Published: June 26, 2012
A new world record for a Navajo textile was set on June 19 when the “Chantland Blanket,” a first-phase chief’s wearing blanket, realized $1.8 million (including buyer’s premium) at John Moran Auctioneers antiques auction. After a pitched battle among floor bidders and phone bidders from across the country, dealer Donald Ellis of Donald Ellis Gallery, New York City and Ontario, Canada, bidding from the floor, emerged the victor as the stunned consignor looked on.
This sale price eclipses the previous record for a Navajo blanket when a similar example sold for $522,500 to a buyer at Sotheby’s New York in 1989. It is the second-highest price ever realized at auction for a Native American artifact of any type, according to John Moran Auctioneers.
The Chantland Blanket embodies the sought-after trifecta of exceptional rarity, exemplary provenance and fine condition. Consigned to Moran from the descendant of a Norwegian immigrant turned tradesman, John Chantland, who acquired it in the 1870s after settling in the town of Mayville, Dakota Territory, it remained in the family until the present day. Maintained in remarkably good condition and never exhibited, the blanket excited a storm of interest upon its re-emergence to public view.
Only four other first phase blankets incorporating lac-dyed red stripes are known to exist outside of public collections, and this design variant of the Nineteenth Century artifacts is considered the holy grail of Navajo textile collectors. One example nearly identical to the Chantland is a star exhibit of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
During the 1850s‱860s, the first phase chief’s blanket was one of the most prized trade items in the Southwest, sought after by European settlers and Native Americans alike, and selling for large sums for the time. The earliest type of design in the Navajo weaving repertoire, of which archeological examples date to the mid-1700s, first phase blankets commonly feature a simple pattern of horizontal stripes of natural brown, black and ivory and indigo-dyed handspun wool. Fewer than 100 First Phase blankets are known to exist.
A complete report will appear in a future issue.
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