FUR TRADE AXES & TOMAHAWKS

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PAGE 2- SOME ORIGINAL OWNERS
PAGE 3 SPIKE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 4 SPIKE TOMAHAWKS- PART 2
PAGE 5 THE IROQUOIS SPIKE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 6 CELT FORM AXES
PAGE 7 HALBERD TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 8- TRADE AXES
PAGE 9 BISCAYNE TRADE AXES - PART 2
PAGE 10 TRADE AXES - PART 3
PAGE 11 HUDSON'S BAY CO. TRADE AXES - PART 4
PAGE 12 HAMMER POLLED TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 13 BELT AXES
PAGE 14 PIPE TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 15 PIPE TOMAHAWKS - PART 2
PAGE 16 PERIOD TOY TOMAHAWKS
PAGE 17- FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS - PART 1
PAGE 18 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS & MARKS- PART 2
PAGE 19 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS- PART 3
PAGE 20 FAKES, MISTAKES & REPRODUCTIONS- SUMMARY
PAGE 21 HALF AXES
Page 22 HOW OLD IS IT?
PAGE 23 REFERENCES
PAGE 24 LINKS
PAGE 25 ABOUT IRON & STEEL, MISC.
PAGE 26 TRADE AXES AS WEAPONS
PAGE 27 -- PRESERVING YOUR COLLECTION
Page 28 AXES OF THE WORLD
PAGE 29 OTHER TRADE ARTIFACTS
PAGE 30 MORE FAKES-- WILD WEST SHOW, LANCES, WAR CLUBS, KNIVES, ARROWHEADS. AXES ETC.
PAGE 31 DOCUMENTING YOUR FINDS
PAGE 32 CONTACT /AUTHENTICATIONS
PAGE 33 FOR SALE; MY TOMAHAWKS & TRADE ARTIFACTS
PAGE 34 OTHER FUR TRADE ITEMS FOR SALE BY MY FRIENDS

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Welcome graphic

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photo with permission of Splendid Heritage Warnock Collection

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1840'S-1850'S PLAINS PIPE TOMAHAWK
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HAS SOME ATTRIBUTES OF CARLOS GOVE'S

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Always I look at each newly discovered axe, wondering where it had been and what it had done in times when so much was gained & lost in the clash of cultures.  It is those stories that we really collect.   Tomahawks are among the tools of those enthralling slices of history, hopefully imparting the faintest pulse of the past to those of us few who hold them.  In as much as is possible, we are collecting history itself, temporary caretakers for the next generations.
 
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Welcome to the Fur Trade Axes & Tomahawks website.  My name is Mark Miller and I have been collecting tomahawks/trade axes for about 23 years, antique axes for 32 years and currently a professional tomahawk authenticator.   For years, on & off, I have been researching the tomahawk/trade axe markings and their makers.  To date I have recorded about 2,000 names and marks of blacksmiths who made these, most of whom have not been published.  After my Ebay Guide drew so much attention & some friends encouraged me to begin this website,  I've decided to try to teach & encourage others who are thinking of collecting tomahawks and related axes.  Having also collected other antique axes & tools of all types for much of my life also perhaps gives me a unique perspective into various other types of axes that have been confused with the fur trade axes.    I also enjoy collecting other items of fur trade collectables which has helped me distinguish certain features in the tomahawk catagory as well.  (

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 Please bookmark it.

 
There are many, many outright fakes and honest reproductions whom sellers claim to be authentic which were made from the time that originals were to the present day.       Of the Ebay tomahawks being sold as authentic at any one time, a 'misidentification' rate of 99%  or more is not unusual.  Not all of these sellers are dishonest people.  With one antique dealer I asked if he was absolutely sure that his tomahawk was an authentic original period piece from the early 1700's and unhesitantingly he said that yes it sure was!  Then I showed him the website with the identical trade mark of a reproduction maker who had been making those for 35 years.  To his credit he quickly removed the item for sale but these were experienced antique dealers who sold for decades & who were unable to distinguish a 30 year old tomahawk from a 300 year old one.  Its tough sometimes.  There are no classes or educational requirements for antique dealers & it is a daunting challenge for anyone.   Just like their customers, some are more diligent than others when it comes to identifying & dating antiques.  This site is intended to help separate the misinformation from the facts & give collectors a better sense of what to look for. 
 
