Navajo blanket expert Dr. Mark Sublette of Medicine Man Gallery discusses the fine points of what makes a Navajo Chiefs blanket.
Native American Indian Blankets How to identify a Navajo Chiefs Blanket
Today is a subject that I hear every time – it's like weekly somebody asks me about this: “What's a Chiefs blanket?” or “Do you have a Chiefs blanket?” or “I want to buy a Chiefs blanket.” Well, first of all, let's just get some terms. Right off the bat, the Chiefs blanket can be of three types: basically 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The term Chiefs blanket is really a misnomer because the Navajos really are a clan based society, and they don't really have Chiefs. What happened is when the military (the cavalry) came out to the west they saw great Chiefs people like Chief Joseph that had wonderful blankets on – first and second phase Navajo Chiefs blankets. And that's because they were highly sought after. The Navajos would take these blankets and trade with the Plains, and they would trade with different people, and they would end up in the most powerful people's hands, often the Chiefs, such as Chief Joseph, so the term kind of stuck. If it was one of these 1st, 2nd, or 3rd phase Chiefs blankets it was associated with something of power and importance. We have all probably seen the Antiques Roadshow, where we see the 1st phase Chiefs blankets. Those are the earliest and generally the most valuable. A great 1st phase Chiefs blankets you're going to look anywhere at the lower end from about $200,000 to the higher end of about $500,000, so these are really rare and hard to find. A Chiefs blanket that's a 1st phase is very simple: blue and brown lines as a general rule. There also is a term called Utes 1st phase, which has little bits of red. These are very rare and defined. There's probably only maybe as many as hundred in existence, and most of them are in museums. The next type of blanket is a 2nd phase Chiefs like the one I have right here. 2nd phase Chiefs blankets have 12 rectangles. This is, again, going from first and (which is about the 1800's to 1840s) to 2nd phase (which is 1840s to 1870s). These are now having the twelve rectangles. These are also lovely blankets they can run anywhere from $65 into quarter of a million dollars if they're a classic Chiefs blanket. Again, time makes a big difference, so with the 2nd phase, you now have some that are done after the classic period, and these can become more of a revival period. Finally, (there) is the 3rd phase Chiefs blankets. 3rd phase Chiefs blankets are – this is one behind me – they have nine diamonds or boxes as a general rule, and these particular blankets vary range in a variety of prices. a great 3rd phase Chiefs blanket could sell anywhere upwards of two, three, four hundred thousand. Generally, though, (with) a 3rd phase, classic time frame Chiefs blanket, it'll be a hundred and fifteen thousand. The difference between a classic blanket and a late-classic can be monumental. Late-classic is eighteen sixties and seventies period. They're still using really early yarns (natural yarns), but some anilines started to creep into the to the usage. These blankets after their late-classic (period) 3rd phase Chiefs blankets can be fifteen thousand, to say, seventy-five thousand. Now, a blanket like the one behind me is more of a revival period, and the revival period is anywhere from the 1890s, to say, the 1910s. These may or may not have been blankets, but they are in the blanket feel and again these blankets can be from a couple thousand dollars up to about twelve thousand dollars, depending on condition quality, and of course, types of yarn use. Now, Chiefs blankets, especially 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, are still being made today. Copies are being made and they're very beautiful, and when I say copies I mean they’re revival pieces made by the Navajo themselves, and (with) these you can get a great first base blanket by a Navajo weaver. (If they) are using good yarns and even natural yarns for 2500 to 6000 dollars. So, when you ask about it what a Chiefs blanket is, remember there's three basic types. 1st, first have very simple lines, 2nd, which have twelve diamonds or twelve boxes, and 3rd is the Chiefs blanket or 3rd phase Chiefs blanket, which has nine diamonds, or sometimes it will use boxes for crosses. These are the three types. Prices depend on what type it is and the age corresponds to what type. It’s a progression from 1st to 2nd to 3rd phase. There is what's called 4th phase, which is when the third phase elements kind of all become one, and there really are almost a stripes with a complex pattern that's become one. They're very attractive. Then generally, again, in that 1865 to 1875 timeframe, and are similarly priced to a 3rd phase timeframe. So, the next time you ask for a Chiefs blanket, hopefully you'll know what you're talking about.