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Coat

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RTCFA No. NA1172
Coat
Moose hide, quills, wool, rocker stamping on the hem, and natural dyes. 42.5 x 21.5 in.

Geographic Location: Ontario or Quebec


When this coat came to light it was offered jointly by the dealers Tad Dale and Ted Trotta and then acquired by me after the 2005 antique American Indian Whitehawk sale in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When I subsequently showed it to the visiting head of the ethnology section of the British Museum at my home Jonathan King dated it c. 1740. The coat is one of the most important Indian military style coats on record. The coat’s commanding simplicity of design is an indication of not only its early origin but also that it is in the history of eastern Aboriginal clothing, a platform from which subsequent northeastern Indian military great coats developed their more elaborate systems of decorative embellishment. For this reason its historical importance cannot be under-estimated. This same directness of design was applied to the stamped circles and lines of the fringe at the bottom of the coat. Note the seemingly abstract design on the quilled epaulettes. It is not abstract but is in fact an early rendition of the underwater serpent, which became a staple of Great Lakes spirituality and design. —Ted Coe A small number of these coats survive in European and North American collections, most are probably of Cree or Métis origin; some are highly decorated with painted abstract or floral designs, and adorned with porcupine quillwork. This one, purchased by Coe in Santa Fe, without history, is unusually simple, but with spectacular early quilled epaulettes. None of the about twenty such coats seem to have been used, so the question arises as to who made them and for what purpose? Since they date to the highpoint of the Hudson’s Bay Company for trade in Ontario and Québec, one possibility is that they were created by Cree women for their European partners. —Jonathan King Made from a single large moose hide, the coat is designed to wrap around a man’s body as it once wrapped around the animal. The wearer’s spine is aligned with the spine of the animal. By 1743 fur traders on the shores of Hudson Bay had adopted the coat, which they called “tockey” or “toggey,” from the Cree muska togy or misko takiy. While each artist drew from a common repertoire of motifs, no two coats are alike. Cree Women made these coats for both European and Cree men. The coats provide us with a window into a dynamic space where different systems of knowing the world came together. —Sherry Farrell Racette (Timiskaming First Nation)