COLLECTING
SEMINOLE
CLOTHING


By: John Bauer

In thirty years of buying and selling antiques I have collected a variety of specialty fields. During the early 1980's I bought the contents of a house which included a collection of Native American artifacts. The items were so beautiful and constructed so intricately that my curiosity lead to research.

 

I discovered the items were from the 19th century and from different tribes and areas of north America which opened a whole new world of collecting of me. There are so many areas in this field that it takes a lifetime of reading and understanding. In this article I will explore primarily the south eastern categories of native American objects. ( do's and don'ts )  


1930-1940 Seminole Dress
Photo Credit: Deborah Green

 

If you want to collect, buy these objects because you like them and not with the idea that they are an investment. Get passionate about them, read, go to museums, auctions and talk with knowledgeable dealers. Focus on one or two types of material and understand what you are buying and the fair market price. Learn the difference between good, better and best. This will take a keen eye, as most Native American objects are one of a kind. Beware of look a likes, fakes and objects with serious damage or restoration.

 

South eastern tribes generally include Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Mikasuki and Seminole. There were many other tribes, but as early as the 1600's these cultures, thousands of years old, suffered disease, disruption and eventually destruction. By the 19th and early 20th centuries a long period of both loss of regional habitat and cultural influence had begun.


1950 Man's Jacket

Photo Credit: Deborah Green

 

During these times, introduction of glass beads and trade cloth were now incorporated into traditional hide and natural fiber clothing.

 

Most South eastern Native American collectables from the historic period include clothing, both hide and trade cloth adorned with European glass beads. Many of these items especially from the pre 1870 period are extremely rare and can run into tens of thousands of dollars. Many have not survived due to improper storage or they were just thrown out or discarded.


1940 Mens Jacket
Photo Credit: Deborah Green

 

Other south eastern collectables include grass and cane basketry. The most rare is the Chitmacha, less than one hundred members of this tribe survived into the 1930's.

 

This tribe made very fine three color cane baskets that were actually a basket woven into another basket.

 

These great cane baskets in the market today are highly prized and can bring several hundred to many thousands of dollars. The Cherokee and Choctaw also made wonderful cane basketry and older larger baskets will bring several hundred dollars. Cane baskets were made by all cultures including Africans and Asians. As a novice you need to buy some books to learn

the differences.


1920 Seminole Man's Long Shirt
Photo Credit: Deborah Green

 

I am including some photos of Seminole men's' shirts from the 1920's through the 1950's. These have become increasingly hard to find. They are primarily cotton trade cloth and were treadle sewing machine sewn. Trade cloth shirts evolved in the 18th century,  through trade. The brightly colored Seminole patchwork shirt really did not appear until the 1890's.

 

Shirts or long shirts as they are called, are very rare and have minimal quilted design. They were mostly calico or early printed cloth. The next phase, known as men's big shirts from 1910 to 1920's stripes, blocks, and zig zags were incorporated. By the 1930's more design elements were incorporated and the length was shortened as more and more men were wearing trousers. By the 1940's the big shirt has evolved into a jacket with even more complicated patchwork design elements. Moving into the 1950's and 60's we see more use of thin striped and ric rac design. Collars also appear. Today the Seminoles still make these brightly colored designs, although the colors are not as muted and the cloth is no longer cotton. Dresses were also made during the same periods. They follow the same design evolution.


Detail Patch Work
Photo Credit: Deborah Green

 

Although these pieces are becoming scarce, especially patchwork from the 1900-1930's period, they are still around. Prices for a long shirt can range from a few hundreds to several thousand dollars. Later pieces from the 40's to the 60's can still be purchased very reasonably. They are wonderful to the eye and think of all that quilting. So get out there, get educated, and

get hunting.

 


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