Yupik Shaman Spirit Mask, ca. 1900

Value (2009) | $10,000 Auction$18,000 Retail

I got this at an estate sale in Madison, Wisconsin.



And how much did you pay for it?

$60, if I remember right.

What do you know about it?

The estate sale was for a woman who had an uncle who was in Alaska for a while, around 1920, plus or minus. And she got it from him.

Okay. Well, we do know that it's from Alaska and it is Eskimo or Inuit. This is a shaman's spirit mask. We know in Alaska, 1896, 1897, they had a gold rush. And the Inuit were very clever and they sold them ivory, they sold them masks, all sorts of things. So when I first saw this, I thought, "God, I wonder if this thing is right." First of all, you can see it very, very slightly over here there's a tiny peg. And these are baleen and those are two very, very good notes of authenticity. If you look at it carefully, you can see the wear around it. And that, too, absolutely correct. Now, I want to turn it over, and I need you to help me do this. Would you do that?


Oops. There we go. All right, now just tilt this down a little bit. Now, we have this label here, and the label refers to Nootka and Tlingit; it's not that.


And I also want to point out up here it says a dollar, which is kind of amusing to have on there. I want to note here the wear at the top-- this is exactly what you'd expect to see-- and the wear at the bottom. Let's turn it back over... and put it back in the cradle here. Okay, what we're not 100% sure on is whether these appendages belong with this mask. Now, we think 80% they do, but now what you have is you have a real mask, maybe yes with appendages, maybe no with appendages. If this mask is real but the appendages don't belong, I'm going to say, conservatively, at auction, it would be $8,000 to $12,000. Now, if the appendages do belong, and we believe this is a late-19th, early-20th century shaman spirit mask, then, conservatively, at auction, it's $10,000 to $15,000. Now, we've got obviously a squirrelly market right now, and who knows what's going on. I think that in this particular case, a private dealer that could explain everything that you and I just talked about, I think you might even find it to be $15,000 to $18,000. Again, it's conservative. A bit better than you did when you purchased it. That's for sure.

Well, thank you much.

A good restorer is going to be able to stabilize the mask and fix the leg.


Appraisal Details

Dallas, TX
Appraised value (2009)
$10,000 Auction$18,000 Retail
Madison, WI (July 11, 2009)
Tribal Arts
Baleen , Wood
October 31, 2011: A viewer's recent email regarding an appraisal of an Inupiaq cribbage board prompted us to review past appraisals that mentioned Eskimo culture.

It is ANTIQUES ROADSHOW's intention to use culturally respectful terms when discussing the history of items being appraised on the show. We acknowledge that terms that describe a person or group’s identity regarding race, ethnicity, religion, etc., can change over time or have different meaning to different people. "Eskimo" is a word that has different connotations depending on where you live in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Canada and Greenland, "Eskimo" has negative connotations and is no longer an accepted term. "Inuit" is preferred, but that term is not commonly used in the United States. In the U.S., "Eskimo" is not considered to be derogatory and is in common usage. "Eskimo" is used when speaking of two main indigenous cultural groups collectively: "Yupik" (a culture group from Western Alaska) and "Inupiat" (a culture group from Northern Alaska and St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea). When one of these groups is being referenced, "Yupik" or "Inupiat" is favored over "Eskimo" by Alaskan Natives.

The term "Alaskan Natives" includes all indigenous peoples of Alaska: Eskimo, Unangan (Aleut), and American Indian, and is also considered broadly acceptable.

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