory full-time. He and a friend, Fred Rinshed, a paint salesman, went into business together. They combined the decoys business with paint manufacturing. They incorporated the Rinshed-Mason Company in 1919. Although neither one had experience in paint manufacturing, they hired a chemist and started production. The paint manufacturing became so successful that the decoy operation was closed down in 1924. The twenty-seven year history had come to a close.
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