An extraordinary 18th century eastern woodlands pipe previously owned by well-known collector Clem Caldwell was the top lot of busy day at Cowan’s Auction. The pipe, which sold for $132,000 (including a 20% buyer’s premium), was one of many bidding wars on the day that spurred Cowan’s Fall American Indian & Western Art Live Salesroom Auction to a $1.25 million total.
“The eastern woodlands pipe exceeded its high estimate but even at this price, our buyer got a great deal,” said Danica Farnand, Cowan’s director of American Indian Art. “Pipes from this era and this region are incredibly rare but pipes with this level of craftsmanship quite simply don’t ever come to market. Over 300 years after it was originally carved, you can still make out carved tattoo markings and his glass imitation wampum bead belt is still intact. It’s a stunning piece.”
Depicting a nearly naked reclined man sitting with his hands on his hips and legs extended, the pipe somehow managed to survive the European settlement of the southern Great Lakes and Ohio Valley region that destroyed most pieces of Native American culture from that time.
The rarity of the pipe was not lost on bidders. Bidding started at $40,000 as four phone bidders from around the country battled two floor bidders for several minutes before the hammer finally fell at $110,000 (the addition of the 20% buyer’s premium resulted in the total price realized of $132,000).
For the second time in 2017, the prehistoric art from Jan W. Sorgenfrei was the most coveted collection of the day. Although Sorgenfrei collected a wide variety of prehistoric artifacts, he was especially partial to birdstones and had assembled arguably the world’s finest collection at the time of his death. Bidders were eager to get their hands on pieces from the collection with many driving across the Midwest to come bid in person in Cincinnati. Part II of the collection sold for $221,160 in just 52 lots.
“The Sorgenfrei Collection is unparalleled,” said Farnand. “It’s not only a fairly diverse grouping of prehistoric art, but it’s also extremely well curated. All of the pieces were carefully chosen as outstanding examples of their medium. It’s no wonder demand has been so overwhelming.”