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Auction Bargains in Native American Baskets

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, November 2007

For collectors of Native American baskets and other items there were

bargains to be had at the May 5, James Julia auction. Most sold for

below estimates while others didnít find a buyer. An Indian Pomo

decorated basket with stylized butterfly designs sold barely over

estimate at $540. A coil basket with an estimate of $150/250 fetched



Whose buying Native American baskets these days ? In addition to

museums, private collectors and dealers Native American museums often buy back their own tribal items with money from their Casinos. The finest examples can bring over $20,000 at auction.


CLUES: Unlike other collecting categories there is little fakery, though

contemporary basketry is often in the old style and designs.

There are two types of baskets: tourist and utilitarian. Baskets made

for tourists were sold at the San Diego Exposition, 1915, by the Fred

Harvey Company. They are quite collectible and prices arenít as cheap as you might think. Unusual shapes and designs can bring over $1,000. During the 1920s and 30s hundreds were made and sold to tourists at railroad stations, gift shops and roadside stands. Prices depend on quality. Finely and tightly woven baskets can raise the price.


The shape of baskets for utilitarian use was determined by their purpose. There were burden baskets, water containers, bottle shaped baskets to hold small seeds and water. Flat trays could hold food or winnowing grain.


Rarity, age and condition are often more important than name

attribution. Since baskets are difficult to repair it pays to buy one in

the best condition possible. Baskets made in the 19th century are

considered choice. Good designs are important with animal figures

usually more desirable than geometric.


Favorites with collectors are baskets made in the Southeast and

Southwest, known for their fine figural work.


When a basket is described as ďMissionĒ this refers to the baskets made in Californiaís Franciscan Friars missions. Hundreds of baskets were made, mostly of sumac and rush. A good turn-of-the-19th century example with designs can sell at auction for over a thousand dollars.


Baskets made by tribes know for their work bring top dollar. The Paiute Indians and the Yavapai olla are considered among the best weavers in the Southwest. Most Paiute baskets were made in four colors: yellow, red, black and brown.


Knowing what materials were used by different tribes helps identify

them. For instance the Florida Seminoles and Miccosukees made their

baskets from pine needles.


Western Indians used rush, yucca and grasses as well as willow or other materials native to their areas. Northwest Indians used grasses and roots. The fine baskets made by the Cherokees in North Carolina,

Tennessee and Oklaholma were made from oak-splint and cane, often tinted with vegetable dyes. The Southwest Indians used the devilís claw plant for basket designs in black. They were often trimmed with feathers, beads, horsehair and shells.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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