Published: July 3, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by W.A. Demers, Additional Photos Courtesy Of Copake Auctions
COPAKE, N.Y. – It is the quintessential family enterprise – Mike Fallon purchased Copake Auctions in 1985, recalling, “I was 40 when I started,” and nurtured it into the longest-running auction house in Columbia County, N.Y.
After a stint in the US Air Force after high school, he had briefly eyed transferring his airplane technician skills to the commercial airline marketplace, “but so were all the other returning Vietnam vets,” he said. So he began his post-service career as a service manager for a car dealership and as a result got to see a lot of major car auctions up close. He said he began hauling after-auction items, sometimes making $50 on a weekend. The possibilities of auctioneering led him to attend auctioneering school in Missouri, and while he never developed the popular auctioneer’s rhythmic monotone cadence, he did hone his natural ability to read someone’s body language, which in the end may be one of the trade’s most valuable skills.
Even that is harder to do these days as the action moves inexorably to the internet – Fallon states that 50 percent of the firm’s sales are online, a percentage that has been ever growing since Copake began having an online presence in 1998. His auctions run smoothly, however, and that is testament to the tight-knit collaboration by his family. Three sons, Seth, Evan and James, assist in wrangling, cataloging, photographing, calling, tallying, packing the plethora of typical Americana and estate material that comes into the gallery every six weeks. Son Seth, who spells Mike at the podium every 150 lots or so, joined in 1995, Evan in 2012 and James came into the business three years ago as building manager. Seth’s wife Jacqueline runs the office, and Evan’s wife Kate runs one of the online platforms during the sales.
On preview day, even Mike’s wife Marianne stopped by – not to help with the sale, however, but to greet an old school classmate and member of hers and Mike’s wedding party, who with her daughter was visiting from New Jersey. Marianne Fallon runs her own business, using border collies to herd geese from lake communities, business parks and institutional parking lots.
In addition to the typical estate fare that regional auction houses handle, Copake has made a name for itself as the magnet destination for collectors of antique and vintage bicycles, hosting its first bicycle auction in 1991. This past April’s sale marked the 27th such event. Some of the rarest and most desirable bicycles and related items have crossed the block since the sale’s inception, and collectors and enthusiasts return like swallows to Copake’s presale swap meet that sets up on the spacious country fields near the gallery. The event runs over two days, and in addition to the selling and swap meet there is also a fun 10-mile group ride on the bicycles.
So it is fitting that just inside the gallery entrance, the family has hoisted a vintage green balloon tire bicycle with lettering advertising the annual sale, and also nearby is a framed document presented to Copake by the Wheelmen, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping alive the heritage of American cycling and promoting the restoration and riding of early cycles manufactured prior to 1918. In it the group thanks Mike, Seth and the entire staff for producing the annual sale that “separates Wheelmen members from their money …”
Copake’s June 24 auction was packed with the usual Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture, artwork, folk art, period accessories, china, glass, stoneware, primitives and more. The momentum, however, was primarily with the artwork. Out of the 727 lots that were sold, six of the top ten lots were paintings or illustrations.
Leading the day was a farming illustration by William Koerner (1878-1938). Estimated at $1/1,500, the oil on canvas painting sparked keen bidding interest to rise to $22,230. The painting was signed and dated lower right corner “W. H. D. Koerner/1921” and measured 28 by 40 inches. Seth Fallon said that it sold online to a collector, reportedly as a gift for his partner.
Born in Lunden, Germany, Koerner was a noted magazine and book illustrator whose work was characterized by strong draftsmanship and an eye for detail, according to an Askart profile. He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1880, and they settled in Clinton, Iowa. At age 20, he became a rapid-hand illustrator for the Chicago Tribune. By 1901, he was attending classes at the Art Institute in Chicago, and four years later enrolled in the Art Students League in New York. When illustrator Howard Pyle accepted him for formal instruction, it was a major career boost.
In 1924, Koerner went West, camping on his way to California via the Santa Fe Railroad. His illustrations were used in Zane Grey’s novels.
Another illustration to do well in the sale was a fishing scene by John Falter (1910-1982). Fetching $9,360, the oil on canvas laid on panel was signed and dated lower right corner “John Falter ’42” and was 24 by 30½ inches. Responsible for more than 200 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, many based on his childhood, Falter also designed more than 300 recruiting posters for the US Navy during World War II and illustrated more than 40 books for Reader’s Digest. That kind of narrative style is on display in the painting that sold here, depicting two fishermen looking at their catch by a woodland stream. Falter studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Art Students League and the Grand Central School of Art in New York City.
Just a couple of weeks before America observed the July 4th Independence Day holiday, marking the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, a patriotic theme was on display in another painting offered in this sale. The illustration depicting the inauguration of America’s first president George Washington 13 years later in 1789 was signed “Riggs.” It soared to $10,530 from its $300/500 presale estimate, going to a phone bidder.
William Coffin’s ships portrait of “The Ship Susan Whaling in the South Pacific in 1889″ received a lot of presale interest, according to Mike Fallon, so it was not surprising to see it sail past its $800-$1,200 estimate to bring $8,190 from a Nantucket collector. The oil on canvas was signed lower right “Cap. WM. Coffin” and measured 17 by 27 inches.
Known for his “pulp illustrations,” including those for Boy’s Life and the Boy Scout handbook during his 30-year service as a Boy Scout volunteer, Remington Schuyler (1884-1955) painted “Indian by Teepee,” a portrait of a Native American, an oil on canvas that earned $3,803.
A Native American piece was also among the sale’s top ten lots, but in this case the creator rather than the subject was Native American. A series of four framed Native American ledger drawings realized $6,728, more than six times their high estimate. They were labeled “Drawing made by Indian Boy at Hampton School, Va.,” and were in a 20½-by-25-inch frame.
Other highlights in the sale included a set of eight French envelopes showcased in a 17-by-18-inch frame, a lot that surprised all by soaring from a $200/300 estimate to bring $11,700 from a collector in the South; an Eighteenth Century polychrome religious carved angel with wings, possibly Italian or Spanish, 75 inches high, that took $6,143; a Charles Frederick Naegele (1857-1944) oil on canvas painting of a seated young boy that sold for $8,775; and a rare Nineteenth Century English marble and brass clock that finished at $4,095, won by a local collector.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.copakeauction.com or 518-329-1142.
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