NW Coast rattles
This page is for reference purposes
I love these rattles and created a page that I can access to reference the images
I sold the rattles I used to have and hope to some day collect more
Sotheby's - New York
American Indian Art
Auction Date : May 13, 2005


of classic form, in two sections, with hide binding on the grip, a conventionalized birdlike face
with hooked beak and form line details on the underside, the body carved in the form of a
flying raven, holding a representation of the sun in its slightly parted beak, its backswept wings
supporting a shaman, with open mouth and long tongue projecting into the mouth of another
avian creature; a fine aged patina overall with small areas of wear from use.

Cf. Brown (1995: 52 and 53) for a discussion of raven rattles. Also see, Sotheby's, May, 1999,
lot 391.

length 13in.

Estimate:$ 20,000 - $ 30,000  
Price Realized:$ 36,000
Christie's - New York
American Indian Art
Auction Date : Jan 13, 2005


of usual form, with red and black pigments, the body carved in the form of a
flying raven with a small disc (probably representing the sun) in its slightly
parted beak, its head thrust sharply upward with openwork ears supporting the
head of a shaman, in a reclining posture, with mask-like facial features,
attenuated angular limbs and long tongue protruding into the mouth of a frog, its
back end held in the beak of an inward facing bird, the raven's belly carved with
a hawk's face, with hooked beak and formline details, cylindrical handle
inscribed 59.31
Length: 11 1/2 in. (29.1 cm.)

Estimate:$ 6,000 - $ 8,000  
Price Realized:$ 0  
Sotheby's - New York
African and Oceanic Art
Auction Date : Nov 16, 2001

Lot 16 :  A Northwest Coast ceremonial wood rattle

A Northwest Coast ceremonial wood rattle length 15 1/4 in. (38.7cm.)
representing a mythological raven in flight, comprised of two joined sections,
the upper, with flattened backswept wings, supporting a reclining shaman
figure, a frog resting on his chest and receiving his outstretched tongue, the
lower, with a highly stylized avian-like face, with pronounced hooked beak, the
whole finely incised in shallow and sunk relief and decorated with black, green
and vermilion red pigments; with the torn remnants of a Beasley label on the
underside of its right wing.

length 15 1/4 in. (38.7

Estimate:$ 25,000 - $ 35,000  
Price Realized:$ 35,250    

Ernest Smith, 1929 H. G. Beasley John Wise William A. McCarty-Cooper, New
York Christie's, New York, May 19, 1992, lot 23
Sotheby's - New York
The Collection of Frederick W. Hughes
Auction Date : Oct 10, 2001

Lot 17 :  A Tlingit polychrome wood Shaman's rattle

A Tlingit polychrome wood Shaman's rattle length 12 3/4 in. (32.4cm.) Steve C. Brown, Native
Visions, 1998, p. 88: "...the classic composition of the raven rattle is evidently a very early
archetype that has undergone a long and broadly distributed development. The oldest, most
complete examples extant illustrate that the conventions of the major forms - the raven's head
and body, the raised tailfeathers (usually elaborated into a second bird's face), the reclining
human or humanoid figure, and the face on the raven's breast - were already well established
at the onset of the historic period...The origin of the raven rattle tradition is located by oral
history on the Nass River, in the Nishga territory of the northern British Columbia coast."

length 12 3/4 in. (32.4

Estimate:$ 10,000 - $ 15,000  
Price Realized:$ 14,400
Raven Rattle
mid 1800s
Raven rattles conventionally depict a complex scene in which a human reclines on
the back of a raven while his tongue connects with the tongue of a frog. Meanwhile,
a second bird's head, formed from the raven's tale, holds the frog. High-ranking
men carried these rattles with the scene inverted as they danced ceremoniously.

Maple? (Acer sp.), mineral and commercial paints, sinew, pebbles?; 3178-2

Item noP0479

Of classic form. The body carved in the form of a flying raven, its head
sharply turned upward. In his slightly parted beak holding a small
rectangular implement (probably a representation of the sun). Its
flattened wings supporting a reclining Shaman with open mouth and his
short tongue protuding into the mouth of a frog, which in turn is held in
the long beak of an other bird-like creature; the underbelly carved with
a highly stylized avian-like face with pronounced hooked beak. The
rattle is very finely carved with as beautiful patina with green, black and
vermillon pigmentations. There is a minor hairline crack at the base
near the handle and a small area of Native repair.

Côte Nord Ouest, North West Coast
Longueur: 32,4cm Length: 12 3/4"
Circa 1850-1875.

