Treasure: Native American pottery pieces are ancient

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Regular viewers of Antiques Roadshow recognize Native American pottery as an item that often brings large estimates. Despite this, it’s not a frequent item sent to the column, so we were more than a little curious when Brian Hellis sent in some pieces he had bought a quarter-century ago asking for an appraisal. Hellis, a retired Ford employee, told expert Bob DuMouchelle that he used to travel to Arizona for vehicle testing in the late 1960s and while there, became interested in artifacts, a fact that later caused a newspaper ad to catch his eye while living in Royal Oak.

“In 1980, I answered an ad in the newspaper and consequently bought these three pieces of pottery,” he wrote in an email. “Each piece was wrapped in newspaper and they had been stored in a cardboard box for quite a long time. ... I paid her $200 for the three pieces.”

He offered more details about each of the pieces. “The Anasazi bowl is 9.5” diameter and 5.0” high. It is in perfect condition (no cracks or repairs) but it does have a couple of minor chips on the rim,” he said. “The dipper (ladle) is 11.5” long and the bowl is approx. 5.0” diameter. There is a pebble or something inside the handle — it rattles when the piece is shaken. When I got it there was a piece missing from the bowl; I sent it to a restoration expert in Arizona and he repaired it. ... The red bowl (Four Mile, Arizona?) is 9.0” diameter and 4.5” high. When I obtained it it had been very poorly restored. I sent it to the same person in Arizona, who I understand took it apart and reassembled it again.”

DuMouchelle took a closer look at Hellis’ items during a recent appraisal held downtown at his family’s auction house and art gallery. He said that the auction house had some history with similar items, many of which they had sold through their long years in business.

DuMouchelle identified two of the pieces as Zuni, considered a direct descendent of the earlier Anasazi.

He also told Hellis that there had obviously been a number of repairs during the years, but that they were not surprising due to the age of the pieces. “These are considered ancient,” he told Hellis. “Years, ago, people used to travel to these areas and just dig them up but no more.”

He said that the white piece was probably Anasazi, and that white wares can be older than the red or orange pieces. Hellis told him that his research showed that Anasazi disappeared about 1,200 A.D.

DuMouchelle said that the newer red ware, even in repaired condition, would bring somewhere between $200 and $800 and that further research could determine its ultimate value. “A university or museum study often boosts the value of items like this as new things are discovered,” DuMouchelle told Hellis.

He estimated the ladle’s value at $300-$400. The white “Cliff Dwellings” piece would bring between $1,000 and $2,000, he told Hellis. “I’m not a specialist, but I really like the drama in this piece. Swirls and dramatic patterns bring the most at auction. These are seldom found unbroken. All in all, these are really wonderful and you did very well.”

Hellis was happy to find out more, but ultimately decided to keep them. “When you consider how old they are, and they were used centuries before the U.S. existed, it’s pretty amazing.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About This Item

Item : Native American pottery

Owner : Brian Hellis

Appraised by : Bob DuMouchelle

Estimated value : $200-$2,000 each