Much of this information concerning what to look for is not published & collecting tomahawks IS a competative sport so there isn't much incentive to share.  Certainly we don't want to divulge too much to the fakers who want to learn to fake them better!  Too much money has been wasted on junk while authentic ones go unnoticed so I'd like to begin trying to change that.   After reading this website many of you may discover that tomahawks are not nearly as common as you once thought, but when you do find the real thing it will feel truly that much more gratifying.
 
I will be adding text and photos as time permits so check back again from time to time.  I will try not to repeat the information contained in my eBay Guide so please see:Trade Axes & Tomahawks--Authentic or Reproduction?
 
 
In the spirit of Native American culture, I hope collectors will also look beyond their material objects and more into the religious and symbolic meanings of these objects as well.  In European thinking, we can get bogged down in the mundane physical minutiae of these objects & lose sight of the history we craved in the beginning of our collecting hobby.   So much of what we have been taught has been misinformation.  From authors Longfellow, James Fenimore Cooper and George Catlin there was created the fearless and enigmatic 'noble savage' for Eastern readers thirsty for Western adventure to devour. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage  Early descriptions of mindless, marauding, blood thristy, tools of the devil were also portrayed by the media of their day.  The truth is more often in the middle of those extremes, but like any race, both good and bad existed in the context of their cultures & times.  Even in today's media they are portrayed in movies as having supernatural powers and able to mysteriously shape shift into living animals at will.  Some myths die hard & Hollywood doesn't help.  It is well worth discovering who the authentic North American Indian of history actually was ...and is.
 
 
I will be sharing some photos of my collection as well as from other collections.  This site is best viewed with the Firefox Browser.  For now this is a work in progress so check back often.


 

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Originally (early 1600's Jamestown era) the Algonquin term 'tӓmӓh‚k' used by the local Virginia Algonquian Indians, & a  similar name by the Renape, referred to virtually ANY stone cutting implement or wooden war club referring to a head breaker--or at least according to the colonists of the time.   The French and those allied with them called them "casse-tÍtes".  Then when Europeans began trading the iron hatchets the English corrupted version of the term tomahawk grew to apply only to iron axes traded to Indians in Virginia in the 1620's.  This is an oversimplification of the origin and definition however early translations, dialects, nuances and tribes have broadened the definitions to ridiculousness.  We are probably never going to know the precise origins/definitions from each tribe from the earliest point of European contact.  Linguistics did not exist at the time and translators didn't always precisely interpret the meaning correctly of some words.  As time went on the differentiation & also confusion between tomahawks and every other axe/hatchet/war club, etc. expanded, much to the chagrin of researchers.  
 
Today most collectors and museums refer to stone tomahawks as simply 'stone axes' although at the time some early writers claim it was also considered a tomahawk.  What this website will be dealing with will be the metallic axes that were traded with the native Americans as well as trappers, hunters and explorers during the fur trade era of contact.  
 
Besides Native Americans, men such as explorers, trappers, traders, hunters, riflemen and even Revolutionary War & War of 1812 soldiers carried tomahawks. Some used belt axes (smaller trade axes) with just the hatchet blade to carry on their side or back which was used as a weapon & as a tool for sectioning a large animal or making kindling to get a fire going etc.  In the West they used Missouri War axes which were large thin bladed round polled axes which were 7-10" long and often used on horseback.   Axes were traded almost from the first European contact period until the early 20th C.   In the 20th C. they were obviously no longer used in as weapons but as symbolic items used in dances by that time or as tourist souveneirs, although the pipe tomahawks still portrayed great prestige among their owners.

Pipe tomahawks were used by Eastern and Western Native Americans, white frontiersmen, & all were highly valued. They smoked it like a pipe with the handle being hollow & on the other side was a blade. The blade was used for chopping wood, as a weapon, or just symbolic and not used as either.   The smoking of the pipe was a sacred practice having special meaning to Indians & probably the most important part of the pipe tomahawk.  Native Americans believe that the pipe itself has both spiritual powers and actual powers but when the tomahawk was combined with the pipe that meaning took on even greater power to them of both war or peace.   So many photographs were taken of them smoking pipes at treaty signings that whites interpreted them as "peace" pipes.  Really it was a sacred way of initiating a connection with the Creator to the spoken words that took place in a ceremony.  It was central to any great decision & to them the signing of papers meant little compared to this ceremony.
 
Eastern Native Americans were quite adept at throwing tomahawks from an early time and practiced wrestling with them and knives to hone their skills.

