“The Smithsonian Bird” to be offered at Antique Helper Auctions Dan Ripley Select to present Townsend Artifact Collection Part II June 23

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  • May 04, 2012

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“The Smithsonian Bird,” a prehistoric porphyry granite birdstone that is considered the finest so far discovered. The presale estimate for this impressive specimen is $400,000-$600,000.
Antique Helper Auctions

Dan Ripley is pleased to present the second auction of prehistoric North American artifacts from the collection of the Late Earl Townsend, Jr., on Saturday, June 23, 2012 at Antique Helper Auctions in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Included in this once-in-a-lifetime auction event will be “The Smithsonian Bird,” a prehistoric porphyry granite birdstone that is considered the finest so far discovered.  The presale estimate for this impressive specimen is $400,000-$600,000.

Hubert C. Wachtel, author of Who’s Who in Indian Relics called Townsend’s collection “one of the finest in the United States.” Townsend’s collection of prehistoric North American stone artifacts remains one of the largest and best collections ever assembled.


Townsend’s passion was birdstones.  As author of Birdstones of the North American Indian, published in 1959. Townsend was acknowledged to be the leading authority on these prehistoric North American artifacts. 

The highlight of The Townsend Artifact Collection Part II will be The Smithsonian Bird, considered the finest porphyry granite birdstone so far discovered.  This specimen is familiar among collectors, who are looking forward to this historic auction event with great anticipation. Discovered prior to 1882 in Vernon County, Wisconsin, The Smithsonian Bird has been widely published, first pictured in Stone Art  by Gerald Fowke, Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report, 1891-92.  Its name is derived from the fact that it was once part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., where Townsend acquired it in 1953, prior to the publication of his landmark book, Birdstones of the North American Indian.   The presale estimate for The Smithsonian Bird is $400,000-$600,000.

Wisconsin porphyry bannerstone. Pre sale estimate: $75,000-$125,000.
Antique Helper Auctions

Townsend counted a birdstone found ca. 1976-77, as his favorite bust bird.  Featured as The Queen in a photograph captioned “The Queen and Her Court” in Watchel’s Who’s Who in Indian Relics #7, this birdstone is likely the best of the bustbirds.  Presale estimate is $75,000-$125,000.

One of the most recognizable birdstones is a pipestone bust which Townsend acquired from the collection of Dr. Gordon Mueser.  It was found in 1896 in the northern part of Boston, near the Cuyahoga River.  This birdstone is pictured prominently in Birdstones of North America, pages 237 and 567, A & B.  The presale estimate is $20,000-$30,000.

The auction also features two rare topknot birdstones, of which there are only five known examples. The first offering, of slate, was found in Oxford Co., Ontario in 1918, and purchased by Townsend in 1965.  It is pictured in Who’s Who in Indian Relics #2, pp. 56-57.  The presale estimate for this birdstone is $15,000-$25,000.  The porphyry specimen, found in May, 1985 and acquired by Townsend in 1990, is the only known example of its kind.  Presale estimate for this rare birdstone is $20,000-$40,000.

Porphyry topknot birdestone. Presale estimate for this rare birdstone is $20,000-$40,000.
Antique Helper Auctions

Artifact Specialist Larry Swann points to a rare low-slung porphyry granite reptile form birdstone as one of the finest examples in the auction.  Found by Douglas Mapes, on the banks of the Pine River in Midland, Michigan, this low-slung specimen is estimated between $40,000 and $60,000.

Blades and Bannerstones

Many of the items included in the auction catalog are well-known specimens among collectors and scholars of prehistoric North American artifacts.   A favorite among artifact collectors, bannerstones are typically found in the eastern North America.  They are characterized by a center hole in a symmetrically shaped carved or ground stone.  Theories abound as to their function.  Collectors value bannerstones for their aesthetic worth and impressive craftsmanship. 

Items of special note include a bottle bi-face bannerstone, which Swann describes as “one of the finest bottle banners ever sold at auction.” Easily recognized by collectors, it has been widely published.  Found by Stanley Mick on the Minkel farm, this bannerstone is a beautiful mix of cream and reddish orange.  It is a highly developed form, described one of the finest of its type.  Its presale estimate is $20,000-$30,000.  Another auction highlight is a Wisconsin porphyry bannerstone.  This well-documented piece of outstanding workmanship and crafted of superior material is the very best of its type.  Its presale estimate is $75,000-$125,000.

Also included in the auction catalog are two of the finest Caddo blades ever offered. Both blades are crafted from extremely patinated chert with pink and grey swirls.  They were originally part of a cache of twenty-six blades found by road workers in Missouri 1936, most of which were broken. Larry Swann points out that the pattern on one of blades is similar to that on The Spiro Blade once owned by Townsend.  Both blades have been heavily published and documented. Each comes with a presale estimate of $20,000-$30,000.

Townsend Part I a Success in December 2011

The first Townsend auction, held in December of 2011, was a record-breaking sale for Antique Helper and the artifact collecting community.  Bringing an unprecedented hammer total of $1.2 Million, this was reportedly the most successful auction of Native American artifacts to date.  Ninety-eight percent of the lots sold on auction day. The majority sold at, double, triple or even quadruple high estimate.

Reservations will be required

Preparations are being made to accommodate the large crowd expected for this event.  Preview times will be available prior to auction day. Arrangements for special rates have been made at local hotels. Visit www.antiquehelper.com for information, reserve seating and to purchase the professionally photographed, artist designed catalog. Absentee, Phone and Live Internet bidding with streaming audio/video will be available to those not in attendance. For more information about The Townsend Artifact Collection Part II, or to obtain images for publication, please contact Antique Helper Auctions at 317-251-5635.

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