Kongo nail power figure among highlights at Skinner

A Kongo carved wood nail power figure is to lead an auction of Native American and ethnographic items at Skinner in Boston.

The lot, valued at $40,000-60,000, was made in the Congo during the latter half of the 19th century.

Kongo nail figure
The Kongo nail figure dates to the late 19th century

Such figures were designed to house spirits beneficial to their village of origin. They were often used as arbitrators of criminal justice. A nail would be hammered in to awaken the spirit, who would be called upon to kill the accused if they lied.  

Additionally, the nails served as a form of contract and were used to seal trade deals, peace treaties and the like (acting as a form of signature). In this way, the figures represent a fascinating physical history of their village.

This specimen used to belong to Milton S Fox, former editor at publishing house Abrams.

A pair of pendants belonging to the Great Plains chiefs Red Cloud and Spotted Tail are valued at $20,000-30,000.

Both were formerly in the collection of William Starring, a US military officer who is thought to have acquired them while stationed at Fort Laramie, Wyoming during the 1860s.

They are made from an alloy known as German silver and bear the insignia of their respective chiefs.   

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