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Hat ornament

Hat ornament

Place: Alaska
Category: Jewellery & adornment

bone, Unalaska, northern Pacific, l. 2.4 cm, w. 1.5 cm, Inv. Am 710

Humphrey No. 96: ‘a small piece of rude Sculpture, made of the bone of some Marine animal in imitation of a couching human figure, and used as a button to their hats by the Natives of Unalaschka in Beering Straits.’

A male figure in a seated posture has been carved out of a small piece of bone, with the arms folded over the knees, the eye-sockets large and deep, and the mouth slightly open. The flattened back has a round hole.

Humphrey’s assertion that the piece was used as a decoration for Aleut hats on Unalaska is confirmed by Webber’s representation of an Aleut. This illustration depicts such a figure fastened to the rear edge of his visor (evidence for conical hats of the Aleut in a stricter sense exists only for later times). The hole in the back of the figure serves the fastening of the figure with a string (Joppien/Smith 1985-88, lll/2: 518f., 3.286-87A; cf. Cook and King 1784, 11: 509). The visor depicted by Webber is very similar to an example from the third voyage in the British Museum (King 1981: 46-49, PI. 11-12). Also very similar are two analogous figures from the Göttingen collection of Baron von Asch (Am 788, Am 789), which can similarly be attributed to the Aleut. The whereabouts of a like piece from the third voyage, sketched by Sarah Stone in the Leverian Museum (Force and Force 1968: 156), is unknown.

The ‘hollow cube’ construction of the figure is in fact characteristic of the male figures of the eastern Aleut (cf. Black 1982: 110f., Fig. 63f.; PI. 40, D; PI. 12). Christian F. Feest


Black, Lydia T, Aleut Art, Anchorage, 1982.

Cook, James and King, James, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Strahan, London, 1784.

Force, Roland and Force, Maryanne, Art and Artifacts of the Eighteenth Century, Honolulu, 1968.

Joppien, Rudiger and Smith, Bernard, The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, 3 vols in 4 parts, New Haven and London, 1985-1988.

King, JCH, Artificial Curiosities from the Northwest Coast of North America, London, 1981.

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