Trash or Treasure: Valuable basket Yellowstone souvenir

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

“This basket was given to me by a dear friend when her mother passed away,” Robin Beltramini wrote in an email to the column recently, attaching a photograph of a Native American basket. It “had been in the mother’s collection. The basket is made of natural fibers – the dark may be dyed. It is approximately 6’ tall with an exterior diameter of 7’ at the top and 5.5 at the bottom.

Robin Beltramini, of Troy, poses with an early 20-century Native American basket. 


“My husband and I spent 23 years living in the Southwest and have many Native American items in our home. Therefore my friend believed that this basket that had survived for so long in her family home could find a cherished spot in mine. I would really like to know which tribe this may have come from and the value of the object today.”

She added a little more background detail at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, where appraiser Brian Thomczek examined the piece as part of a recent Trash or Treasure event. She said that, according to family lore, her friend’s mother had been in college from 1910 to 1914. “During a summer between one of those years, she and a good friend went to Yellowstone Park and worked at one of the hotels,” she explained. They think that the basket was purchased sometime in those years.

Thomczek started with the bad news. “There are some condition issues, but that’s not the end of the world.” He identified it as a polychrome basket, adding that similar works were made by Northwest, Southwest and Plains tribes. “It’s a very common technique.”

He said that the basket was used for storage. “It  may have been fore berries,” he added, saying that Yellowstone had representatives of many tribes at the time, including Blackfoot and Shoshone Crow.

“I think it looks more Southwestern,” he told her. “If we knew what tribe it was for sure that would make the appraisal easier.”

He says he did some research on other baskets of a similar type, and that he found other examples of the geometric pattern for sale online. “There were others like this online that were selling between $400 to $600,” he explained, adding that he’d probably start her piece at $375 were he to sell at auction because of the condition.

Thomczek said she shouldn’t worry too much about the condition. “It’s still very nice, and the issues are minor,” he said. “It is something that a college student would have been able to afford then but has appreciated nicely. It’s nice to see that it’s still around and that someone used it.”

“Be still my heart,” Beltramini answered, obviously enthusiastic about the news and the number. “I will probably keep it, it goes with everything else in my house.”

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. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Items: Native American basket

Owned by: Robin Beltramini

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $375 and up