Eskimo Finger-Mask Snuff Container, ca. 1850

Value (2013) | $8,500 Retail
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GUEST:
This has been passed down through our family. It would be my husband's great-great-grandma's uncle. He was in the Civil War. As far as we know, it's always been hanging from his gun that he used in the Civil War. We were told that it's a tobacco dryer, and he would put his tobacco in there and chew it and then put it in there to dry and then get it back out and chew it again, and so...

APPRAISER:
Well, this was probably not made by your great-uncle. Who do you think may have made it?

GUEST:
We were told Eskimos made it.

APPRAISER:
Eskimo for sure, Alaskan Eskimo.

GUEST:
Okay, that's what we were told, so...

APPRAISER:
And it may well have been attached to an Eskimo's gun at one time. It was indeed for tobacco or snuff.

GUEST:
Okay, so we were right.

APPRAISER:
An Eskimo hunter out on the icy tundra may want a little bit of a pick-me-up, and the snuff would do that.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
The image is of a seal, and that very likely is what the hunter was looking for. And in a curious twist of fate, the seal's energy or inner powers are helping the hunter find the seal. It's a very, very fascinating complex.

GUEST:
Wow!

APPRAISER:
On the back of this object, there's another face.

GUEST:
I... I didn't even notice that.

APPRAISER:
It's just a remarkable face, and it reflects the indwelling spirit of the seal. This snuff container also functioned as a small finger mask, and it would be put on and danced with.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
There are very, very tiny holes all around the periphery of the head, and there would be little feathers attached into the head, and so when this was held, the feathers would flutter. It would have a very animated effect. It's rather early; it probably dates to 1850. The wood was carefully selected. The wood is northern cedar. This is a particularly useful wood in a very, very damp climate. It resists moisture, resists cracking. It's light, yet durable.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
We can open this and see the cavity that actually contained that. And that's where the tobacco and snuff would be contained.

GUEST:
We never opened it before!

APPRAISER:
It can be in there rather firmly.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
It's a very, very rare piece, and it'd be very, very desirable. I think readily, on a retail market, about $8,500.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
It's a very desirable object, beautifully carved.

GUEST:
Wow! Oh, my gosh! We had no idea.

APPRAISER:
Well, will you attach it back to the gun and hang it on the wall?

GUEST:
(laughing) Probably not. It'll probably have to go on something nicer now. Wow!

APPRAISER:
Thanks so much for bringing it.

GUEST:
Thanks, that's amazing.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Trotta-Bono, Ltd.
Shrub Oak, NY
Appraised value (2013)
$8,500 Retail
Event
Detroit, MI (June 01, 2013)
Period
19th Century
Form
Mask, Snuff box
Material
Cedar, Wood

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