When I saw that a 19th century antique Navajo blanket was sold in an auction for - $1,800,000 - my eyebrow immediately shot upwards to my hairline. “What?!” I thought to myself—or perhaps I even spoke it aloud. “How could that sell for so much money?! ” It was an ordinary blanket, hardly more elegant or interesting than the most mundane Moroccan here in our gallery. It looked more like the similarly colored, simply woven baby blanket (one of four I insisted on sleeping with for years) that I had dubbed “car seat blankey” because it spent most of its time snuggling with me on the short trips to preschool, or longer rides to my house in the country.
But who was I to be so discerning? I’m no expert in Native American history! So I decided to give it a chance, and read more about the item before I am so quick to pass judgjement. To my delight, I discovered that it was chock full of historical relevance and had an incredible provenance! It dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a Scandinavian immigrant (from Norway) named John Chantland bartered unspecified goods for the blanket. It has remained in the family until it’s recent sale.
The blanket is a relic of the “First Phase” of Navajo weaving. Using techniques purloined from the Puebla, the Navajos created tightly-woven blankets of a simple striped design, made from the finest wool around. These blankets were highly valued and very expensive; so much so that they were usually worn exclusively by Native American Chiefs. They were also prized by Spanish and native traders.
Despite the excellent quality of these blankets, no more than a hundred exist today. The blanket was lot #1062 in an auction at John Moran’s, and was expected to sell for $100,000-$200,000. Clearly it sold for many times that number, and I only hope that whoever bought it is not inspired by my childhood antics, and leaves the Navajo blanket in a temperature and light controlled glass case instead of snuggling with in their car!