Lark Mason Associates, New Braunfels, Texas
Photos courtesy iGavel
Marcy Carsey is a television producer who with business partner Tom Werner produced The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Roseanne, among other big successes. She has been reaping huge profits on reruns ever since. Carsey discovered country furniture and folk art in the late 1980s and soon began furnishing some of her many houses with painted cupboards, Windsor chairs, weathervanes, folk art, and collections that took her fancy. When she redecorated her Brentwood house earlier this year, her decorator told her she had too much and edited the collection.
“Marcy called Nancy Druckman, longtime head of folk art at Sotheby’s and now a private advisor, and asked her the best way to sell what she no longer needed,” said Susan Baerwald, a longtime friend from their days in the television production world and Carsey’s partner in Just Folk, the folk art and Outsider art gallery they opened in Summerland, California, in 2007. Baerwald said that Druckman suggested Lark Mason Associates at iGavel (www.igavelauctions.com) as the way to go. An online sale with a preview in the New Braunfels, Texas, headquarters became the plan.
“We covered all the bases, and I thought this was the best deal. It didn’t make sense to shop this consignment in the Northeast,” said Druckman on the phone. “Lark Mason is delightful to work with—organized, a real pro—and New Braunfels, Texas, is where a lot of Texans have second houses and where country furniture fits well.”
The sale’s highest lot was this Shaker red-painted wood tall chest of drawers, 19th century, 74" x 41¼" x 18 1/8". It sold for $20,625 (est. $20,000/30,000) after three bidders extended the bidding by 11 seconds. A label inside is inscribed “chest of drawers Shaker bought in New Lebanon, N.Y. in the 1930s.” It has a foot extension, shellac over the painted surface, and wear around the pulls, and the red may be over cadmium yellow.
This child’s metal Hummer pedal car, American, early 20th century, sold for $968.75 (est. $600/800). The 19" high x 40" long car has worn paint but remains fully functional. It’s ex-Weinberg collection.
At about the same time as she was redecorating, Carsey and Baerwald decided to close their Just Folk gallery in Summerland and sell the building, designed by architect Brian Cearnal. “It was time to make the gallery virtual—to exist only online,” Baerwald said. So the partners added some 19th- and 20th-century folk art from the gallery inventory to the Marcy Carsey sale.
“Our gallery will now focus almost exclusively on self-taught artists,” said Baerwald. “Customers can see our inventory posted online or examine it in person at our storage facility near downtown Los Angeles.” (To make appointments, e-mail Baerwald and Carsey at <[email protected]>, call  969-7118, or write to PO Box 578, Summerland, CA 93067. General manager Kathleen Ousley runs the day-to-day operations.)
The iGavel sale was online from May 16 through June 6 and consisted of 451 lots, of which 319 sold by the end of the day on June 6. The 132 unsold lots were posted with reduced estimates for two more days, June 7 and 8. After June 8 the sold total was 414 lots (a 92% sell-through rate) for a total of $181,805 including 25% buyers’ premiums. Before the sale, Mason said he hoped that the sale might bring between $200,000 and $400,000.
This circa 1920 American woolen felt elephant pull toy, 10" x 14", was pushed to $406.25 (est. $60/90). It has hand-painted details, some insect damage, discoloration and staining, soiling, minor areas of repairs, and functioning wheels.
Found in the Midwest, this green-painted wood whirligig conductor, 1910-30, sold for $687.50 (est. $200/300) with nine bids; bidding was extended ten minutes and four seconds. Made of pine, it sports original paint, and the painted tin paddle height is 12". The dry surface pigments are worn and with losses; it has functioning arms. It was pictured on the front of the sale brochure and in ads for the sale.
Mason compiled a lot of impressive statistics after the sale. Of 3627 visitors who clicked onto the sale, 147 became actual bidders. Of these, 93 were winning bidders of at least one lot. Mason said that 147 bidders is a strong audience and that the bidders came from 27 states and one area of Canada, with 30 coming from Texas, 29 from New York, and only six from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey and four from both Massachusetts and Virginia. The 30 Texans purchased 142 lots, New Yorkers purchased 54 lots, Pennsylvanians acquired only 12 lots, and just ten lots were shipped to Massachusetts bidders.
With the exception of a Shaker red-painted high chest of drawers that sold for $20,625 (est. $20,000/30,000), painted furniture seemed like a bargain. A much-advertised yellow paint-grained cupboard with glass doors with a $20,000 reserve got no bids even when the reserve was reduced to $10,000 on June 7 and 8.
The 38 children’s vehicles, carts, and cars from the Weinberg collection, a collection Carsey bought from Connecticut dealer Allan Katz in 1990, did not perform well. Some failed to sell; some sold below estimates. On June 7 and 8 there were still no bids on a glass tazza consisting of salvers and glasses (est. $1000/2000) even though the minimum bid was reduced from $1000 to $500. The condition report noted chips, but it was a stunning assemblage.
Lark Mason, president and founder of iGavel Auctions, said he and Marcy Carsey and Susan Baerwald were aware of a number of challenges. “The modest value, lack of geographically centralized market, and the high costs of shipping all pushed for an online option,” wrote Mason in an e-mail. “Having just opened a new branch of Lark Mason Associates in New Braunfels, Texas, in an historic 1850s settler’s house, we agreed that the best way to reach a new audience of private buyers would be in a location that was economically robust and attuned to the rustic and naïve type of property represented in the sale. Texas seemed a good option, and it was exhibited in the historic facility.”
