Every Fourth of July, the Mescalero Apache gather to honor the 13-year-old girls who will become the future caretakers of their tribe. Days of traditions, rites and special ceremonies ensue.
The coming-of-age ceremony practiced by many Apache groups for hundreds of years marks a girl’s passage from girlhood to womanhood.
Interest in ceremonial items, especially those with historical value, pottery and baskets made by Native American artisans is always strong. Recently we’ve seen an uptick in demand for these items from collectors.
In fact, we recently sold an Apache Beaded Hide Sunrise Puberty Dress from 1880-1895 for $29,500.
While you likely know if you have an authentic ceremonial piece that is nearly 150 years old, the authenticity of more common items, like pottery and baskets, can be more difficult to identify.
How can you tell if the pottery or baskets you have or may be interested in purchasing are authentic?
We look for several things when valuing Native American pottery. Before purchasing a pot, ask yourself these three questions.
- Is it handmade? A piece made by hand, with a pinch and coil method, will be more valuable than one made with a pottery wheel or with a mold.
- How was it fired? Traditionally, pots were fired outdoors. Now, only the best Native American artisans fire their pots outdoors, which places a premium price on their pieces.
- What is the condition? Older pots, from the early 1940s or before, are expected to have a few minor scratches, chips or scuffs. More recent pots should be in pristine condition to command the highest price at auction. Be aware of water damage inside the pot, which can also lower the value.
Native American baskets are some of the most sought-after items by collectors. Depending on the quality, condition and origin, values of authentic baskets can soar up to $50,000.
Interest in Native American baskets has created a strong reproduction market. How can you tell if the basket you have or are considering buying is authentic?
- How bright are the colors? With a few exceptions, brightly colored baskets are more likely to be reproductions. Native American baskets typically use more natural colors.
- How wide are the gaps? Native American baskets are high quality and are made extremely well. Reproduction baskets are more likely to have wide gaps, while authentic pieces will have a tight weave, with even and consistent stitches.
- What does the rim look like? Native American baskets have beautiful, tightly woven rims. The rims of reproductions tend to look loose and of much lower quality.
If you have Native American pottery or baskets that you think are authentic and could be valuable, consider having them appraised by a certified appraiser at one of the free appraisal fairs around the Valley.
A professional will be able to help you identify the authenticity of the piece and can tell you how much it may be worth.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ejsauction.com or 623-878-2003.