Many of the tomahawks were made in Europe such as England, France, Russia & Utrecht, Holland to be imported to North America. Many others were made by blacksmiths that were either independant traders or those hired by the govenment to satisfy treaties and to entice Native Americans to ally themselves to their side. To a lesser extent there were also some Indians who did blacksmithing for themselves, more often the pewter and brass ones although some did it in iron.

 
No website can be a substitute for conscientious research of publications and hands-on study of a wide range of specimens as well as listening to those whom are more experienced.   Hopefully this website will encourage readers to learn more rather than allow this to be the extent of their education on tomahawks.   Frankly we know so little about these objects that much of what we do know has to be drawn from clues here and there from records.  Fur traders were in business so we know far more about their prices than we do about the specific variations of tomahawks & why they were preferred.  With so many reproductions, deliberate fakes  and wannabe experts out there it makes learning much more challenging.  It requires a great sagacity and unbiased, dispassionate judgement based on experience & knowledge of both the originals and the fakes.  
 
Much of a tomahawk's value is centered on it's 'degree of authenticity', as I like to call it--meaning the amount of doubt, or lack of doubt, concerning the identification of a particular tomahawk as an original genuine artifact by all concerned.  When there is no doubt as to a tomahawk's authenticity then there are more bidders willing to pay more money.  Unfortunately there are no unbiased, scientifically accepted tests available to us to unequivicably determine a trade item's origin & age other than experienced opinion which can vary.   Even some "experts" are fake.
 
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The beaver fur trade was about making hats.  Many mistakenly believe these hats were like raccoon hats with furry tails sticking out.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Usually the fur was separated from the hide after the hatter received them and then the individual hairs were aligned by vibrating them with a bow like instrument into a felt like material.  The beaver's hair has natural micro interlocking hook like  fibers that cause them to align & shed water--the primary reason for their usage on hats, besides the style in vogue.  Hatters often used mercury in the felt manufacturing process so were unknowingly poisoning themselves with it's vapor causing chronic neurological issues and mental problems.  Thus the term "Mad As A Hatter".
 
Naturally other types of fur were traded for purposes other than hats but the beaver were the primary unit of trade until silk replaced fur and styles changed.

Modifications of the beaver hat. 18th c.-early19th
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Source is Hudsons Bay Company Archives

1858 HAT MAKING INDUSTRY
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Here is a nicely cast & polished reproduction of a Missouri War Axe made in India with pierced cut outs (sometimes just referred to as piercings) which has been and is available on the internet and re-enactor catalogs.  Most fakes are reproductions tweaked with rust, stain, dye and dirt. 

BEFORE
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reproduction

....below here is what it looks like after it has been artificially aged with a handle that has been doctored with tar or black paint.  Notice the exact same fluted grooves, 8 pointed stars, dotted outlines, shape, decorative notch, dimensions, etc as the previous one.  The blackening of the handle near the eye (see arrow) was meant to simulate the natural leaching of iron to bare wood contact over many years exposed to the weather.  Notice the artificial leaching appears blotchy like it was applied here and there, and appears more like a surface coating rather than ferric oxide leaching out and soaking into the wood fibers.  Look for signs of hand forging (lapping over of iron inside eye) or if it was drop forged or cast.  Complete originals have been sold for up to $44,000 and far better fakes than this are out there.  See pages 17-20, & 30 for more characteristics to watch out for and also my Ebay Guide.

AFTER
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STILL A REPRODUCTION --FAKE 'PATINA' ADDED

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This particular authentic pipe tomahawk is probably the most often photographed.   It has many gold and silver inlays, multi-faceted bowl, ornately engraved on blade & inlays, and an ivory stem marked on the handle P.C. Angstadt--  Peter C. Angstadt II, a Pennsylvania rifle maker in Berks County, PA.  It is believed to have been made about 1800 when he was at the peak of his craft.  Angstadt lived from 1765-1815 although the faceted bowl style is thought to date to at least the late 18th C.  The engraved 'F. Hoff' was the person it was presented to.  Pennsylvania/Kentucky rifle gunsmiths were already adroit at engraving, woodcarving, silversmithing, and forging so more than a few of them were employed to make these fancy pipe tomahawks as presentation pieces to Indian Chiefs.  Even the curly maple haft matches their rifles.

