Fabulous, rare Northwesst Coast model brings mega-bucks!!!

Roger Young

display sample collector
Saturday, 24 September 2011, saw an extremely rare model of a Northwest Coast 'Head' canoe sold in a Skinner Auction, Boston, for what must be close to a record price. The hammer came down at $37,500 (pre-auction estimate was $400 - $600; rather seriously undervalued as it turned out). To that must be added an 18.5% 'buyer's premium', and then the 6.25% Mass. sales tax. Grand total:$47,210.84 by my calculations.

However, outweighing even the price are the magnificent lines, beautiful sculpture and outstanding totemic designs painted along its sides. At 37" in length, this is a truly rare and magnificent piece which apparently languished unappreciated in a nearby home for many years, with no idea on the owner's part of its true significance. 'Head' canoes went extinct shortly after the coming of the white man to the Pacific northwest coast. The piece at auction is likely at least 150 years of age, possibly more. Stylistically, the large fin bows as well as part of the stern were cut down until this type of canoe began to resemble the 'northern', or Haida style more familiar today.

'Head' canoe models rarely come to auction or are even found for sale. In Dec. 1996, two such models from the Burke collection which had been on exhibit in a Seattle museum sold at Christie's, New York, for around $13,000 and $33,000 hammer price, respectively. It was extremely wishful thinking that to hope that the current piece, with its breaks and missing bits, would sell under $5000. The bidding open at a few hundred dollars and climbed slowly $25 a bid until one impatient phone bidder called out $4000. Then, the phone bidders really took over, and it climbed a thousand at a time, then $2500 a bid, until it settled at $37,500. Obviously, several bidders with expert knowledge were at the other ends of those phones - museums, private collectors? Who knows? Perhaps one of these days a news article from MAD or some other antique publication will let us know.

Just thought I'd pass this along to the WCHA community. We should not miss this opportunity to appreciate one of the earliest 'all wood' canoes of North American heritage.


PS: Yes, I was an 'under bidder'; however, very, very much under as it turned out. just one of those 'wishful thinkers' who were in on the early bidding, before the 'big boys' took over. My very covetous congratulations to the winner! Simply magnificent.


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