Provenance: from a South Californian collector, who bought the rattle
from a New York dealer in 1978/9. (Similar one to be found in "Tangible
Visions", by A. WArdwell, plate 395; Brown & Al., 1995, pp. 52-53 ;
"Indian Art" by Holm & Reid, plates 77, 78 and 79)

MAKER:  Haida or Tlingit  
TITLE:  Raven rattle  
DATE:  mid 19th century  
Object #     951
Object name     Raven Rattle
Culture     Tlingit, Sitka
Made by     Tlingit, Sitka
Material/Technique     Wood, Carved
Motif     Raven
Dimensions     L: 32.0 cm, W: 11.5 cm, D: 12.0 cm
Date     DATE MADE 1909;

Label     The raven rattle is a traditional part of the paraphernalia of a dancing chief, which also includes an
elaborate headdress, a robe, an apron fringed with rattling pendants, and leggings. In use, the rattle was
often held belly up in the dancer's extended hand and shaken rapidly and continuously throughout the
dance. Occasionally rattles were used in pairs. Many of them were made, and there are a great number in
museum and private collections. Most of these rattles depict ravens, but there are a few that represent other
birds--hawks or thunderbirds, puffins or petrels among them. (Holm, Spirit and Ancestor, 1987)

Oxford University Press. "Aesthetics and Difference," book edited by Emory Elliott. See Article 'Aesthetics
Again? The Pleasures and the Dangers' by Paul Lauter. 2001
Source     Mr. George T. Emmons

Credit     Purchase from George T. Emmons

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Chief’s raven rattle
Northwest Coast, Alaska, Tlingit (att.)
Collected by George Davidson; acc. 1945.

Raven rattles, covered with shamanistic motifs, were used by chiefs
during ceremonies such as totem pole raisings, naming-giving,
funerals, and feasts.

Hardwood, hide binding and paint. 10 5/8" L, ca. 1780-1800

Perhaps the most graceful and delicate object created by NW Coast ceremonialists, the Raven
rattle is also a very old and respected object of tradition. Certain extremely old and brittle ones
exist, likely collected from graves, which suggest that the image usually portrayed is one that is
very ancient, though its specific origin is unknown. This arrangement of raven, human, and
sometimes frog has been reinterpreted by successive generations of artists, most of whom
leave the core image absolutely intact, while rendering their own unique variations of the
details thereon.

This example is a particularly small and compactly designed one. It bears the most common
raven rattle features: the form line face with a received beak on the belly, the tail of the raven
raised up and elaborated into a long-beaked bird face, and the reclining human figure with its
tongue held in the beak of the tail-bird. In this version, the tail is set more forward on the
raven¹s body than on many others, and the body and legs of the human are correspondingly
short. The face of the human is handled as a softly-arched, formline-type structure, the
features of the face quite shallowly relieved. The head of the raven is also shorter than many,
yet still has been cut through up the middle, isolating the neck and opening a space between
the ears. This traditional structure harmonizes with the delicate piercing on the back of the
raven, and removes unwanted weight from the wood which may affect the rattle¹s sound.

The flat design embellishment is of an early style, most likely Tlingit or Haida work. The worn
and faded pigments and other surface patination suggest that this rattle is quite old, held by a
succession of high-ranking chiefs of clans at ceremonial gatherings as a symbol of wealth and
prestige, as an accompaniment to songs and dance.

Provenance : George Terasaki

NA-2509 Northwest Coast Wood Raven Rattle

Tlingit Tribe, circa last quarter of the 19th Century.

The classic chief's raven rattle depicts the human lying on the back of the
raven (with openwork beak), sharing his tongue with a frog, which in turn is held
in the openwork beak of a kingfisher. The underbelly of the raven is also
carved and painted with the faces of a hawk and a bear, the tail serves as the
handle. The details are in red and black native and trade pigments on natural

Provenance: Collected by Henry G. Brock of Philadelphia between 1905 and
1920, and has descended in the Brock family since that time.

Length: 13 in. (33 cm.)

Price: $15,950

The Rattle Raven was an important ceremonial object among North American Pacific Coast
Native Americans. The Raven was a mythological hero/trickster who stole daylight from the
Chief of Heaven, marking the beginning of the world, humankind, and consciousness. The
reclining human/bear exchanging a tongue with a frog represented a shamanistic transfer of
spiritual and healing powers." -- Description of the logo (designed by Just Imagine!) for the 4th
World Congress on Pain (Seattle, Washington, 1984)
[IASP United States chapter]