This 1930-40 pictorial cotton quilt, created in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to honor a fireman, sold for $1125 (est. $700/1000). The 82" x 66" quilt of cotton, silks, and organza is a hand-stitched summer spread. In excellent overall condition, it has some damage, and it received 12 bids.
This circa 1900 American painted pine double-sided game board, 24" x 23¾", sold for $751.25 (est. $300/500) after nine bids. The surface is crazed, and there is some loss to paint and wood on the edges.
This circa 1920 marionette, 26" tall, sold for $501.25 (est. $250/350) to chaskiantiques after four bids.
Mason said 200 came to the preview, but the sale reflected the complicated market influenced by the economy and changes in taste. Bidders in Texas purchased by far the greatest number of lots and outbid those from other states. States with the strongest economies and concentration of wealth bought the most lots; Texas, New York, Florida, California, and Connecticut.
Mason is a specialist in Chinese art and antiquities but knows the auction business well. Before he worked in the Asian department at Sotheby’s from 1979 to 2003, he was a generalist and then was the director of Sotheby’s first attempt at online auctions. In 2003 he went out on his own and founded iGavelauctions.com with success, and over the years he has expanded beyond Asian sales. A network of independently owned auction houses and dealers use iGavel as a platform. Lark Mason Associates offers specialized sales in many categories. The Marcy Carsey sale was the first iGavel sale of American country furniture and folk art, although Lark Mason Associates has been selling Americana in general sales on the iGavel platform since its inception in 2003. Rachel Kensing, iGavel’s sales manager, said that nearly half the lots will be shipped north, and that Lark Mason made a good deal with a shipper who works out of his New York City office, so big shipping charges were avoided.
There were 31 bids for this Noah’s ark hooked stair runner, 15'7" x 23", with an orange ground, fading, slight discoloration, and repairs, and it sold for $3250 (est. $200/400) after bidding was extended by 24 minutes and 44 seconds.
This decorative reverse-painted glass and tinsel picture, 12½" x 16¼", sold for $125 (est. $30/50) after five bidders competed and bidding was extended for a minute and a half. The condition report said that there were some scratches and losses and nicks to the frame.
This early 19th-century American blue-painted pine stepback cupboard sold for $5375 (est. $3000/5000) after 13 bids. The one-piece cupboard with molded cornice has three shelves in the upper section and one in the lower section and its original surface. It is 80" x 48" x 18". Bidding on it was extended by six minutes, 34 seconds.
Auctions using iGavel are held entirely online, with previews held at the company headquarters in New Braunfels, Texas, a town about a 30-minute drive from San Antonio, about a 45-minute drive south of Austin, and two and a half hours from Houston. About half its sales are run from the New York City headquarters in Harlem and half from Texas.
“We have local interest in Americana here in Texas—perhaps more interest than in the Northeast at present—and think iGavel is a good place to offer this collection,” said Mason in a phone interview before the sale. “The way things work today, we can reach people in all parts of the country. We have lots of pictures of all 451 lots in the sale.”
There was plenty of time to bid May 16 through June 6, but most of the bidding was on the last day, and there was not much more bidding when the 132 unsold lots were reoffered June 7 and 8. It is fun to watch the end of an online sale. The closing times are staggered beginning at 11 a.m. (eastern), and standard bidding times can be extended beyond the printed closing time if two or more bidders are battling for a lot. A few lots were extended as long as 12 minutes, and one went for 24 minutes. The number of bids is posted, and the bidding names of the successful bidders are posted when the lots are closed. In some cases the buyer is easily identified, and names of some successful bidders come up again and again.
A 20th-century American salmon-painted wood pie safe with inset tins sold for $1125 after 17 bids (est. $500/800). It is 66½" x 39½" x 14½" and has some wear, losses, splits, cracks, and loose knobs and hinges.
There were 13 bids for this embroidered potholder in a shadow box frame, 16½" x 16½", and it sold for $281.25 (est. $50/100). The buyer was a collector who told iGavel’s Rachel Kensing that he had another by the same hand.
For example, a lift-top painted blanket chest decorated with red tulips on a bright yellow ground and turned spindles, estimated at $15,000/25,000, sold on one bid for $5125 to chaskiantiques on June 8; the underbidder was finchaser56, one of the major bidders at the sale. Finchaser56 got a pair of Massachusetts Windsor armchairs with black paint over green, knuckle arms, and two oak butterfly clamps under one seat, an old repair, for $4625 (est. $1000/1500). The same bidder paid $1875 for a Pennsylvania comb-back armchair with the date 1776 carved in the center stretcher. It had a $6000/8000 estimate. A child’s sports model pedal car with a $2000/4000 estimate got three bids and sold for $1172.50.
The pictures and captions tell more. The sale demonstrated that Lark Mason Associates is broadening its market reach while its position in the Asian market is paramount.
For more information, contact Lark Mason Associates (www.larkmasonassociates.com) or call (212) 289-5524.
A collection of 34 well-loved Steiff animals, 20th century, sold for $593.75 (est. $60/80) after nine bids; bidding was extended for two minutes and 37 seconds. The animals ranged in size from 2" to 8" in height. Some had staining, losses, and split seams.
Toward the end of the sale this pair of painted Massachusetts Windsor sack-back armchairs with knuckle arms and with an old repair to one seat and wear and paint loss consistent with age sold to finchaser56 for $4625 (est. $1000/1500) after eight bids.
Originally published in the August 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest