Of Birdstones, Bannerstones and Flints

 Reputedly one of the finest birdstones ever, with oval expanding popeyes, a flattened flaring tail nearly twice as wide as the body, and rounded ridges beneath to accommodate perforation. 3 ¼” long. Found in Michigan. Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

The catalog for Earl Townsend, Jr. Collection of Birdstones, bannerstones, and Flints, at Dan Ripley’s Antique Helper in Indianapolis, just crossed my desk. I’d heard about this sale earlier, but the images on the Internet didn’t inspire me. The full-color photos of the little stone bird effigies virtually pulsate with life.

The carvings themselves are pristine, making you wonder how they did that. Devoid of intricate detail other than pop eyes on some and flaring tail-like shapes, they are early examples of using less to say more. Science goes dark when it comes to identifying their usage, although it is generally thought birdstones were worn by men, possibly being attached to a plate as hair ornaments. That’s what my cursory research revealed although the experts at Ripley’s don’t even suggest a usage.

This butterfly is he largest banner stone of its type. Called “Sunset Glory,” it was found in 1874 on the Walter Vance farm at Edith in Camden County Missouri. 5 ½” X 3 ¼”. Estimate: $75,000 to $125,000.

For the most part, the underside of birdstones is flat or concave and seems to come in two basic shapes. One shape is a long bar form with a head at one end, and a tail at the other. The other form is like a bust. Many have notches in them.

Birdstones appear to come from Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio, although they tend to run farther east of the Mississippi. Many were collected 150 years ago and are actually documented in a series of books by Wachtel. Others are complete with provenance, exchanges, sales and auctions.

I’m not much of a Natural History guy but now that I’ve seen what birdstones look like, there’s a good chance I’ll keep my eyes to the ground from now on.

For more information about birdstones and their counterpart’s bannerstones and flints, check out Dan Ripley’s Antique Helper. The auction is Saturday, December 3. According to the press release, they’re expecting quite a crowd. If you want in, it’s best to register ahead of time.

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