In First Foray Into Prehistoric Art, Cowan’s Soars to $1.2M in Record Breaking Sale

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  • April 08, 2017

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Part I of the renowned Collection of Jan W. Sorgenfrei brings $450,000 in 90 lots as Cowan’s once again proves itself as an industry leader in American Indian & Western Art.

Once again proving itself as one of the preeminent American Indian & Western Art auction houses in the world, Cowan’s Auctions’ April Auction saw a record number of bidders on its way to a $1.2 million day. Without question the highlight of the day was the Prehistoric American Indian Art collection of renowned collector Jan W. Sorgenfrei, which sold for nearly $450,000 combined. Part I of the much-coveted collection sparked enthusiastic bidding on the phones, Internet, and from the floor, which was filled to capacity.

“This is a one-of-a-kind collection and as you can imagine, we had overwhelming interest in it from the start,” said Danica Farnand, Cowan’s director of American Indian & Western Art. “You’re always a little nervous when you’re offering a category for the first time, but we’re ecstatic with the results. We’re really looking forward to offering Part II in September!”

Nearly 700 collectors, dealers, and art lovers registered to bid in the auction, including over 150 bidding for the very first time with Cowan’s, both records for the auction house. Continuing a trend of increased online bidding, 37% of all winning bids were made on online bidding platform, accounting for over $250,000 of the auction’s total.

Arapaho Tomahawk Society Staff: $27,600

An avid collector, Sorgenfrei (Ohio, 1942-2012) was the owner of Painter Creek Auction Service and Old Barn Auction, specializing in Native American artifacts. Quality is the key word when referring to artifacts chosen by Sorgenfrei to rest in his personal collection. As can easily be seen from the top lots from this sale, birdstones were very special to him, especially birdstones from the “epicenter” of his native northwest Ohio. This superb collection not only represents many of the finest examples of their respective types, but is also a testament to the wonderful creations of prehistoric art created in this archaeologically rich area.

The Sorgenfrei Collection comprised seven of the 10 top sale prices with three of his most cherished birdstones fetching the highest prices of the day: an elongated slate long neck birdstone, which sold for $43,200; a fine and rare elongated slate birdstone for $37,200; and an elongated birdstone with nodular eyes for $28,800.

Other highlights from the Sorgenfrei Collection included a fine, banded slate long-neck birdstone that sold for $25,830; a slate saddle birdstone with pop eyes and fantail for $24,000; a human effigy Janus pipe for $16,800; and a “chunky” banded slate birdstone with drilled eyes and incised mouth for $16,200.

Dakota Bear Claw Necklace: $16,800

In addition to the 90 lots of Prehistoric American Indian Art, the auction featured over 400 lots of tomahawks, beadwork, jewelry, pottery, woodwork, photography, and Western Art.

For years, Cowan’s American Indian and Western Art auction has consistently offered some of the finest beadwork in the world and this auction was no exception. Outside of the birdstones, beadwork was the most sought after category of the day highlighted by a Huron-Wyandot Wampum belt from the collection of Jim Ritchie (Ohio, 1938-2015) that sold for $25,200.

Other notable beadwork included a pair of Kiowa beaded hide moccasins that sold for $9,000; a Cheyenne beaded hide bow case and quiver for $8,400; and a matching pair of Sioux beaded hide possible bags for $7,380.

While always a strong category for Cowan’s, it was an especially good day for jewelry. Two pieces by Charles Loloma (Hopi, 1921-1991) also topped $7,000 with a Tufa cast silver and turquoise cuff fetching $11,100 and a Tufa cast gold and turquoise pendant selling for $7,200.

The top non-birdstone lot of the day was an Arapaho Tomahawk Society staff from the second half of the 19th century that sold for $27,600. The Tomahawk Society was an age-graded military society, and the third highest ranked of the Arapaho societies. Each society possessed special duties, ritual knowledge, and paraphenalia that was acquired when one passed from one age grade to another. Passing from the Kit Fox, to the Tomahawk Society, members acquired these staffs as symbols of their regular membership.

Other highlights from the day included a Dakota bear claw necklace from the collection of Senator Henry M. Rice (Minnesota, 1816-1894), which sold for $16,800; a Metis Figural Pipe, thought to represent Louis Riel (1844-1885) for $12,600; a Martin Grelle (American, b. 1954) oil on canvas for $9,600; an Edward Curtis (American, 1868-1952) Orotone for $9,600; a Great Lakes Pipe Tomahawk from the Sorgenfrei Collection for $9,000; and a Zuni polychrome pottery Olla for $7,800.

For more information on the auction and to view all prices realized, click here.

Eric Duncan
Cowan's Auctions

Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
6270 Este Ave
Cowan's Auctions, Inc., Ohio

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