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Mark Greenig: Miniature collectibles like Maggie’s are hot right now

Only in the text of fish decoys will the name Maggie “ring a bell.” 

Even then, only the most serious fish decoy enthusiast will make the obvious connection.

Maggie, as she is commonly called, was the second wife of famed fish carver, Lawrence Bethel.

A good source of information regarding this topic can be found in the text, “Commercial Fish Decoys,” by Frank R. Baron.

Lawrence started commercially carving and selling fish decoys in 1980, after the death of his uncle Cyril. It became quickly apparent he could not keep up with the demand.  Needing a solution to this dilemma, he turned to Maggie and asked for her help.

His decision led to one of the most successful husband and wife fish carving teams the decoy market has ever witnessed.  From then on, Lawrence carved and weighted the fish and Maggie painted them.  To this day, Maggie’s fish command more value than fish carved and painted by Lawrence alone.

In 1990, this couple left Minnesota for Elgin, Oregon. While in Oregon, Bethel decoys were marketed through the Carlson Sports International Company of Sauk Rapids, Minn.

Their collaborative effort continued until Maggie’s passing in 1997.  Thanks to Lawrence’s sisters, he moved back to Minnesota and continued on with the Bethel fish decoy company.  According to Baron, the easily recognized  “B” stamping started to appear on all Bethel decoys in 1983.  I can’t verify that date, but my experience with Lawrence and his fish suggest some were branded prior to that year.

During this entire period, most of their fish came in three sizes, 6-inch, 9-inch and 11-inch.  Bethel packaging consisted of a plastic bag with colored header identifying their fish, size and length.

It’s important to realize during their early years this couple’s fish were being purchased for extensive use beneath the ice.  Somewhere along the line, collectors began to notice the appeal of their carvings.  As with all collectibles, maker, condition and rarity often define value.

With that premise, let’s begin our dialogue on the rare availability of Maggie’s miniatures.

This team made a lot of fish and it’s the rare ones you want to be on special look out for. In the fish carving community, a miniature is often defined as any decoy 4 inches or less.

The items highlighted here certainly fall into that category. Maggie miniatures run 3 inches long and in a variety of colors.

Some species are easy to distinguish, such as perch, trout and pike.  Bethel fish with bright colors, such as red, orange, blue and the like were called “carnival” fish by Lawrence.

He believed bright, joyous colors implied fun times, thus the term “carnival.”

Maggie’s paint schemes were simple.  Two “signature” methods of hers were eyebrows and dots for nostrils.

Often she painted small slash lines on her fish, implying lateral lines.

Trout are identified by dark green and white paint. Dots are usually found on her trout rather than slash lines.

Pike were the usual green and white, with white body markings.  Perch  come with pea green sides, white belly, yellow lateral line and black bars.

Typically, carnival fish in the common sizes will be more affordable. Specific species of her fish decoys will be worth more.

In terms of value, I suggest you wait for the right person before parting with Maggie’s miniatures. A realistic value for any of her miniatures should be about $40 to $50 each.

Because of the difficulty in locating these fish, stand your ground on the asking price. This is one instance where rarity tops species and should keep values consistent regardless of paint scheme of fish.

Lastly, miniatures are “hot” right now. They take little space to display or store and that’s a plus as “baby boomers” begin to downsize.

Until next time, may all your searches be successful.