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An exceptionally carved antler club in the form of a bird with abalone shell inlay | Donald Ellis Gallery
Figural head of an important antler club, the surface indicating great age | Donald Ellis Gallery

Antler Club

Tsimshian
Northern British Columbia

18th century or earlier

caribou antler, abalone shell, hide

width: 18 ¾"

Inventory # CN4313-123

Please contact the gallery for more information.


PROVENANCE

Collected by William Henry Collison (b. 1847 d. 1922), a missionary active among the Haida and Tsimshian from ca. 1875 until his death in 1922.
Emily (Collison) MacDonald
Linda R. Westby, Nanaimo, BC
Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, ON
Private collection, Toronto, ON

PUBLISHED

In the Wake of the War Canoe, Collison, Toronto, The Mission Book Company, 1916, pg. 145

RELATED EXAMPLES

University Museum, Philadelphia, Cat.No. NA 3315 – See: Native American Heritage, Mauer, Art Institute of Chicago, 1977, pg. 306, pl. 479

The Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Cat. No. 62 – See: The Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Volume II, Hooper, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1997, pg. 262

The Eugene and Claire Thaw Collection, Cooperstown, New York, No. T171 – See: Art of the North American Indians: The Thaw Collection, Coe, Brydon and Vincent, University of Washington Press, 2000, pg. 355

Antler clubs, or slave killers as they are occasionally referred to, are among the most remarkable works of Northwest Coast art ever created. Produced among the Tsimshian peoples from before European contact, these impressive objects most likely served at one time as a war clubs, as hand to hand fighting between armed combatants was the typical style of warfare on the Northwest Coast well into the historic period. Some were said to have been employed to dispatch slaves owned by clan leaders as sacrifices, although there is no direct evidence of this. Over time and with the introduction of firearms, hand weapons and other tools of war such as helmets became the prized possession of Tsimshian chiefs, serving as clan emblems of power and prestige.

Made from the strong, stout antlers of elk and inland caribou, this form of club originated among Athabaskan-speaking peoples of the northern continental interior, spreading gradually to the Pacific coast through major river valleys such as the Nass and the Skeena. Small-scale versions of these clubs have been excavated from archaeological sites near Prince Rupert, on the northern coast of British Columbia, and have been dated to 100-250 AD (MacDonald 1983, pg. 112). Skillfully embellished proto-historical and historical clubs of this type are nonetheless relatively rare from the coastal area, being handed down through generations of hereditary chiefs. The surface of the superb antler club pictured above exhibit signs of great age and use, and dates at least to the 18th century, possibly earlier.

The form of the club follows the characteristics of the antler, utilizing a section of its length that includes appropriately positioned tines from which the features of the clubs are carved. This usually includes a snout or beak on the end of the club, a handle section at the opposite end, and a contact-point about two-thirds of the way up from the tip of the handle, where the base of a large tine forms a stout protrusion. Evidence of a once-present metal point or blade appears at the end of this contact arm, a feature that would increase the fearsomeness of an already formidable weapon. Masterfully carved and with intact abalone shell inlay, this antler club is undoubtedly the finest example left in private hands.

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