Harford History

Folk Artist Honored By U.s. Postal Service

March 25, 2007

On March 22, 1985, the U.S. Postal Service issued the third in a series of commemorative stamps recognizing folk art. Included in this series representing decoy carving was an image of a canvasback duck carved by Harford County native Robert Franklin McGaw Jr.

Born on Spesutie Island in 1879, McGaw served in the Maryland National Guard until 1918. He married the daughter of the captain of a famous gunning scow the Reckless. It is thought he began carving soon after his discharge. In 1919 the McGaws bought a property in Havre de Grace and opened a shop to sell his decoys.

McGaw's decoys were considered the most realistic ever to float on the Susquehanna flats. One of the first decoy shows was held in Long Island in 1923, and McGaw's work soon gained a reputation among collectors.

In 1934, McGaw's canvasback decoy ducks appeared in Joel Barber's book Wild Fowl Decoys. McGaw presented Barber with a canvasback decoy in 1929. The decoys for the commemorative stamp series were chosen from Barber's collection, which was housed at a museum in Shelburne, Vt.

[ Source: Harford Historical Bulletin. No. 21, Winter 1986; research: Harford County Public Library]

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