A Tlingit war dagger
Lot 4127
A Tlingit war dagger
US$ 60,000 - 90,000
£37,000 - 55,000

Lot Details
A Tlingit war dagger A Tlingit war dagger
A Tlingit war dagger
Consisting of a double-edged hammered raw copper blade, with raised median ridge, flat at back, the ivory pommel carved to depict a humanoid figure within the jaws of some other creature, abalone-inlaid teeth, the grip wrapped in hide cordage, inscribed on the back: NW. Coast America. Hooper. Coll. No. 1286 and H.1562.
length 17 7/8in

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    ex-Lady Brassings, England, acquired during a series of voyages on the Sunbeam between 1876-83; Hastings Museum, acquired from Lady Brassings; the James Hooper Collection, obtained in 1947; Christie's, London auction of the Hooper Collection, 1976; Morning Star Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; the Stewart Mills Collection, Southern California

    Ill:
    Phelps, Steven, p. 326, plate 194, #1562, commentary on p. 310; also: Burland, Cottie, p. 32: "The tools of the Northwest Coast Indians were often decorative as well as efficient. This ancient knife has a blade beaten out from raw copper, the blade is lashed with hide thongs to an ivory handle in the form of a hero being swallowed by a whale."

    Copper Dagger with Ivory Pommel
    Tlingit, c. 1800-1850
    Copper, ivory, abalone shell, rawhide
    17 7/8" Long

    Large daggers were commonly carried personal protection weapons among Tlingit men well into the second half of the nineteenth century. Lt. George T. Emmons, who lived and researched in the area in the 1880s, noted that "The commonest weapon, possessed by every Tlingit man, and particularly noticed by early visiting Europeans, was the dagger. This was a double-bladed knife...sharpened on both edges, fifteen or more inches long." Examples were made of copper or steel, forged and hammered with varying degrees of skill and refinement by Native metalsmiths. Some daggers were said to have been made of meteoric iron, but this has not been confirmed scientifically. Some were made from one piece of metal, with either a second, shorter blade or a decorative pommel opposite the primary blade, while others featured a steel or copper blade and a carved pommel of bone, ivory, wood, or sheep horn. Many daggers with carved pommels were made of recycled steel from Euro-American long knives or sword sections.
    This dagger has a blade of copper hammered into a somewhat unusual form. Like most Native-made dagger blades, it is double-edged, flat-backed, fairly broad near the grip and tapering down do a blunt point. Less refined and symmetrical than many other examples, though, it's possible that this could be a particularly early blade that was kept as an heirloom dagger over a long period. Collected by Lady Brassey on a journey to the Northwest Coast between 1876-1883, the dagger was probably already very old at that time.
    The whale-tooth ivory of the pommel is carved in a totemic style, with a humanoid face and forearms surmounted by a toothed zoomorphic head. The teeth of the humanoid figure are formed of inlaid abalone shell, a highly valued trade item that brought additional status to the image. The precise identity and meaning of the two figures is unknown, but probably relates to the clan affiliation of the original owner. The carving style of the imagery is distinctly Tlingit in character, and its features suggest that the sculpture was done between about 1800 (or possibly earlier) and 1840 or 50. In conversation with the owner, Northwest Coast scholar Bill Holm has stated that the dagger may date from the eighteenth century, but perhaps more likely was made sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century.

    Steven C. Brown
    October, 2011
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