The figures on these bookends look like movie animation creatures, but they represent traditional guardian spirits of the Norhwest Coast Indians. Guardian spirits protect their owners from evil spirits and from dangers in general. We have owned these bookends for a number of years and during that time our home has been safe from evil or damage, so, obviously, the bookends are powerful and doing their job. We will keep them, and continue to enjoy their protection.
Category Archives: Native American/Indian
Booth # 2533 will feature bookends at the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show , August 20 – 23, 2015. Former members of the late Bookend Collector’s Club are invited to contact Brenda D at Bdiaz33@aol.com. She has all the latest information and a show promotion code to share. Perhaps bookend enthusiasts that are attending the show can get together for a breakfast or dinner.
The Baltimore show is always a treat. Several years ago we purchased this pair of coveted bookends from a dealer whose shop was one of our haunts in California. To think those bookends travelled 2000 miles east so we could buy them!
Cigar-store Indians have a long history. They appeared first in England in the seventeenth century with the arrival of tobacco. The English knew that the new import of tobacco coming into the country was derived from the tobacco used by American Indians. They responded by stationing carved wooden Indians outside the new tobacco shops as advertising figures. In the eighteenth century, life-sized wooden Indians appeared outside American tobacco shops. Today antique carved wooden Indians are valuable collector’s items and are quite rare. Wooden Indians are no longer seen outside tobacco shops, and shops like these are nearly gone.
There is, however, one pair of recently-produced bookends to remind collectors and tobacco lovers of the wooden advertising Indians of bygone eras. Each Indian of this pair presents a handful of cigars because Indians holding cigars were commonplace and were called cigar-store Indians. The bookends are not carved of wood, and they are novelties rather than serious art work, but they are cast in substantial iron, and they are fun conversation pieces Recent iron bookends are somewhat unusual because relatively few pairs of iron bookends were produced after 1930, and today new bookends are frequently of resin.
Each bookend shows one Indian beating a drum and one Indian dancing with a knife in one hand and a tomahawk in the other. The depiction obviously seems to be a war dance or more generally a weapon dance, probably ceremonial. Most, or perhaps all, American Indian weapon dances were performed en masse with the dancers moving in a circle. A single dancer with a single drummer probably does not show any traditional ritual dance. More likely, the figures probably stem from the artist’s imagination. Regardless of authenticity or the weapons shown, these bookends are outstanding as examples of action in sculpture.
We purchased these very rare bookends from a private individual who contacted us after seeing our request in the BOOKENDS WANTED section of this blog.
These Eagle Bookends were carved by Casper Mather ( 1876-1972) of New Metlakatla and Ketchikan, Alaska. We purchased them, this past year, as having been carved by Eli Tait, another carver from New Metlakatla. In researching them we found a photo postcard of Casper Mather posing with his carvings and showing very similar bookends at his feet. It soon became clear that while Eli Tait and Casper Mather had very similar carving styles there were also distinct differences, and we are now confidently attributing these bookends to Casper Mather.
Mather was a member of the Tsimshian (Indian) cultural group and of the Episcopal Church group that emigrated with Father William Duncan from Old Metlakatla in Canada to found New Metlakatla on Annette Island, Alaska. Casper was 11 years old at the time of the move in 1887. As part of the move to Alaska, Father Duncan encouraged the emigrants to divest themselves of the old ways. Many tribal objects were destroyed and public display of tribal art was discouraged. Mather was without formal training as a carver. Steve Akerman’s website, Early Totem Carvers of New Metlakatla, is dedicated to those early carvers that kept the Metlakatla style of carving alive:
Today Casper Mather is regarded as a prominent Tsimshian carver who helped keep Tsimshian traditional art forms alive during his lifetime. These eagle bookends were probably carved when Mather lived in Ketchikan, where he moved in the 1920s. Mather was a founder and a preacher in Tsimshian and English at the Indian Episcopal Church in Ketchikan. He led a full and varied life – packer on the Chilkoot Pass, Ship Master and Guide in Alaskan Waters, blacksmith, and Carver. Click the links below to read more about Casper Mather and about New Metlakatla.
Remembering Casper Mather, Master Carver, Remembering Alaskans Series.
The Founding of Metlakatla, by Dave Kiffer. Stories In The News, Sit.News, Ketchikan, AK
There are dozens of Indian bookends and fewer cowboy bookends, but fewest of all are bookends featuring both cowboys and Indians. This pair of bookends, produced by the Taunton, Massachusetts foundry of Armor Bronze around 1935, is one of the rare pairings.
By 1935 the film industry had thoroughly imprinted the American movie-going public with the heroics of the West. The biggest movie stars were the likes of Gene Autry, Tim McCoy, Tom Mix, Buck Jones, and Will Rogers. Some of these stars were part Indian. The “Indian” in the movies had moved from always being the enemy to being portrayed, in part, sympathetically and even sometimes heroically. Click here to see the New York Times Movie Review, Sept. 1932, of WHITE EAGLE.
As with other bookend sets, these bookends of a cowboy and an indian with their rearing horse salute, reflected the changing attitudes in American culture.
In the early days of tourism in the American Southwest, Navajo Weavers would set up their looms near the major roads through the reservation. Donna remembers these weaver tableaus from her family travels through New Mexico and Arizona in the 1940s and 50s. In those days, there were still buckboard wagons and horses tied near the weaver’s camp. Trading posts such as Hubbell’s (now a National Historic Site), and the Fred Harvey Company (Santa Fe Railroad) employed weavers to demonstrate to prospective customers the skill and effort required to produce a Navajo Rug.
These fairly crude chalkware bookends are very rare; this is the only pair we’ve seen that show a Navajo weaving at the iconic upright loom. We value the pair for their rarity and for the association it has to our interest in the art and craft of the Indians of the Southwest.
The history of the Navajo Rug has many twists and turns. Domesticated sheep came with the Spanish colonization of the Americas. This was followed by the weaving of wool into wearing blankets and later the familiar floor rugs. The tradition has continued to the present day. Navajo weavings are prized by collectors and interior designers today, and some Navajo blankets from the nineteenth century are valued in six figures.
If you are traveling in New Mexico take time to visit Toadlena Trading Post, where the tradition of quality weaving is maintained.