A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
Lot 5402
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
US$ 20,000 - 30,000
£ 15,000 - 22,000

Native American Art

3 Jun 2013, 12:00 PDT

San Francisco

Lot Details
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
A Santee Sioux puzzle pipe
The faceted wood stem pierced in ornate fashion, further decorated with emblematic motifs such as thunderbirds, a gunstock club, pipe and crossed-circle images in shallow relief, remains of red and green pigments, fastening a catlinite bowl with lead inlays.
length 40in


  • Provenance:
    Sold by Sotheby's New York on May 13, 2005, sale N08107 as lot #24. In the catalogue the provenance was listed as follows:
    "Acquired during the American Civil War by M.C. Philbrick of Kitterly, Maine who served in the Confederate Navy under Rear Admiral Farragut on the Mississippi River in 1862-1864."

    The catalogue also included excerpts from an expertise about the pipe written by Dr. Ted Brasser:

    "The decoration of this pipe stem consists of cut-outs and engravings. The cut-outs in this so-called "puzzle" stem were made so as to intrigue and confuse the beholder as to where the smoke channel is located. In this pipe stem the channel is along one edge, covered by a thin strip of wood glued in place. The cut-outs include a zig-zag motif, two circles connected by a groove crossing three diamonds, an X shape with circles at the four ends, and a heart-like motif. Pigment remains indicate that the edges of these cut-outs were painted red. There is no evidence that such cut-outs of puzzle stems had any symbolic significance. The engravings do have a symbolic quality. Along the upper surface of the stem are five thunderbirds, four of which were originally coloured green, while the one close to the mouth end was red. Along the bottom surface are three quartered circles, the outlines of a pipebowl and of a gunstock warclub. The quartered circles refer to the thunderbirds of the four wind directions, the pipebowl may refer to the Thunder's gift of the sacred pipe, and also the gunstock club type is associated with sky powers (in contrast to the Underworld association of the ballhead warclubs). The red thunderbird at the mouth piece may refer to the personal guardian spirit of the former native owner of this pipe. The pipebowl has a short frontal prow; grooves with lead inlay circle around bowl and shank. The value of this beautiful pipe is augmented by the rare survival of a reliable documentation. It was acquired during the American Civil War by William M.C. Philbrick of Kitterly, Maine, while serving under Rear Admiral David G. Farragut on the Mississippi River in 1862-1864. The documentation is reliable because it corroborates the following formal identification of the artifact. Ceremonial pipes with puzzle stems were popular in the Wisconsin-Minnesota region during the 19th century. They were frequently presented in formal meetings with Indians. Particularly the establishment of Fort Snelling and its military occupation since 1820 appears to have stimulated the manufacture of such elaborately decorated artifacts by the local Eastern Sioux population. Due to frequent intertribal contacts, however, artifacts in similar style were also produced by the regional Ojibwa and Menomini Indians. Of 13 pipes with puzzle stems illustrated in the literature five examples were attributed to the Sioux, four to the Ojibwa, and four were of unknown origin. All of them were clearly examples of one and the same regional art style. However, some of the cut-outs of this particular pipe stem were most popular among the Sioux. Circular cut-outs connected by a straight groove occur on pipe stems and warclubs of Sioux origin and the same may be true for the heart motif. Decidedly Sioux are the symbolic engravings referred to above, and also the use of red and green paint, and the short frontal prow of the catlinite pipe bowl point to an early Sioux origin. Probably the earliest evidence of puzzle stems consists of pictures made by the artists George Catlin and Seth Eastman, both of whom worked in the Fort Snelling area in the 1830s. Examination of surviving examples shows that the slightly convex cross section of the stem and engraved designs are typical for the earlier examples. Also the dark surface patina of the stem and the shape of the pipe bowl indicate an early date of origin. Although apparently acquired in the 1860s the pipe may well have been made in the 1840s. Cf. Hail (1980: 247), "This is one of a type called a 'puzzle stem' because the route along which it conducted the smoke was the secret of the artisan. The mystery added to the significance of the piece as a ritual object. Such intricate smoke channels predated the arrivals of the Europeans in the Eastern Plains."
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Arms & Armour, Coins & Medals, Motor Cars, Motorcycles, and Wine & Whisky:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first $250,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from $250,001 to $4,000,000 of the Hammer Price
12.5% on the excess over $4,000,001 of the Hammer Price

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Customer Services & Bids (Los Angeles)
    Customer services
    Work +1 323 850 7500
    FaxFax: +1 323 850 6090
  2. Customer Services & Bids (New York)
    Customer services
    Work +1 212 644 9001
    FaxFax: +1 212 644 9009
  3. Customer Services & Bids (San Francisco)
    Customer services
    Work +1 415 861 7500
    FaxFax: +1 415 861 8951
Similar Items