Purchase Story

Saved by the Dolls

Bonhams, San Francisco, California

Photos courtesy Bonhams

Department director Ingmars Lindbergs described the Bonhams December 4, 2017, San Francisco auction of Native American art as “on a smaller scale but much more successful than the June 2017 sale.” Lindbergs said, “Overall, I was happy” with sales that totaled close to $885,000 (including buyers’ premiums).

Many of the bids—winning and otherwise—came from phone, absentee, and Internet bidders. “A percentage of people who were regular, well-known bidders at the auction are no longer bidding on the floor,” Lindbergs said. “I can gauge the interest of phone bidders, but with Internet buyers, who knows?” There were quite a few new buyers. “Out of two hundred-plus buyers, twenty-five were new buyers.”


Estimated at $20,000/30,000, this 11" high Hopi kachina doll sold for $20,000 over the phone. Lindbergs said he lowered the estimate after becoming aware of “condition problems—some restorations are not apparent.” The announcement didn’t dim bidders’ enthusiasm, as a serious phone duel ensued.

This 177/8" high Zuni kachina, “a rare example,” sold on the telephone for $16,250 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Four phone bidders were actively bidding on this Hopi kachina doll, 155/8" high, that sold on the phone for $20,000 (est. $8000/12,000).

Hopi kachina dolls were the stars of the show, from an “exceptional collection amassed over more than twenty years.” A bidder at the auction who was not a buyer (“The few I was really interested in went too high”) said that he’d “sold several dolls to the collection,” and that the mysterious phone bidder who bought most of the dolls (12) “put together a very good collection, instantly.” He added that the success of the dolls “was good for the market. The people I know who bought were smiling and happy.” Lindbergs called the collection of dolls “very handsome” and added that “the market responded,” as it will to superior material. He said that kachina dolls and Navajo textiles were selling like “gangbusters.”

Many lots sold above estimate—some far, far above—and Lindbergs credits that to superior material and low estimates. Low estimates, Lindbergs said, reflect the new reality of the market. “I’m anticipating a number of major collectors will want to sell in the next few years, but will there be buyers? The 1990s are over.”

“A buyer who stepped up and clearly bought for his personal collection” purchased this Zia polychrome storage jar, 14" high x 18¾" diameter, that sold on the phone for $16,250 (est. $15,000/20,000).

The catalog back cover lot, a Germantown super dazzling eyedazzler (6'6" x 5'7"), had been highly praised in 1990 by scholar Dr. Joe Ben Wheat. It sold to a New York collector for $50,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). Lindbergs called it “a bit of a challenge, as the estimate was higher than I wanted.”

This Zia polychrome storage jar (14" high x 18¾" diameter) sold for $12,500 (est. $8000/12,000). The jar was an old friend to Lindbergs, who remembers that it was sold at a prior auction.

This Pomo basket, 13½" high x 21" diameter at the widest, sold on the Internet to a dealer for $10,625 (est. $10,000/15,000).

These vignettes in ink and wash on hide by George Twok Aden Ahgupuk (1911-2001) depicting scenes of traditional Eskimo life sold for $9375 (est. $1500/2000). The almost mural-size work is 17½" x 34½". “His work tends to sell modestly, unless it is large scale, which this was,” said Lindbergs. It was bought by a western state museum.

Lindberg’s next sale will be on June 4 and will be held in Los Angeles, as will all future Native American auctions. For more information, contact Ingmars Lindbergs at (415) 503-3393 or see the website (www.bonhams.com).

The museum that bought this Pomo basket, 7½" high x 31" long x 21½" wide, on the phone for $35,000 (est. $15,000/25,000) “had to fight for it,” said Lindbergs.

This sterling silver and wood chess set, with silver pieces by Kenneth Begay (1913-1977) and woodwork by Fred Stein, sold for $22,500 (est. $20,000/30,000). The set was bought in at the last Bonhams auction, but it sold this time on the phone to a purchaser who had seen the set at the preview.

This Navajo Late Classic blanket, 6'1" x 4'8", sold for $12,500 (est. $12,000/18,000) to a well-known textile dealer in the room.

This 10'3" x 6'2" Navajo Bisti rug, which resembles a Teec Nos Pos rug in its complexity, sold for $27,500 (est. $7000/10,000). “There was a lot of activity,” said Lindbergs, and the rug finally sold to a dealer from the Southwest.


Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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