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By Oliver T. Skrivanie

Artifact collecting philosophy is very personal, as you are the only one who must be happy and satisfied with your collection. There is no secret or magical formula for building a great collection of prehistoric artifacts. I employ the following guidelines:

1.  Buy Quality. Buy the artifact, not the circumstances. In essence, the closer the artifact is to its original, perfect condition, the more it will retain value. Quality is better than quantity. However, quality frequently commands a premium.

2. Due Diligence. Always be patient. Avoid the “need, greed, speed” syndrome! The “blind dog in the butcher shop” affliction results in purely emotional purchases. Collecting can seduce—a very dangerous mistress! You can’t own all of them! Look at every millimeter of the artifact—every scratch, nick, bump and scrape. Trace, confirm, and verify provenance—the history of ownership. The marketplace can actually add value to an artifact if, say, Clem Caldwell or Tommy Beutell once owned it. Gather up all published references. Contact the finder, if known. Apply the common magnifying glass. Use the “black lamp” (ultraviolet light) to examine for genuineness and the extent of any alteration or restoration. I have found that porphyry, however, resists and is not susceptible to this light.

Labels, certifications of authenticity, or any form of guarantee are only as good as the source. Does the authenticator also sell artifacts? No simple litmus test exists for authentication of artifacts. I think most collectors have been “stung” from time to time and it has been said that every collection contains at least one fake. Seek out opinions from knowledgeable collectors. I have not obtained a birdstone without getting several opinions from knowledgeable collectors. I never buy from photographs. Networking will help to avoid purchasing reproductions, rechips, restored pieces, and sometimes overpaying for a piece. To avoid overpayment, a friend of mine uses a very effective “resale test” before purchasing a piece—if you had to sell the piece in the short term, could you realize the same price as the current asking price.

To avoid emotional-only decisions, develop examination checklists. I have included my birdstone evaluation checklist as a pattern.

3.  Retain What You Acquire. Sometimes economic circumstances or a “trade up” may require otherwise, but high quality artifacts are irreplaceable and will change the way you see things.

4.  Make the Journey. Journey to the place where the artifact was made or found—Crib Mound, Silver Mound, Cahokia, Flint Ridge quarry, or wherever. This will allow you to renew the connection between the artifact, the earth, and the people who made the artifact, and will affirm why you are privileged to be a collector. Every collector should experience the exhilaration of climbing to the apex of Monk’s Mound at Cahokia.

Thus, subject all purchases to a doubting eye. In the end, prehistoric artifacts are like good friends and frequent visitation is most enjoyable.

Birdstone Evaluation:

1. Provenance Who has owned?

2. Publications

A.  Townsend

B.  Ringeisen catalog

C.  Cassell photo; Bunch photos; Young photos

D.  Prehistoric American

E.   Central States Journal

F.   Ohio Archaeologist

G.   Other

3. Condition       

A. Any restoration/damage

4. Material          

A. Slate

B. Hardstone

C.  Quartz

D.  Other

5. Eyes               

A. Oval

B.  Round

C.  Cylinder

D.  Buttons

E.  Stalks

F.  Other – none

6. Style  

A. Smooth, polish, rough, silhouette, etc.

7. Beak              

A. Length

8. Tail

A.  Fan

B.  Stub

C.  Round

D.  Other

9. Bridges          


10. Perforations

A.  Whole

B.   Broken

C.   None

11. Size 

A.  Length

B.  Width

C.  Height

12. Color             

A.  Phenocrysts

13. Location      

A.  Finder14. Other