Item Records

This page shows all the information we have about this item. Both the institution that physically holds this item, and RRN members have contributed the knowledge on this page. You’re looking at the item record provided by the holding institution. If you scroll further down the page, you’ll see the information from RRN members, and can share your own knowledge too.

The RRN processes the information it receives from each institution to make it more readable and easier to search. If you’re doing in-depth research on this item, be sure to take a look at the Data Source tab to see the information exactly as it was provided by the institution.

These records are easy to share because each has a unique web address. You can copy and paste the location from your browser’s address bar into an email, word document, or chat message to share this item with others.

  • Data
  • Data Source

This information was automatically generated from data provided by Pitt Rivers Museum. It has been standardized to aid in finding and grouping information within the RRN. Accuracy and meaning should be verified from the Data Source tab.


Horn spoon, S-shaped, dark brown with a greenish hue; handle carved with crest designs. [EC 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 9/3/2006]

Display History

This object formed part of a loan to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, for the exhibition 'The Spirit Sings' in 1987/88. [HR 05/01/2010]

Longer Description

Horn spoon, S-shaped, dark brown with a greenish hue; handle carved with crest designs. The spoon is made from two piece of mountain goat horn. One piece forms the bowl, which is smooth and shows the grain of the horn. There is a slight upward turn to one side of the bowl, creating a slightly irregular shape to the bowl. At its widest, the bowl measures 65 mm, at its tip it measures 8 mm and where it joins the handle it measures 24 mm. The handle is carved, curved, tapers toward the end and fits over the bowl. The two pieces are held together by two nails. According to a description on the spoon, the figures carved on the handle represent (from bottom to top) a thunderbird (the face with pointed nose/beak; its identity as a thunderbird is supported by the whale tail found under and on both sides of this face), a bear with a wolf on top and between its ears, and a bird whose Haida name is Skáteñga. Haida identifications suggest the thunderbird may be a hawk, that the creature between the bear's ears is a bear cub, and that the bird at the top may be an oyster catcher. The tip of the handle measures 4 mm. [CAK 06/04/2009]

Research Notes

This object was shown at a meeting of the Oxford University Anthropology Society on 14.6.1917 when Balfour showed a series of objects [AP 27/02/2006]

In contrast to Marius Barbeau's letter stating that the Haida did not make horn spoons, the following accounts indicate Haidas have been using and making horn spoons for a significant amount of time. George MacDonald discusses Haida horn spoons in his book Haida Art (1996, Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto; Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull). On page 37, he notes the presence of horn spoons in archaeological excavations of midden sites dating to 3000 BP and 4000 BP at Musqueam and Prince Rupert on the southern and northern mainland of British Columbia respectively. Although no spoons have been found in prehistoric Haida sites, MacDonald (page 37) proposes “it is likely that they [Haidas] acquired such spoons very early from mainland groups as part of the intertribal potlatch system.” He continues, “Individual horn spoons were the most elaborately decorated items at a feast. The bowl of the spoon was made from cream-coloured mountain sheep horn, steamed and bent in a mould. The curved handles were made from black mountain goat horn that provided a field for artistic display second only to that of totem poles.” Illustrated on pages 38-9 are three Haida horn spoons that depict the family crests found on the owner's house poles. Three additional spoons are illustrated on pages 40-1. Additional examples of Haida horn spoons are discussed and illustrated in Robin Wright's Northern Haida Master Carvers (2001, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle) on pages 24, 59; pages 49, 147 and 160 of The Legacy by Peter Macnair, Alan Hoover and Kevin Neary (1984, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle); and on page 86 of the catalogue Raven Travelling: Two centuries of Haida Art (2006, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver; Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto; University of Washington Press, Seattle). [Cara Krmpotich 27/03/2009]

