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The Great Generational Succession

The fathers of collecting Stevens Decoys are Frank Ash and Hal Evans. They gave us “The Stevens Story”, published in the 1966-67 Decoy Collector’s Guide. Frank Ash visited the old Stevens decoy shop in 1955. There, Albert Lamphere, a “modern day” cousin to the Stevens family, posed for photographs surrounded by baskets filled with Stevens Decoys. It was an astonishing historical snap shot of DECOY DUCKS, sold as the “THE FINEST IN THE WORLD”

by Harvey A Stevens of Weedsport, NY.

The Second Generation of Stevens Decoy Collectors (1980-2020) comprised of Charles Hickey, George Thompson, Peter Bartlett, Phil Mott, and Dr. Peter Muller. I was lucky to have met each of them and been schooled by most of them. The Hickey collection was broken up and sold privately between 1988 and 1989. The Thompson decoy collection, with 17 Stevens Decoys, was sold at Decoys Unlimited in July 1990. Most of the Stevens Decoys went to the remaining Second Generation; giving Ted Harmon a record sale event. The Bartlett collection was scattered over several auctions between 2013 and 2018. It’s been wonderful to see at least a few Stevens Decoys at nearly every major decoy auction. It’s been a decade of fun for Stevens collectors. In November 2019, the Mott collection started coming to auction. The Mott mallards were my favorite Stevens decoys – so much that I placed them on the cover of my Collector’s Edition Tenth Anniversary Dust Jacket in 2014. Phil said I'd be able to buy the mallards privately when the time came, but that promise was rescinded by his heir after Phil passed away. I wasn’t surprised – these things never work out…well, maybe not…“never”.

The last surviving member of the great Second Generation of Stevens Decoy Collectors, was Dr. Peter Muller, who passed away on July 8, 2019. The Muller collection is a legacy - renowned for its quality and scope. Ray Egan, a renowned folk art and decoy collector, first introduced the Mullers to Stevens Decoys. Every Stevens Decoy collector owes a bit of gratitude to Mr. Egan and the Mullers pay it graciously. Ray is still active and highly revered. I think of him as is the "Indiana Jones" of decoy collecting. Ray helped the Mullers collect the best Stevens Decoys from the First Generation and a few never seen before. As a result, the Muller collection contained the largest and most extraordinary collection of Stevens Decoys and related ephemera ever assembled. Over several decades, Dr. Peter Muller nearly consolidated the best decoys from the First and Second Generation into his own collection (except those of Phil Mott).

Peter and I collaborated in my first decade of decoy collecting between 1987 and 1997. I shared my discoveries and ideas with him. He treated me very well; once sending a beautiful little dress for my baby daughter, Nicole. For more than 10 years I kept hoping for Peter to publish his book. Sometime around 1998, I sent him a letter suggesting that if his book was not forthcoming that I might proceed with my own book. After two years without a reply, I began my book. In 2004, I published “The Essential Guide To Stevens Decoys”. Five years later, Peter and Peggy Lane Muller published “The Stevens Brothers Decoys; Their Lives, Times and Decoys”.

The Muller book is an extraordinary accomplishment. I’ve read it, cover to cover, twice. I’ve studied every photo, treatise, and illustration. I think our books work perfectly in tandem; mine as “the essential guide” and Peter’s as the “biography and encyclopedia”. Our books disagree on a few minor points and those are of little importance. Unfortunately, Peter and I never reconnected and I had no thought to contact the Muller family to discuss the fate of their Stevens Decoys.

Not inconceivable, the matter was being discussed. A fellow member of the Third Generation of Stevens Decoy Collectors, Scott Mrosko of Texas, had been in contact with the Muller family since 2010. In fact, Scott’s family visited the Mullers whenever they traveled east of the Mississippi River.

Pictured left: Scott Mrosko with son Kyle, also an avid decoy collector, and Dr. Peter Muller & Peggy Lane Muller.

It was as natural as good ol’ southern hospitality for the Mullers and Mroskos to collaborate on the concept of transferring the Stevens Decoys as a collection. Beyond their extraordinary alignment of minds and mission, such a grand succession would, of course, have to make financial sense to both parties. It can be an arduous task to price a single decoy, let alone 62 exceedingly rare – many never seen at auction – Stevens Decoys. Interest and ideals have aligned before between collectors but generational succession is exceedingly rare, especially between two different families. In this case, the importance of Stevens Decoys and the legacy of generational contributions aligned to make history.

In March 2020, Scott Mrosko purchased the entire Muller collection of Stevens Decoys. Not since the Webb family acquisition of the Joel Barber collection in 1952 has such a lifetime of work and collecting achievement been passed from one family to another.

Scott's collection of 18 Stevens Decoys dovetailed very well into Muller's collection, making it the most chronological and representative collection of Stevens Decoys ever assembled. I was happy to hear about this extraordinary event because I’ve known Scott as a decoy collector for more than 20 years. Always conversational, he learns fast and collects smart. Scott knows of my one-of-a-kind extensive database and website about Stevens Decoys and now he has a one-of-a-kind collection of Stevens Decoys. This is significant to the decoy collecting community because there is not a more complete single database and more complete single collection of periods, models, and species produced by a single decoy maker (of sizable volume) in the world. This tandem, and accessible, resource opens the door for decoy collectors to easily learn how to recognize, authenticate, and collect confidently the decoys made by Harvey and George Stevens.

Moreover, I wanted the Muller collection of Stevens Decoys to stay together because it was important for the generational stewardship to cohesively continue. I think it’s perfectly fitting to the uniqueness, allure, and connoisseurship of collecting Stevens Decoys as the "finest decoys in the world".

Today the world’s largest collection of his work is in the Lone Star State of Texas. Scott Mrosko is a classic Texas gentleman and a gracious host, so if you want to see the Muller-Mrosko Stevens Decoy Collection, I recommend you seek an invitation to the “Double M” Stevens Decoy Ranch soon - even if you have to ride a horse to get there!

Order the The Essential Guide to Stevens Decoys here. Please use the contact button to email me directly.

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