Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Antique Business: Staying A Step Ahead of the Times

c. 1920s postcard of Eskimos hunting for walrus in a skin omiak, or canoe. From

I have to confess, I to am a little enamored by Sarah Palin. I think she should make all women proud, even if they don’t agree with her. But, let’s focus on the Eskimo heritage of the First Dude of Alaska, Tod Palin. You see, if we’re going to stay a step ahead of the times in the Antique & Collectible business, his Eskimo heritage may very well be relevant to us. There are many works of art and collectibles that have originated in Alaska by her native people.

I was tremendously interested in Native Alaskan studies when I was a young man still in college, and I did an extensive study of their ways. I can say without hesitation that the Native Alaskans a sturdy breed. They have to be in order to handle the weather conditions in Alaska. Due to their way of life, they have to make decisions that most of us will never experience. Natives living the true native life, spent most of their time just providing food for the family, even today. But, out in the rugged landscapes of Alaska, the native way of life is not without its art and decorative wares.

Since there are mostly nature and animals in those landscapes, you might figure that most of what the native people living in the true native traditions have comes from nature and animals. You’d be right in your thinking. Many items were made from animal skins, bird, and fish. Seeds dyed with colors from native plants was often used as bead work.

Walrus was a favorite animal to make items from, and items are made from various parts of this animal. The bones and tusks, as well as hides, were used to make implements that served their daily needs. Today, there is a healthy group of collectors that search for the items used by the native people of Alaska in days past.

Here is a short list : Baskets made from the hides of Moose and Caribou, often adorned with ivory can bring from $750 up. Native Dolls are always a real treasure. The ones that truly represent native life can bring $2500 to $10,000. Cribbage Boards made from ivory will always be winners and can often exceed $1000. Drums, Harpoons, Knives, Sculptures and just plain Tusks are other items appealing to collectors. All of these items can help you work through the 31 Steps in your “Million Dollar Race.”

An episode of the Antique Road Show once featured a helmet from a region in Alaska a woman brought in for appraisal. “I just wanted to bring in something, but I know this probably has little value,“ were her words to the appraiser. Little did she know this helmet would steal the show. It had all the experts examining it, and if I’m correct in my figure – it was estimated at $250,000. If it were me, they’d have to carry me away in a stretcher!!! It's hard to remember all the things that come across your path, but I’m thinking that later, I remember there might have been a little controversy over that appraisal.

In the world of Antiques & Collectibles, there are so many things you could be knowledgeable about, but you can't know it all. Native Alaskan items is one more layer to place in your memory banks. Bringing this area to your attention today might be the little nudge you need to do some research before passing by an item that could possibly be native Alaskan. Or, it could inspire you to learn more and seek out these items. Learning about the different tribes, their history and customs, as well as what differentiates each tribes art and wares is a fascinating study. A good start is the book, Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia & Alaska. The hardcover book starts around $18, and their are inexpensive used soft cover books available.


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