A Mi’kmaq Quilled Lidded Box, Ca. 1867

By: Palmer Jarvis

Lot 116 – Unidentified Mi’kmaq Artist, QUILLED LIDDED BOX, CA. 1867, porcupine quills, dyes, wood, birch bark, spruce root
inscribed internally in pen and ink “Oct, 19th 1867 / Sept 1887.” 4.5 x 8.5 x 6.75 in — 11.4 x 21.6 x 17.1 cm. Estimate $2,500-$3,500

From the time of the earliest written accounts of the Mi’kmaq, their exceptional quillwork was noted. (1) Made from perishable organic material, the earliest known Mi’kmaq use of quillwork is unknown, but by the turn of the 19th century it was a well-developed artform.

The box is inscribed on the inside of the lid in pen and ink with two dates, 1867 and 1887. It is probable that it is the first date which most closely coincides with the box’s date of manufacture, a fact testified to both by the exceptional fineness and uniformity of the quillwork typical of the earlier date, but also by the use of vivid dye. Strong black and brilliant blue colouration present in some of the quills is typical of dyes in use between 1860-1865. (2)

Motifs embellishing the box include a chevron design said to reference the fir-tree, a symbol of “venerable age and strength;” also present is a drawn apart X design, the so called V-insertion pattern which was documented in W.D. Wallis 1955 publication The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada as possibly being associated with a Cape Breton Mi’kmaq band. (3)


Held online from May 24-29, 2024, Waddington’s is pleased to present our major spring auction of exceptional Inuit & First Nations Art. Important artworks this season include works of sculpture and graphics by Karoo Ashevak, Jessie Oonark, Kiakshuk, John Pangnark, Pauta Saila, Aisa Qupirualu Alasua, Parr, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kiugak Ashoona, Joe Talirunili, John Kavik, Kenojuak Ashevak, Johnny Inukpuk, Thomas Ugjuk, Ennutsiak, Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, Beau Dick, Charlie James, David Ruben Piqtoukun, Abraham Apakark Anghik, Manasie Akpaliapik, Judas Ullulaq, Barnabus Arnasungaaq, and John Tiktak.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

Thursday, May 23 from 10 am to 5 pm
Friday, May 24 from 10 am to 5 pm
Saturday, May 25 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Sunday, May 26 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Monday, May 27 from 10 am to 5 pm
Tuesday, May 28 from 10 am to 5 pm
Or by appointment.

Please contact us for more information

(1) Ruth Holmes Whitehead, Micmac Quillwork: Micmac Indian Techniques of Porcupine Quill Decoration: 1600-1950 (Halifax: The Nova Scotia Museum, 1982), 5.
(2) Whitehead, Micmac Quillwork, unpaged section, pl. 18.
(3) Ibid, 146, 147.

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