INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Smashing auction records was the name of the game when Dan Ripley’s Antique Helper Auctions offered Part I, approximately one quarter, of the Townsend collection of Native American artifacts for sale Dec. 3, 2011.
Earl Townsend Jr., who died in 2007, was a passionate collector and historian of Native American artifacts. His impressive collection of prehistoric stone artifacts remains one of the largest and best in existence. As an historian, he was widely recognized as the greatest authority of Native American birdstones. His landmark book, “Birdstones of the North American Indian,” originally published in 1959, is considered the premier reference book for birdstone study among collectors.
An enthusiastic and determined group of bidders helped make the Dec. 3 auction of Native American artifacts the most successful auction in Antique Helper history. It was a record-breaking sale for Antique Helper and the artifact collecting community. Bringing an unprecedented hammer total of $1.2 million, this was reportedly the most successful auction of Native American artifacts to date. Ninety-eight percent of the lots sold on auction day. The majority sold at, double, triple or even quadruple high estimate.
“This sale exceeded all expectations,” says artifact curator and consultant Larry Swann. “It was an incredible opportunity for collectors to be able to see museum-quality artifacts go up for public auction.”
Bannerstone Breaks Auction Records
The auction catalog was filled with the finest examples of birdstones, bannerstones, axes and flints to be found in the artifact collecting world. Among these impressive offerings, the unrivaled centerpiece of the sale was a ferruginous quartz butterfly bannerstone, widely regarded as the largest and best specimen of its type. Known as “Sunset Glory,” this impressive piece, with impeccable provenance (estimate $75,000-$125,000) attracted fierce competition from telephone and floor bidders. In the end, there were two determined bidders left standing. The winning phone bid set a new auction record for a bannerstone, an astounding $245,700 (including buyer’s premium).
Other bannerstones also saw impressive results. A banded slate curved pick bannerstone (estimate $4,000-$8,000) sold to a telephone bidder for $14,040. A very fine ferruginous quartz single face hourglass bannerstone (estimate $18,000-$25,000), collected by Roger Eaton of DuQuoin, sold within estimate to a floor bidder for $20,700. Another ferruginous quartz hourglass bannerstone (estimate $20,000-$25,000), mostly white with traces of orange and hailing from St. Louis County, Missouri, realized $41,400.
Even more impressive, another hourglass bannerstone, also from St. Louis County, Missouri (estimate $25,000-$35,000), sold to a floor bidder for $62,100.
Record Breaking Birdstone Prices
Of the 55 birdstones offered in this auction, the majority sold near or above high estimate. The uncontested highlight was a hardstone porphyry granite popeye birdstone, found in Kent County Michigan in 1936 (estimate $40,000-$60,000). It brought an impressive $117,000 from a telephone bidder, making this the highest selling birdstone ever offered to the public.
Another hardstone porphyry granite birdstone with fantail and popeyes (estimate $20,000-$30,000) more than doubled its high estimate, bringing a total of $88,920 from a telephone bidder.
Other birdstones also produced impressive results. A low-slung porphyry granite popeye birdstone (estimate $20,000-$30,000 )realized $56,160 from a the phone. Bringing the same price, also from a telephone bidder, was a slate, glacial Kame-type birdstone (estimate $15,000-$25,000). A floor bidder placed the winning bid of $50,600 for a slate popeye birdstone (estimate $20,000-$30,000).
Additional birdstones went home with prices ranging from $475 to $19,000. This includes a banded slate fantail (estimate $8,000-$12,000), which brought a winning bid of $18,400 from a floor bidder.
Flint, Axes, Plummets
A fine selection of prehistoric Native American implements and other artifacts including: axes, flint arrow, spearheads and drills, plummets, cones, loafstones, pestles, hammerstones, bowls, hoes, picks, pendants, gorgets and celts rounded out the sale.
There were numerous opportunities for collectors of all levels to bid in this auction, especially flint buyers. Several lots sold in the $25-$150 range, enabling beginning collectors to augment their collections with pedigreed pieces from the Townsend Collection.
There were also many examples of flint that exceeded expectations.
Most notably, a large Hopewell flint from Franklin Co. Ohio; ex. Meuser, purchased by Townsend in 1955 (estimate $1,000-$2,000) rocked the room with a winning bid of $13,800 from a happy floor bidder.
A 4-inch dovetail flint from Lucas County, Ohio (estimate $600-$1,200) sold for an impressive $4,715, also going to a floor bidder.
A similar story can be told about plummets, with the majority selling at high estimate or above. A drilled granite plummet (estimate $500-$1,000) saw a winning bid of $4,095 from a telephone bidder. A drilled double ring plummet from Pope County, Arkansas (estimate $1,000-$1,500) realized $3,510 from a telephone bidder.
Dan Ripley Select also announces the auction of the Townsend collection Part II, which will take place at Antique Helper Auctions in Indianapolis, on Saturday, June 23.
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- Collecting North American Indian artifacts
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