Massive Alaska Native ivory collection up for auction
There’s a story behind every piece at the Alaska Auction Company.
“This is an ivory umbrella handle attributed to Happy Jack from Nome,” clerk Andreas Mosesian said, holding up the 1905 carving. “Happy Jack was the first professional Native carver ever.”
Their showroom houses everything from the smallest pair of earrings to a massive mastodon tusk.
“That one weighs 220 to 225 pounds,” Mosesian said as he pointed to the large fossil. “They're not entirely uncommon, but one that size is massive.”
Staff are getting ready for their annual Iditarod auction which will include a special collection this year. Mosesian said Art Simonian, the founder of Alaska Sand and Gravel, recently passed away and his children brought his items to the auction company for sale.
“He had the largest collection of Alaska Native Ivory that will ever be amassed in my lifetime. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces. This is just a fraction of it,” Mosesian said.
The collection includes about 1,000 carvings and Alaska Native works of art like rare, square, baleen baskets.
“I've seen smaller baleen baskets go for conservatively $900. The fact that it's fossilized ivory, signed, square, the lid is loose here but that's to be understood with age. But it's in remarkable condition,” Mosesian explained.
There are also several carvings by the late Peter Mayac, a King Island ivory carver. His scrimshawed whale teeth could be a hot commodity too.
“Oddly enough, President Kennedy has a fascination with whale's teeth and walrus teeth. He had in his personal collection, a scrimshawed signed whale's tooth done by Peter Mayac, which instantly increased the popularity here in Alaska,” Mosesian said.
For him, the auction is a chance to hear even more tales about the treasures.
“You find out why someone wants this particular piece, what it means to them and you can tell them your story, whether you think something is pretty or has history you're interested in.”
The Iditarod auction is Friday, March 2 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Alaska Auction Company on 76th Avenue. It continues Saturday, March 3 at 10 a.m.
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