Native American Art Brings Strong Prices at Bonhams & Butterfields in December

  • SAN FRANCISCO, California
  • /
  • January 08, 2010

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Carved as a foot-long oval container, decorated with the stylized eagle head & tail, this Northwest Coast bowl brought $230,000 at Bonhams’ auction in San Francisco…
Bonhams & Butterfields

Museum Deaccession Draws Global Bidder Interest.


Bonhams & Butterfields’ Native American Art Dept. closed its 2009 sales with its strongest auction since their record-setting Winter 2006 sale.  The December 14, 2009 offering featured desirable property from estates, museums and private collections from across the US and Europe.  More than $2.3-million was paid for more than 460-lots sold, with stellar prices achieved for Northwest Coast items from the Berthusen Collection deaccessioned by the Lynden Pioneer Museum, located in Lynden, WA.


Bidding within the standing-room-only San Francisco salesroom pushed hammer prices far above estimates for several lots described as grease bowls, in use circa 1800 by the Tinglit or Haida, stemming from the Berthusen Collection.  One example, a ten-inch-long Northwest Coast bowl carved in the likeness of a seal effigy with head, tail and flippers projecting at the ends, sold for $206,000.  Slightly larger and carved as a wide oval container displaying the head and tail of an eagle, a 12-inch-long bowl stands as the auction’s top lot – sold for $230,000.  Both bowls were estimated at $75/125,000.  Selling within estimate was another Northwest Coast seal effigy grease bowl - this example also including a human and bird figure (sold for $67,100) and an eight-inch example displaying a thick dark oily patina exceeded its estimate to bring $79,300.


Also from the museum collection came a Haida frontlet seven-inches high and six-inches wide.  Carved with bold and shallow relief, the ornament depicts a seated figure with raised hands and abalone insets representing eyes and teeth (sold for $146,000, doubling the estimate).  A collector paid five times the estimate for a Northwest Coast crest ornament carved to depict a crouching humanoid figure, this example also including abalone inset as eyes and teeth, standing just over five-inches high (sold for $30,500).


The Berthusen Native American Collection, according to Troy Luginbill, Director and Curator of the Lynden Pioneer Museum, was formed by Olive Berthusen (1881-1937) during the lady’s travels along the Canadian Coast circa 1900.  Originally on display in her home and bequeathed to the City of Lynden, the objects had been exhibited at the Lynden Library and the Lynden Pioneer Museum.  Proceeds from the Bonhams sale will fund an endowment at the museum.  Luginbill wrote, “…through the sale of this collection, a significant local museum will be able to safeguard our American history for many future generations.”


Property from other collections attracted strong bids.  Silver jewelry from the noted collection of Lynn Trusdell of New Hope, PA brought bids from across the US and Canada, while baskets, blankets and pottery from other consignors sold well.


From an old New Mexico family came a thick-walled 22-inch high Kiua storage jar with a red-painted rim and a series of dark blossoms adorning the sides.  The jar more than doubled its estimate to bring $115,900.  A Zuni polychrome drum jar features two varied depictions of a puma in pursuit of a deer, both prey and carnivore rendered with heartline motifs.  This large jar stands 18-inches high and sold for twice the estimate, bringing $30,500.


Within the baskets offered, Navajo and Yokut examples brought top prices.  A set of four Navajo polychrome baskets, woven in bold patterns of Spider Woman crosses, more than doubled the estimate to bring $5,185; while a pair of Yokut baskets also exceeded estimates.  A Yokut polychrome cooking basket, extremely finely woven with butterfly bands, sold for $7,320 and a six-inch tall Yokut polychrome bottleneck basket with a diamond rattlesnake band on the sides and a dance row of humanoid figures on the shoulder brought $9,760.


Rugs and blankets, beaded objects, sculpture and paintings were sold, including $7,930 paid for a softly woven Hopi twill-weave blanket – a type commonly called a “bachelor’s blanket.”  A collector paid $36,600 for a wonderfully vibrant Crow beaded cradle, 40-inches long, with classic Crow styling.


Jim Haas, Vice President and Director of Bonhams’ Native American, Pre-Columbian and Tribal Art Dept., said, "Although there were certainly bargains to be had, and some items with more aggressive estimates failed to sell, overall, December’s sale proves that ours remains a solid, traditional market.  Collectors for Native American art are still interested, motivated, and willing to spend when seriously good things show up on the auction block."


December’s illustrated catalog with prices realized will remain online at  Sales information for 2010 Native American art sales will be posted to the website in the coming weeks.



Press Contact:   Levi Morgan,, 415-503-3348

About Bonhams

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son and Neale UK. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America and in August 2003, Goodmans, a leading Australian fine art and antiques auctioneer with salerooms in Sydney, joined the Bonhams Group of Companies. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street, and Knightsbridge, and a further seven throughout the UK. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston in the USA; and Switzerland, France, Monaco, Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 57 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, go to (01-08) For other press releases, go to

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