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 spoon was viewed alongside other horn and wood spoons on Wednesday Sept 9, 2009. Delegates identified this spoon as Haida. Gwaai Edenshaw, Jaalen Edenshaw and Nika Collison noted in particular the following features of the spoon as being distinctively Haida: the shape of the eyes and eyebrows, the body to head ratio of the figures, and the overall 'tension' of the piece (i.e. how the carver balanced the creatures across the curvature of the spoon.) In terms of the body to head ratio, Christian White clarified that Haida figures are 50 per cent body and 50 per cent head, whereas Tsimshian carvings, for example, are 60 per cent body and 40 percent head.
Delegates picked up on the wolf crest figure on the spoon and noted that this was an indication the spoon came from southern Haida Gwaii. The iconography was described as a bear with his enemy (possibly a hawk); a bear cub; an oyster catcher, raven or other bird; another figure with a human body and long ears at the top, possibly wearing a wolf mask or simply as a plume atop the bird. At the base of the handle may be feathers over a whale tail. The bird at the top is described on the back of the spoon as having "black feathers, red beak, white feet". At first, delegates identified this bird as an oyster catcher In Skidegate, the word for oyster catcher was given as sk-antenga, and in Massett as sgadang. Gaahlaay (Lonnie Young) was not convinced this bird was actually an oyster catcher because of the description provided on the back of the spoon: oyster catchers have orange feet, not white feet.
Jaalen Edenshaw believes he has seen more of this artist's work in a spoon at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. The nose on the bear in particular was familiar. Another delegate thought there were similarities between the carving style of this spoon and spoon 1884.5.13.
In response to horn spoons more generally, delegates made a number of comments on their construction, use and related information. It was noted that when the bowl of the spoon and handle sections are joined, each part is often made from different types of horn. The bowl of the spoon tends to be made from mountain sheep horn and the handle from mountain goat horn. The greenish hue on some of the horn spoons received interest. It was proposed that the discolouration of the darker mountain goat horn to a green hue could be the result of UV damage. The copper used to repair or join parts of spoons also received a lot of interest. Haidas noted that copper is a sign of wealth and thus would be used on spoons of wealth. Replacement rivets were identified as being made of a copper alloy such as brass, and signs of copper corrosion were identified. The irregular shape of a number of the bowls of spoons was likely a factor of being placed in too hot of a soup. The scoop can lose its shape if overheated. At the same time, the scoop can be re-formed using the same techniques as when it was first made. Goat horn spoons were traded between nations in the Pacific northwest. And European traders first arriving in the region observed blankets woven from mountain goat fur. [CAK 18/03/2010]

Primary Documentation

Accession Book Entry - COLLECTION of the late Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, D.C.L., F.R.S. Presented by LADY TYLOR, 1917. - [1 of] 5 horn spoons [1917.53.282 - .286] with elaborately carved handles, totemic designs, HAIDA, N.W. AMERICA. TSIMSYAN or TLINGIT.
Additional Accession Book Entry - See extract from letter of Marius Barbeau in back pocket [now in RDF]
Additional Accession Book Entry - 1917.53.283-286. Nos. given. LMC. L = 270-290 mm. Handles riveted on.

Written on object - [in red ink:] A. [in black ink:] Raven gens. Top - Skáteñga, bird with black feathers, red beak, white feet. 2 - Wolf. 3 - Bear. 4 - Thunder-bird. HAIDA E.B. Tylor. coll. d.d. Lady Taylor, 1917. [in white ink:] 1917.53.286 [EC 'DCF 2004-2006 What's Upstairs?' 9/3/2006]

Related Documents File - Extract of a letter in RDF reads "Extract from letter to Sir Francis Knowles from Marius Barbeau. Ottawa, June 1, 1943.
In connection with your horn spoon, I can only say that these were made by the Tsimsyan - the Naskae of the Nass River, and the Tlingit; never the Haida. As the carvers made these spoons for the trade among themselves, and the strangers, they did not usually adhere to the crest symbol. The figures, however, are derived from their totems and familiar symbols. The bird above is either the thunderbird or the eagle, which were the crest of the Eagle phratry. The figure below is the grizzly bear, biting a frog. As the bear and the eagle are not closely related as crests, it is clear that the artist simply resorted to familiar figures without meaning them to be symbols of any one in particular."

Related Documents File - Description of spoon symbols in RDF - "Spoons:
A. Top. 1. Skáteñga. Bird with black feathers, red beak, white feet. 2. Wolf. 3. Bear. 4. Thunderbird, wings turned up at both sides of face. Raven gens [?sic].
B. Top. 1. Mountain goat. 2. Cormorant. 3. Wolf. 4. Bear devouring man. Raven gens.
C. Top. 1. Man with chiefs hat. 2. Crane, wings folded under beak, feet over head, tail folded up towards head and curving from head. 3. Bear eating man..."
[Although all five spoons have been numbered there are no individual descriptions given (except for .283-284 = D & E) so it is impossible to assign the above descriptions to a specific accession number.] [CF 24/4/2001]

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]

Item History

With an account, you can ask other users a question about this item. Request an Account

With an account, you can submit information about this item and have it visible to all users and institutions on the RRN. Request an Account

Similar Items