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'Copper' made of sheet copper joined by copper rivets, with section missing from the top left corner. [MJD 17/08/2009]

Display History

From 1996, on permanent display at the PRM in 'Rank, Status and Prestige on the Northwest Coast Of America'. [?; JC 4 11 2006]

Longer Description

'Copper' made of sheet copper from a ship's boiler, joined by copper rivets. T-shaped ridge rising from the bottom to the centre of the copper. Regarded as valuable property by all coastal tribes. A section has been removed from the top left corner. Such 'breaking' of a copper was the ultimate act in which to reaffirm rank and status. [?LMM 1990 8]

Primary Documentation

Accession Book Entry - 'MRS H. G. BEASLEY, WHITE BARN, SUNNINGDALE, BERKS. Specimens from the Cranmore Museum, distributed at the wish of her late husband Harry G. Beasley... N. AMERICAN INDIAN, QUEEN CHARLOTTE IDS, N.W. COAST, HAIDA. "Copper", regarded as valuable property by them and all coastal tribes. Made of sheet copper from a ship's boiler and joined by copper rivets. Length 2' 7" (24.1.1934).'
Additional Accession Book Entry - 'Cleaned and fastened to a board by I. M. Allen.
Added Accession Book Entry - Beasley cat. "Undecorated but a very old piece which has been broken and repaired. Obtd. by Mr George Heye in 1899 from a visiting Haida chief".'

Card Catalogue Entry - Adds that the copper was fastened to a board because it was thin in places. [CW 11 6 98]

Pre-PRM label [Original plastic label attached to the board in which the copper was mounted] - 'BEASLEY COLLECTION America, N.W. Coast HAIDA. 24-1-1934. d.d. Mrs H. G. Beasley. [The date inscribed on this label probably refers to the date in which Beasley acquired the copper from George Heye.] [MJD 17/08/2009]

Related Documents File - The Haida Project Related Documents File contains video of research sessions and interviews with Haida delegates from September 2009 as part of the project ‘Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge'. It also includes post-visit communications that discuss object provenance. For extensive photographic, video, and textual records documenting the Haida research visit as a whole, including but not limited to preparations of objects for handling, travel logistics, British Museum participation, transcribed notes from research sessions and associated public events held at PRM, see the Haida Project Digital Archive, stored with the Accessions Registers. Original hand-written notes taken during research sessions have been accessioned into the Manuscripts collection, in addition to select other materials. [CAK 02/06/2010]

Research Notes

The following information comes from Haida delegates who worked with the museum's collection in September 2009 as part of the project “Haida Material Culture in British Museums: Generating New Forms of Knowledge”:
This copper was viewed with another copper on Thursday Sept 10, 2009. Jaalen Edenshaw thought this copper looked Haida. Kwiaahwah Jones reported seeing a similar copper at another museum and noted that Parks Canada have one in their collection. She thought this resembled some of the Kwakiutl copper she has seen, though delegates also added that even if originally made by Kwakiutl, it could have been acquired by Haida. Christian White identified the nails as boat nails. Jaalen Edenshaw explained that when pieces are cut away from a copper, what remains is more valuable. He added that a copper takes on its owner's reputation in that it is associated with a chief's successes and deficiencies. Moreover, if a chief behaves improperly, he can devalue a copper.
Delegates commented that the copper used for an object this size would be looted from a trading ship. It was suspected the raw materials of this copper were salvaged and then riveted together by Haidas. This copper was described as being quite thin. Gwaai Edenshaw examined the rivets and striations and thought it looked filed, but still thought it was made by being hammered and chiselled, and specifically that is was chiselled with a well-used tool, perhaps one with some chips in it.
In terms of the cutting of coppers, one delegate related stories that tell of coppers being cut up and the pieces thrown into the water from a canoe; a diver would then retrieve the pieces, or as in one story, the pieces were actually tied using ropes to the canoes and therefore it appeared the chief was destroying a lot of wealth, when really he was being sneaky/clever and throwing the same pieces over and over again. The destruction or distribution of pieces of a copper was the show the wealth of the owner. Sections removed from a copper were often removed from the bottom of the T-shaped ridge. Delegates commented that for Haidas, wealth, rank and status are indicated through the distribution rather than the accumulation of wealth.
Nika Collison suggested using an archival photograph of a copper missing a part in the museum's display.
There is a theory that the shape of coppers originates in the shells of sea turtles, however, another delegate indicated that this theory is not widely subscribed to by Haida chiefs. There is also a link between the sea turtle theory and the washing up of shipwrecks from the Japanese current on Haida Gwaii.
Nika Collison noted that coppers were a new form of material wealth valued because of their rarity.
See also the notes for 1951.2.18. [CAK 20/05/2010]

Information from Dr Laura Peers, February 2000: 'This shield-like object (1954.8.2) is from the Haida people in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) on the Northwest Coast peoples of North America, who call it a "copper". They are usually painted with a crest or ancestral being, and are named; unfortunately, we don't know this one's name. Coppers symbolized the wealth, strength, and power of a family lineage. These families amassed objects to give away to witnesses and guests in "potlatches, " events held to transfer traditional names and their associated hereditary privileges during adoptions, weddings, mortuary feasts, and other occasions. A copper symbolized the cumulative value of wealth given at a family's potlatches: their ability to treat these names and rights with honour by giving away such wealth during a potlatch. In trying to shame a rival family, a leader might actually break a copper or throw it into the sea. This copper has been broken and repaired, possibly during such an event. Coppers were probably first made from native copper deposits. After European contact, tribal artisans began to use copper from a variety of European sources, including reworked kettles, ship's boilers, and other "found" objects. This one is said to have been made from a ship's boiler. The source of the material didn't matter; it was the copper's shape, painted design, identity, and history which were thought to be its important features. After a period of government repression, potlatches are once again being held and coppers used and made along the Northwest Coast.'
This object was viewed and confirmed as Haida by tribal members Vincent Collison, Lucille Bell, and Kwiiawah Jones on 7 September 2007 in preparation for a planned Haida community visit to PRM in 2009 [L Peers, 24/01/2008]

Item History

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