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Bethel's best fish decoys

Won't be long and the winter spearing season will be upon us. To celebrate its' arrival I felt it appropriate to talk about what I feel are the best (extremely rare) and most sophisticated Lawrence Bethel fish decoys ever made. Only once before have we discussed this nationally known carver and his unique ability to create fish decoys which have appeal to a very broad audience. For those who are not familiar with this special person, some introductory information is necessary.

Lawrence Bethel was the son of Pearl Bethel and a nephew to Cyril Bethel. Remember those names because will talk about both of them in the future. The Bethel family is a well-known and respected group of nationally known fish decoy carvers. In fact, the "Hunting & Fishing Collectible Magazine" has recognized the Bethel school of carving from Park Rapids. High praise for a bunch of West Central Minnesota gentlemen. Most of Lawrence's contemporary fish will run $20 to $75. However, there are "special fish" which have values well over his common decoys. Such is the case with this weeks Lawrence Bethel fish decoy.

Lawrence took great pride in making fish decoys the common person could afford. He preferred his items to see action beneath the ice. However, somewhere along the way, his style became so appreciated that most of his fish went into collections. At one of the early Perham sporting and collectible shows, my wife and I helped Lawrence sell out $8,000 worth of decoys in four hours. He always thought it humorous how his fish sold out while everyone else just hoped to sell sufficient product to cover the show cost.

Make no mistake the decoy pictured is one of the most difficult Lawrence Bethel fish decoys to own -- almost impossible. Lawrence told me only six were made. I know where all six initially went. Four to a woman from New York Mills, one to an individual in Detroit Lakes and one to a gentleman from Moorhead. Those six fish have never been seen by the vast majority of collectors in the country. This is the classic example of maker, condition and rarity which raises the bar on value. If my memory serves me correctly, all six were trout, specifically brookies and rainbows. All were between 14 and 16 inches long and had a body depth just shy of 3.5". The teeth were individually made and hand placed in the mouth. Lawrence even carved the fish tongue. The paint job is impeccable with tremendous visual appeal. Glass fish eyes and seven metal fins adorn this special piece. Gill lines were hand carved as well as texturing in the tail. He hand twisted a pigtail style hanging apparatus which gives the fish just a touch of old school appearance. Even with all that style, understand this is a working fish decoy if the owner wished to do so. I am confident none of these six special pieces will ever feel ice water along their sides. All these characteristics are indicators of a museum style piece, hand made from a true artist. These rare collectibles were made in July of 2004, just two years before Lawrence passed away.

I have seen some of Lawrence's very early fish (topics for a later dialogue) sell for $250 each. These six fish are much more rare than those. Assessing value is difficult. I know five are still with two of the original owners. I don't know if the individual from Moorhead still has his decoy. Thus, there is no "track record" with these pieces. With that in mind, I believe any of the six fish discussed should be worth $200 to $250. They would be easy to sell, but good luck trying to replace them. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.