Pre-Contact Northwest Coast Pestle

Value (2012) | $18,000 Retail$22,000 Retail

Well, I bought it about 30 years ago from a Haida Indian woman who had just retired from fishing, commercial salmon fishing, on Prince of Wales Island. She was born and raised on Prince of Wales Island, which is I think the largest island in the Haida Indian country.

That's right.

I was in the insurance business. They moved to Bellingham, my home, and wanted to insure their home, so I went out to the house to meet them, and this was a doorstop. They were using it as a doorstop on the front door. I bought this and two bentwood boxes and two little baskets, pretty good-sized baskets, for I don't remember exactly, but I know it was less than $150.

And what attracted you to it?

At the time, I was very interested in North Coast Indian art, and I was doing some carving of Haida designs, box designs, on big cedar doors and things, so I have a real appreciation of Haida art. Of all the North Coast Indian art, I thought the Haidas and I still do think the Haidas are the best.

It's a remarkable object. It is a pestle, and it's made out of a very fine-grained basalt. And it's early; this is probably pre-contact, which would be before the white man coming here. We think it could be Haida, but getting that early, we're not sure. Definitely the northern part of the Northwest coast.

Oh, it could be pre-Haida?

Maybe, but it's definitely pre-contact, we think.

She told me that she found this in the mudflats half-buried in the mud in front of her village when she was a young woman.

It would be used like this, it's a pestle, and it would be used for either grinding the corn or even the salmon to make pemmican out of, and they would just grind it like this. The bird head on the top, it's probably not an eagle. It's probably a raven, which are used a lot by the Haida. To have this amount of embellishment on the end would be very special. This was probably a high-born woman, because this is a rather remarkable object, and this would probably be her clan symbol on the top. I think a retail value for this would be in the region of $18,000 to $22,000.


It's a remarkable object. It's a killer object.

Appraisal Details

Anthony Slayter-Ralph Fine Art
Santa Barbara, CA
Appraised value (2012)
$18,000 Retail$22,000 Retail
Seattle, WA (August 18, 2012)
Ancient Art
February 02, 2016: Antiques Roadshow has a correction to make regarding this pre-contact Northwest Coast pestle. As a viewer pointed out after watching the appraisal, the people who created and used this tool were not likely to have used it for grinding corn, a grain not found in that region at the time. Appraiser Anthony Slayter-Ralph agrees. "The item was probably used to pound dried salmon, seeds and berries to make a high-protein food," he says.

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