Collectors and sellers were both winners at two recent Bonhams auctions.

A fully beaded Lakota dress worn by Jenny Yellow Elk Woman, the wife of John Y. Nelson, scout and performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, sold for $214,575.


Creations by American Indians, past and present, figured greatly in two Bonhams auctions this past fall. On August 31, Bonhams had its Modern Native American Art sale with works by Fritz Scholder and other contemporary American Indian artists. Then on October 26 and 27, the company sold over 500 artifacts from the Robinson collection.

For collectors of American Indian artifacts, the sale of the Robinson collection was the most significant of the two auctions.  Roy H. Robinson traveled from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest during the 1920s and 1930s, compiling a collection that reflected American Indian artistry and craftsmanship. He was a connoisseur, and his practiced eye can be seen in the selections he made during that time. 

Indian sketchbooks rarely come up at auction and the prices realized on four books at the Robinson sale reflected that. Created by Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners at Fort Marion in the 1870s, the sketchbooks are important for their historical significance, their provenance and their artistic quality. The top seller at the auction had colorful drawings of life before and during imprisonment at the fort. It sold for $353,175. The three other sketchbooks sold for $138,375, $138,575 and $277,575. 


Illustrating an American Indian man wearing a beaded buckskin jacket and peace medal, Dartmouth Portrait #8, created in Fritz Scholder’s characteristic style, sold for $378,375 at the Modern Native American Art auction.


Other artifacts in the collection ranged from clothing, blankets and everyday artifacts to weapons and jewelry. Like the sketchbooks, items reflecting an artistic hand sold for higher prices. Collector’s notes from Robinson, establishing strong provenance, also added to the value of many of the artifacts. A fully beaded woman’s dress, worn by the Lakota wife of John Y. Nelson, a scout and Buffalo Bill’s friend, was expected to bring up to $120,000 but brought $214,575. A Crow shield, estimated to bring up to $12,000, brought $44,475. An early Navajo child’s serape sold for $176,776, nearly triple its estimated value, and a silver Navajo concha belt, at $28,050, sold for five times its estimate. 

Bonhams’ Modern Native American Art auction featured several Fritz Scholder pieces, including Dartmouth Portrait #8, executed while he was artist-in-residence there in 1973. It sold for $378,375. The auction also included jewelry, pots and paintings by other contemporary American Indian artists like Kevin Red Star.

The high prices of many of the materials sold at the two auctions, particularly those in the Robinson collection, not only reflect a growing demand, but set standards that will apply to future sales of American Indian art and artifacts.


Upcoming Auctions

March 15, 2023

Arms & Accessories Day Firearms Auction #2071

Rock Island Auctions (Rock Island, IL) • 800-238-8022

March 15-18, 2023

Collectible Firearms & Militaria

Morphy Auctions (Denver, PA) • 877-968-8880

April 8-9, 2023

Western Fine Art Auction

Scottsdale Art Auction (Scottsdale, AZ) • 480-945-0225


All Images Courtesy Bonhams.

This Crow shield, with its unique stylized bird decoration, is attributed to Crow warrior Hunts the Enemy and brought $44,475.


An 1876 sketchbook in the Robinson collection, made by Cheyenne prisoner Bear’s Heart and documented in Karen Daniels Peterson’s Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion, sold for $353,175. Here are two out of 22 pages in the sketchbook.


Created during the reservation period in the latter 1800s, this fully beaded Comanche cradle in the Robinson collection sold for $94,875.


A Navajo child’s serape from the Classic Period (1800-65), which was estimated to bring $60,000, hammered down at $176,775.


A first phase Navajo silver concha belt (1860-80) with extensive collector’s notes was expected to sell in a range from $3,000 to $5,000. It sold for $28,050.


Kevin Red Star’s Tea Party, painted in 1986 and contrasting contemporary and traditional tribal culture, sold for $5,355 at the Modern Native American Art auction.


A coat worn by Lakota leader Chief Red Cloud when he sat for a portrait by Elbridge Ayer Burbank sold for $31,875. The painting is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

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