A Tsimshian raven rattle
Lot 5188
A Tsimshian raven rattle
Sold for US$ 91,500 inc. premium
Auction Details
A Tsimshian raven rattle A Tsimshian raven rattle
Lot Details
Property from the Muchnick Milliren Collection
A Tsimshian raven rattle
Clutching a "box of daylight" in its beak, the raven figure with a humanoid, frog, and kingfisher in full relief at top, a hawk face on the underside, the number A7559. inked on the handle.
length 14 1/2in


  • Provenance:
    Purchased from W.E. Channing Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, May 1996; from the collection of Adelaide de Menil and Edmund Carpenter; acquired by them in the 1970's from the Martin Best family of Toronto

    Beautiful classic raven rattle by one of the great master rattle makers of unknown name. Great carving, great shape, great patina! I believe it is probably Tsimshian.
    - from a personal communication with Bill Holm

    Raven Rattle

    (ex. De Menil)
    Probably Tsimshian, c. 1830

    Raven rattles constitute an intriguing group of objects that most likely have their origins in the Northwest Coast shamanic tradition. Native oral history places the origin of these iconic objects among the Nishga of northern British Columbia. Over perhaps centuries of time, their use proliferated among all the northern Northwest Coast peoples and down the coast as well, distributed by gifting, intermarriage, and warfare. In the late 19th century, the period from which the most complete documentation exists, these rattles were employed exclusively by clan leaders or chiefs as a dance accompaniment from Southeast Alaska to Vancouver Island. The types of rattles used by shamans in that period were carved either in the image of an oystercatcher with subsidiary figures (among the Tlingit), or as a globular form, with either a plain surface or with two-dimensional design and/or mask-like faces (among the Haida and Tsimshian). The classic raven rattle image of the man and frog (or the tail-bird, in most examples) sharing tongues, however, reflects at least the core concepts of the shamanic tradition on the coast, such transformation and spirit contact, if not an actual origin in the distant past of such cultural practices. Canadian anthropologist Wilson Duff once described the central image as Raven, the trickster/creator who could transform from bird to human image, 'devouring himself'.
    This rattle was carved by an experienced and masterful artist, though the carver's name and home village are lost to time. The composition and execution of the sculpture and two-dimensional design work indicate a master's hand, evidenced by the graceful nature of the formlines and the impeccable finish of the carving and relief work. The formline designs are limited to the essential representations of the stylized face on the breast and the tail feathers, and they lack any great elaboration particularly in the red, or secondary design areas. This is characteristic of rattles created from an earlier period, though it's not likely that this rattle predates 1800. The level of refinement and the degree of embellishment in the design and carving of this work suggest a creation around 1830, most likely at the hands of a Tsimshian or Simogyet-speaking artist. The concept of the human's face as a stylized flat design (rather than as a mask-like sculptural face) reflects a tradition of formline-style faces incorporated into dancing headdress frontlets most often seem among the Tsimshian or Simogyet-speaking peoples of the northern Northwest Coast.

    Steven C. Brown
    April, 2011
  1. Wes Sparling
    Auction Administration - Native American
    220 San Bruno Avenue
    San Francisco, 94103
    United States
    Work +1 415 503 3408
    FaxFax: +1 415 503 3300