IASP Online Archives
Images below are from:
Shaman with Rattle, Charms, Bird's Down, 1888
Rand African Art
home page
Raven Rattle, cedar, University of Iowa, Iowa City
Raven Rattle, cedar, Field Museum, Chicago
Raven Rattle, 1945, Phoebe Hearst, Johnson Photo
Oyster Catcher Shaman's Rattle, American Museum of Nat. Hist., N.Y
Alaska Science Forum
November 15, 1989
Messages in a Raven Rattle

Article #952

by Carla Helfferich

This article is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research
community. Carla Helfferich is a science writer at the Institute.
The first raven rattle collected by non-Indians, the oldest one known to anthropologists, was acquired by Russians from the Tlingit Indians of Alaska in
1804. It has the classic form of the rattle above. Both the forms and their relationships are important. This one includes a human, a frog, and a
long-billed bird (the raven's "tail"). It is possibly a kingfisher, a bird that makes a rattling noise. Note the face with recurved beak on the raven's stomach
(Raven Rattle No. A2467, University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology).

Recently I had the chance to spend an afternoon in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, home of a splendid collection of
Pacific Northwest Native art. It's a place worth a pilgrimage. The spectacular building, designed by Canada's famous architect Arthur Erickson, echoes
themes borrowed from a Haida longhouse; it's constructed so that one gallery is tall enough to house full-size totem poles.

Despite the magnificence of the many gigantic carvings, my attention kept turning to carvings of a smaller sort--the raven rattles. Superbly detailed,
always beautiful though often highly stylized, these captivating objects looked to my untrained eye like variations on a theme, but I couldn't decipher
what the theme actually was.

Fortunately, I found a slim publication at the museum gift shop: The Raven Rattle, UBC Museum Note No. 6, by Marjorie M. Halpin. From it, I learned
much about raven rattles and what some specialists think they mean.

The first one known to the outside world was acquired by the Russians from Alaska Tlingits in 1804, but tradition among the tribes places the rattle's
origin with the Niska Indians, a Tsimshian-speaking people of British Columbia. By the time most of the rattles now in museums were collected, between
1880 and 1930, raven rattles could be found nearly everywhere along the Northwest coast.

The classic raven rattle compresses many stylized animals into one object. The main figure is a raven, usually with its beak slightly open and holding a
small box. On its back is a platform with a reclining figure, usually a human; a frog lies atop that figure, its tongue extended into the human's mouth. A
monster's face occupies the forepart of the raven's deep belly. It's an odd construct, sharing aspects of whale, bird, and perhaps salmon. Behind it,
facing upside down and backwards, is another bird. This is apparently a kingfisher, a bird with a rattling cry. Its beak melds into what would be the
raven's tail, as the handle for the rattle.

Evidently the rattles had important ceremonial uses, but the people collecting them were more interested in their artistic value than in their meaning
and function. The early records noted little other than that raven rattles were generally used by chiefs, especially in ceremonies when they were
transferring some of their spiritual power to younger people. By the time ethnographers grew seriously interested in their significance, the people who
made them had forgotten their original import--or were unwilling to tell the uninitiated.

To understand these beautiful objects, scientists studied the rattles in light of what was known of the belief systems of Northwest Coast peoples. The
significant point was what changed from rattle to rattle and what remained the same.

Most consistent was the raven, always with the box in its beak. Raven, the great trickster and transformer, stole daylight from heaven and brought it to
a world previously dark: the box holds the light of day, metaphorically the dawning of human consciousness and the beginning of the world as it is

Next most invariant was the sea monster on the belly of the rattle. Fortunately for the scholars, it was a creature also found on boxes and chiefs'
frontlet headdresses, and a fair bit was understood about its symbolic meaning. Its elements of fish, whale, and bird mirror the richness of life
supported by the sea, and point toward the sources of human wealth.

What changed most was the tableau of small figures atop the rattle. The kingfisher sometimes moved to the top of the rattle, holding the frog in its
mouth; sometimes the frog became another creature altogether. On some rattles, the human figure became bearlike; on others, otters and even a dog
appeared. Most still showed the connecting tongue, or tonguelike connections of some sort. The message related to exchanges.

The end result, the ethnographers realized, was a set of interlocking symbols as understandable as a red light at an intersection, if more complicated.
When a chief shook his rattle at a young initiate, the rattle gave an entire lesson about a person's correct understanding of the world: Remember, you
have the gift of daylight within. You are a conscious person. The source of human support is the great sea, but the routes for exchange of the wealth it
provides may properly vary. Patterns of connection change; the basics of life are fixed.

No wonder such a powerful message was held by a chief's hand. Some of the power remains, even in a museum case. Look for raven rattles in
Alaska's museums (the University of Alaska Fairbanks, for example, has one on permanent display) and see if you agree
Rand African Art
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