Appraisal Video: (3:58)
Antiques Appraiser and Consultant
GUEST: During World War II, my father-in-law was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. And one day he was walking along the beach and saw this and picked it up. After the war, he took it into the San Diego Museum of Man and loaned it to them. I guess he expected them to put it on display with his name on it. They didn't. That irritated him, so he went back and took it back. And then gave it to my wife.
APPRAISER: So, now, that was in, what? The late '40s?
GUEST: I am guessing late '40s, early '50s. We're had it as long as we've been married, 40-plus years.
GUEST: All I know is, it's gorgeous.
APPRAISER: All right, fair enough. Let's, first of all, talk about geography. Now, the Aleutian Islands extend from Alaska west towards Russia. You sometimes hear it pronounced, the people, "Aleut" or "Alu-ee." Yes. I want you to think back to all of your National Geographics specials where you saw seals. And I want you to imagine that the top here is the ocean. This is exactly what you see of the seal's head as the head is coming up out of the water. I think that's not an accident. Now, I want to look at the back side. Now, when you look at this, the first thing you want to say is, "Okay, how is this used? Does it make sense, could this thing be authentic?" Initially, you think this might be a mortar of some sort. But then you see this dark area, and I think almost certainly, this was an oil lamp. They would have burned seal oil, whale oil or walrus, something like that. And there would have been a wick that extended out. So, I think that we can say pretty clearly that this piece is authentic. Understand that the seal is very, very important to the sustenance, the survival, of these people in that part of the world. It's really tough, tough conditions, so the spirit of these various animals that they depended on were revered and they paid homage to them. And that's why we see these forms occurring in the various art. So this makes sense. Something like this is extremely rare.
GUEST: That's what I was afraid of.
APPRAISER: Extremely rare. So how old do you think it is?
GUEST: I'm guessing hundreds, possibly thousands, of years old.
APPRAISER: Okay, we really don't know. But we do know it's pre-contact.
GUEST: Oh, God.
APPRAISER: And pre-contact means that it could be anything. It could be thousands of years old. We just don't know. We know it's authentic, we know that it's early, we know that it's rare. What sort of value do you think?
GUEST: I would be afraid to guess.
APPRAISER: The consensus on the table was $4,000 to $6,000. Now, that's $4,000 to $6,000.
APPRAISER: And that would be in a gallery or at auction. Now, we did have some people that felt that it was as high as $5,000 to $7,000. Now, having said all of that, we do have something that we have to consider. The Aleuts have been very, very aggressive in trying to repatriate objects that they consider to be sacred.
APPRAISER: Now, do we have any definitive laws? Well, if it came off federal lands, it would certainly be something that somebody couldn't just pick up. So there are issues that need to be studied with respect to this piece, and we have to respect the patrimony of the people that live there.
APPRAISER: So, that is a big concern. It's a very, very special object.