Coppers for Potlatching
Coppers were a means of representing wealth. They were necessitated by the exponential
nature of potlatch interest, and were usually valued at their equivalent in 'blankets'.
(Hudsons Bay Company blankets were worth fifty cents each and were a common currency
for post-contact First Nations.) Each copper had a name, and its potlatch history
determined its value. The copper held by the chief (left) was named "takes everything
out of the house" and was worth 5000 blankets. Other examples of valuable coppers
were "All other coppers are ashamed to look at it" worth 7500 blankets, "Making
the house empty of wealth" worth 5000 blankets and "Steel-head salmon, ie it glides
out of ones hand like a salmon" worth 6000 blankets.[Rohner
1970 p98; McFeat
They were made of placer copper beaten into a plaque roughly a metre in length,
the upper portion resembling in outline the keystone of an arch, the lower portion
a rectangle. The two forms were set apart by the horizontal element of a T-shaped
ridge, the vertical stem of which bisected the rectangle.[Drucker
1965 p65] They were displayed boastfully before being given away or ceremoniously
destroyed at a potlatch.
Source (above left): Rohner
Source (right): Drucker
1967 inside front cover.
Source (below left): Royal Ontario Museum, reproduced in Drucker
1965 at colour plate 33 following p108; Haida copper (Nass River) 69cm wide
by 110cm long.
Source (below right): Royal Ontario Museum, reproduced in Drucker
1965 at colour plate 34 following p108; Copper 53cm wide by 75cm long.
Source (below): Codere
1972 inside front cover; Kwakiutl Copper.
© 31 October 1997 Anthony.Bettanin@anu.edu.au