After decades in basement, wooden Indian brings $203,150

78-year-old woman’s possession sets all-time auction record


DALLAS – A superbly colorful and remarkably well-preserved American hand-carved cigar store Indian, which had sat in a Washington, D.C.-area basement for at least 20 years, brought a world record public auction price of $203,150 on May 22 as the top lot in Heritage Auction Galleries’ Grand Format Political & Americana Auction. The auction realized more than $1.25 million in total. All prices include 19.5 percent buyer’s premium.

The remarkable carving was consigned by 78 year-old Nancy Wischnowski, of Washington, DC, whose husband was an Americana collector until he passed away in 1989.

“This item was purchased in the 1960s or earlier,” she said, “before we were married.”

While Mrs. Wischnowski knew the Indian was “valuable,” she never dreamed it would sell for this kind of money. Her husband had a limited collecting budget, and was a very conservative buyer.

“I doubt that it was fully appreciated or valued when he was able to buy it originally,” she said.

Now there can be no doubt as to its full appreciation or value; it’s a world record piece of Americana.

“We expected a great response to this outstanding example,” said Tom Slater, Director of Heritage Americana Auctions, “but this was really amazing. I was watching the action, and saw at least four different bidders actually enter bids at or above the $75,000 level.”

With its powerful nostalgic draw, its distinctly American flavor and the masterful artistry, this example seems to have surfaced at the perfect time.

“Its overall originality was definitely key to bidder enthusiasm,” said Slater. “Most cigar store Indians have been restored and repainted to the point where they don’t even convey a sense of age. This example, with its seemingly untouched original patina, clearly appealed tremendously to serious collectors.”

This Heritage Americana sale featured the debut of a new category, as well as the revival of an old one:

Heritage became the first major auction firm to offer highly-collectable Nevada casino chips, the result of which can certainly be considered outstanding. Out of 53 casino chip lots, 51 sold for a total of $106,702. The high water mark was a prohibitively rare 1950s Sands Casino issue featuring the classic “cowgirl leaning on an hourglass” design that brought $26,290.

“Casino chip collecting has been a small but active collecting hobby for some years now,” said Slater. “It was time for a major firm like Heritage to step up and provide a national auction platform for these colorful and valuable collectibles.”

The revival at the May 22 auction came in the form of Western Americana at Heritage, with some 150 diverse lots. The top seller was a rare “Pony Express Bible,” which sold for $20,315.

“One of the partners in the firm behind the Pony Express, Russell, Majors, & Waddell, was a deeply religious man,” said Slater, “and the company provided one of these Bibles to each of its riders. Only perhaps a dozen or so copies are believed to have survived.”

For more information about Heritage Auctions visit www.HA.com.


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Cigar store Indian photo courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.

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