Peter C. Angstadt Presentation Pipe Tomahawk
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This beautiful spike tomahawk below was recently found by metal detector by Kevin Hughy of St. Ignace MI. near the old Fort Du Buade of the 1600's era.  An identical example  measuring 10.5" was found in the Winnepeg River in 1966 & can be seen on page 83 of "Voices From The Rapids; An Underwater Search for Fur Trade Artifacts 1960-63" by Robert C. Wheeler et al.  Probably French made.  To my fellow metal detector hunters & collectors, please tag your items with location of find, date found and whatever else you know about the location.  Documentation makes it not only  more valuable but it may help us date them or tell what tribe used them, and when, etc.

Spike Tomahawk recently dug at St. Ignace, MI
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PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEVIN HUGHEY

View #2
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This pipe tomahawk is of the style of the American frontier smith J. Wilson with rocker engraving of leaves and flowers typical of his work with brass inlay.  Circa 1850, collected from the Omaha Indians 1860.  Notice it has been in a preserved collection for 150 years so oxidation is minimal.  The head measures 8.5" long and is 23" overall in lenth.  Similarly marked pipe tomahawks by this maker can be seen in  American Indian Tomahawks, by Harold Peterson,1971, item 188, p. 118 and item 198, p. 120 and  Tomahawks and Pipe Axes of the American Frontier by John Baldwin, 1995 pg 103.

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Whitman Pipe Tomahawk
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This pipe tomahawk above was said to have been used in the Whitman 'Massacre' in 1847 (although there is some dispute in that provenance).   In 2005 the tomahawk was stolen from the Whitman Mission Museum near Wala Wala, Washington.    In 2006 it was returned by mail anonomously with a note asking for forgiveness.   The FBI is still investigating the theft. 

On November 29, 1847 14 white settlers & missionaries were killed by the Cayuse.  Nobody seemed to know the exact reason for the attack at the time ...but then they never asked the Cayuse.  There is another side to this story seldom told.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE...

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The next 2 images are of a very lightweight spike tomahawk that came from an Albany, Ny estate & also was unmarked & undocumented.  It weighs a mere 7.6 ounces total, measures 10.5" in overall length, the head measures 6" x 2" overall.  It has an eliptical eye & small square nails in the handle top.  The hole at the bottom was probably for a leather thong that would wrap around the wrist so as not to lose it's grasp unless thrown.  No fancy engravings, no filed notches, nor intricate inlays of silver--these weren't just a symbol of war-- they were the tools of war.

Spike Tomahawk
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View # 2 Spike Tomahawk
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This spike tomahawk head was clearly a dug specimen that was a bit over zealously cleaned on part of the blade with a grinder many years ago which created the smooth surface, but now that has patina over it as well.   It could be a case of a farmer discovering it and then re-sharpening it for work again.
It is always better not to alter them and leave it as you found them.  If you feel you need to preserve it, a light coating of oil (Boeshield T-9 is my favorite) or a high quality wax such as Rennisance wax.   Whatever you use its only job is to create a temporary barrier between the metal and the moisture from the air so be sure it is thoroughly dry first or you will be sealing IN the moisture.   Museums refer to their protective coatings as "reversable", meaning it can be easily removed without damaging the artifact.  Keep them stored in low humidity whenever possible.  I recommend doing nothing to the wood -- leave it be.
 
The head on this one measures 9.25" x 2.125" and weighs 12.2 oz. without the haft.  The haft was recently added from an old chair rail, but makes a great looking replacement.  Just because the handle is old, doesn't mean it came with the tomahawk either.

18th C. spike tomahawk
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replacement handle from old chair rail

top view spike tomahawk
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C. early 1800's PIPE TOMAHAWK-Acorn Bowl
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Photo courtesy of J. Ilko Jr.


The following pipe tomahawk was presented to Tecumseh by the British.  On the reverse is the classic bird with the "B   E" on either side of it with sun moon & stars on the reverse side. 

Tecumseh's 1812 Pipe Tomahawk
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Photo courtesy of NMAI Infinity Of Nations Exhibit

 
    
 
 
 
    "We Sioux spend a lot of time thinking about everyday things which in our minds are mixed up with the spiritual. We see in the world around us many symbols that teach us the meaning of life. We have a saying that the white man sees so little, he must see with only one eye. We see a lot that you no longer notice. You could notice if you wanted to, but you are usually too busy. We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual and commonplace are one...We try to understand them not with the head but with the heart"
- John Fire Lame Deer
Mineconju-Lakota Sioux Holy Man
1903-1976
 
 
(c) Copyright Mark Miller 2009-2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED--REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED WITHOUT PRIOR CONSENT