Hopewell Culture artifacts surpass estimates at Cowan’s auction

This thin 11-inch Ross Blade made from Mill Creek chert was the highlight of a 19-item cache of Hopewell Culture artifacts found by the late Indiana collector Art Gerber. The group sold for $162,000. Cowan’s Auctions image

CINCINNATI – One of the most significant assemblages of Hopewell Culture prehistoric art ever collected sold for $162,000, more than double expectations, at Cowan’s Auctions during Part I of the Collection of Art Gerber: Ancient Art of the Eastern Woodlands. The cache was one of 382 lots offered in the July 28 auction from the estate of famed collector Art Gerber. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.

Gerber was widely known in the prehistoric artifact world, and collectors from across the region traveled to Cincinnati to get a glimpse at a portion of the legendary collection and vie for the chance to take home a piece of history. They competed with equally motivated collectors bidding over the phone and online sparking numerous bidding wars that pushed the auction above its high estimate.

“Art would have loved today,” said Danica Farnand, Cowan’s director of American Indian & Prehistoric Art. “Yes, he would have been pleased with the hammer prices, but I think what he would have really loved was seeing all these collectors marveling at his life’s work and sharing stories about him. The whole day was really a celebration of his life.”

The Collection of Art Gerber is a tangible 8,000-year historical record of human life along the Ohio River. Gerber’s life is inextricably linked to the river. From his birth in Evansville, Ind., to his childhood home in Cannelton, Ind., to his professional career in Tell City, Ind., Gerber spent his entire life hunting the Ohio River Valley for his next great discovery.

The Hopewell Culture cache was Gerber’s crowned jewel. Discovered near the Ohio River directly across from the city of Owensboro, Ky., it is arguably one of the most significant and finest Hopewell assemblages ever found in the state of Indiana. The cache featured 19 items highlighted by an 11-inch Hopewell Ross blade from Mill Creek chert (above). Blades of this size are unusual for the region and none has been found in such remarkable condition.

“There’s no question that’s what initially draws collectors attention is this incredible blade,” said Farnand. “But all 19 pieces were found together and have remained together since the moment of their discovery. You just don’t see that in the prehistoric artifact world, which is why we saw that bidding war today.”

Six bidders battled for over 10 minutes before the cache was hammered down at $135,000 bid. The addition of the standard 20 percent buyer’s premium pushed the total sale price to $162,000.

A rare steatite effigy boatstone (below), which likely depicted a raptor with its wings folded against its body, was the second highest price of the day selling for $8,225. Effigy banner stones are a rare form in Hopewell Culture, a fact that clearly didn’t escape collectors as bidding sent the stone well past its high estimate of $3,000.

A Hopewell Culture steatite effigy boatstone sold for $8,225, more than double its high estimate. Cowan’s Auction image

Of the multitude of forms offered during the sale, bannerstones were in the highest demand. An expanded center bottle bannerstone with associated antler atlatl hook (below) was the top lot of the category selling for $7,050.

An expanded center bottle bannerstone with associated antler atlatl hook was the top lot of the category selling for $7,050.

Other highlights include a single faced white quartz bottle bannerstone (below), which sold for $5,875; a green bowenite saddle bannerstone, shell disc bead necklace with a cannel coal bead, and two large ear bobs for $5,287; and a diorite single faced bottle bannerstone for $3,055.

Other miscellaneous highlights from the auction include a banded slate Adena keyhole pendant that sold for $5,581; a rare copper Hopewell bowl for $3,819; a canine tooth necklace with pendant for $3,360; and a Hopewell copper breastplate with preserved fabric for $3,290.

This banded slate Adena keyhole pendant sold for $5,581. Cowan’s Auctions image

The July 28 auction represented the first of three auctions of the unrivaled collection of Art Gerber. Part II will occur on Saturday, Dece. 8 at Cowan’s Cincinnati salesroom.