Purchase Story

Uneven Results at Native American Sale

Bonhams, Los Angeles, California

Photos courtesy Bonhams

"A kick in the pants” was how Ingmars Lindbergs, director of  Native American art at Bonhams Los Angeles, described his reaction when an “early and exceptional” Tlingit rattle estimated at $200,000/300,000 was passed on June 17. A similar rattle had sold for $504,500 at Bonhams on December 11, 2018, and Lindbergs said, “I was counting on a repeat of that success, hoping lightning would strike twice. After all, this rattle was a classic example, as good as if not better than the December rattle. And there was great provenance,” studded with names that make collectors’ hearts quiver and checkbooks open, including Harvard University’s Peabody Museum, Adelaide de Menil, and Fred Boschan.

The rattle “left a big hole at the end of the day when it didn’t sell. It just couldn’t connect with the right person.” The total for the sale was “just shy” of $1 million, and the sell-through rate was “one of the lowest I’ve ever had—seventy percent,” said Lindbergs.

Lindbergs said the auction was “very uneven, a reflection of the market as a whole.” Baskets, which sold very well in December, were “challenging” to sell in June, with “a lot” going unsold. “I felt I’d put together a respectable sale, but this was a struggle.” The auction included selections from the collections of L.D. “Brink” Brinkman, an entrepreneur, cattleman, philanthropist, and art patron, and Bertram and Ruth Malenka, enthusiastic collectors of Japanese and Native American art. Prices in the captions include the buyer’s premium.

The next two Native American art sales will take place on September 16, and both will be departures for the department. At the live sale, for the first time the focus of an entire auction will be on modern and contemporary Native American art. On the same day, the department’s first online-only auction will be held. “Other departments have done this but not us,” explained Lindbergs. Both sales will be featured at the same Los Angeles preview. The traditional Native American art auction will be held in Los Angeles on December 16. For more information, contact Lindbergs at (415) 503-3393 or see the website (www.bonhams.com).

“I expected a little more,” Lindbergs said about the $37,575 paid by a collector in Texas for this early Washoe basket, 4" high x 7" diameter, by Louisa Keyser (Dat-So-La-Lee). “Perhaps it was small,” Lindbergs continued, “but it had never been on the market.” It was estimated at $40,000/60,000.

A large (21¼" high x 20½" diameter) Margaret Tafoya blackware storage jar from the Malenka collection sold to a Santa Fe dealer for $35,075 (est. $15,000/25,000). “The Malenkas were such a fixture at shows,” Lindbergs said. “They were impressive collectors who kept notes.” Bidding was active and competitive, which is reflected in the price.

This Eastern Great Lakes quilled and beaded neck pouch sold to an East Coast dealer for $75,075 (est. $60,000/80,000). The pouch’s provenance includes the Earl of Harrowby and his son, both of whom, according to the catalog, were noted for being well-traveled collectors during the 19th century.

This Crow pipe tomahawk (pipe length 24", drop length 25") sold for $35,075 (est. $20,000/30,000) to a long-time private Bonhams client from the Midwest who focuses on Plains material and, said Lindbergs, has put together an amazing collection.

This 42½" long Cheyenne beaded cradle sold for $25,075 (est. $20,000/30,000) to the same Plains collector who purchased the pipe tomahawk. “When we first received this cradle, the owner didn’t have the provenance. But we’d had the piece at previous sales and had the provenance that the owner lost,” Lindbergs said.

This Navajo silver and turquoise flatware service for 16 sold for $18,825 (est. $15,000/20,000). The original commission from the owner of the Borrego Pass Trading Post had been for a service for 24, but the artist, Jim Nez, died before he could finish it.

A 13½" long Northwest Coast raven rattle sold for $10,075 (est. $5000/8000) to a Los Angeles floor bidder.

A Southern Plains Ghost Dance shirt from the L.D. Brinkman collection sold to an East Coast collector for $60,075 (est. $30,000/50,000). A similar shirt in a previous sale sold for what Bonhams Native American specialist Ingmars Lindbergs called “mad money,” and once again, “the market stepped up.”

This 3" high x 7⅛" wide Northwest Coast wooden oil bowl sold to a floor bidder from the Los Angeles area for $12,575 (est. $12,000/18,000). It was “one of the few Malenka non-pottery pieces in this sale,” commented Lindbergs.

A Plains painted hide, 49" long x 47" wide, sold for $22,575 (est. $6000/9000) to a Plains collector from the Midwest.

A “really handsome” (according to Lindbergs) Hopi polychrome bowl, 4¾" high x 14⅝" diameter, sold for $7575 (est. $5000/8000) to a Los Angeles collector.

A large (28" high x 29" diameter) Apache olla from the estate of Kathleen Foutz, a fifth-generation trader at the Teec Nos Pos post in Arizona, sold for $9450 (est. $10,000/15,000).

This 5¾" high x 8¾" diameter Mono Lake Paiute basket attributed to basketmaker Maggie Howard sold to a Nevada collector for $8825 (est. $8000/12,000).

A Santa Fe dealer paid $43,825 (est. $35,000/45,000) for this Classic Navajo serape (5'4" x 3'9") that Lindbergs called “a great piece.”

This Acoma/Laguna polychrome jar (11¾" high x 13½" diameter), which Lindbergs called “the best of the Malenka pots,” sold to a Santa Fe dealer for $9450 (est. $7000/10,000).

This Zia polychrome storage jar from a Chicago collection sold for $8200 (est. $6000/9000) to the Texas collector who bought the Dat-So-La-Lee basket.

A lot of four Plains beaded miniature cradles, with heights ranging from 8" to 17", sold for $9450 (est. $1500/2000). “Underestimated!” said Lindbergs. The buyer was a midwestern Plains collector.

The catalog cover lot, a Navajo Classic two-panel dress, each panel 4'2¾" x 2'8", sold for $16,325 (est. $15,000/25,000). Lindbergs explained, “After the dye analysis, we realized the dress halves were earlier than we thought. This dress was a great find from Bonhams’ Arizona representative, Terry Hardy.” The buyer was a dealer/collector from California.

A Late Classic Navajo blanket (5'9" x 4'3") from the Malenka collection sold to an East Coast collector for $7575 (est. $8000/12,000).

This Late Classic Navajo Moki-style Navajo weaving, 5'9" x 4'3", sold for $7575 (est. $6000/8000) to the Texas collector who bought the Dat-So-La-Lee basket.

Originally published in the September 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest

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