Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is about a little object I have had in my mitts for several months now. It came to me via someone I follow and have purchased from on Instagram, Mia (aka http://@therubyfoxes) and I have written about other purchases from her here and here) lives in Britain and at least at this time the object hails from that part of the world. I share it today as pretty much as an object from my personal cabinet of curiosities and welcome all comers with any information or worthy speculation.
There were two slightly different ones and Mia kept the mate. I chose mine because it had a vaguely feline sensibility which I thought suited the Pictorama collection best, hers is a bit more squat and canine, shown below. (She was nice enough to send a photo this morning – I had snatched him via a story on her account so no way to save the photo.) It is more similar than I remember.
These appear to be made of bone and the base and ring looks to be silver. A careful look and the grooves where the collar goes around the neck convinces me that these were designed to be in these silver holders with a loop for a chain, ribbon or twine. He sports a tongue which sticks out between his carved teeth. There are deep holes on either side of his mouth and I am not sure where the maker was heading with that. The eyes are perched atop of the head with tiny pointy ears. I thought there was a vague suggestion of a tail, but when I rubbed it I realized it is just the natural coloration of the bone, no carved indentation.
The allover etched designs seem to be the same on both. Whatever their hoodoo it is consistent. I do hope they do not mind being separated, but I believe the US is glad to have one on its shores. I like to think of it having a partner over at Mia’s house in her own cabinet of wonders.
At first I was thinking maybe it was a chess or other game piece, until I realized that the apparatus for hanging and wearing it was integral to the design. Kim had a good suggestion this morning and reminded me of Billiken’s. (He purchased one for me made of mother of pearl which I wrote about here. The creation story is a good one indeed.) The god of things as they ought to be according to Wikipedia (a concept I paused a moment to contemplate), Billikens are good luck and I have christened these likewise. There is something sort of Billiken-esque about them.
In fact a search of bone Billiken on Google turned up some credible relatives and I am reminded that Sandy over at http://@Curiositiesantique (or http://www.getcuriosities.com) came across a Billiken for sale I remembered as bone, but is amber she thought (see above), although there was a bracelet of small bone ones as well. However, these I found on Goggle are a bit closer to the mark of our mystery charms. (Also above.) Oddly, there are a number of Alaskan and Inuit carved figures that turn up under the search of Billiken bone images – not sure how all things Billiken can be true if there are early Inuit ones. Hmmm. More mysteries.
Hmm. It looks to be made of bone. I agree that it may represent a cat of some sort. I think thelarge hole through the cheek may be intended to represent a diastema, the gap between the shearing teeth in front and the grinding teeth in back that many carnivores have. Note that there is a similar hole used to separate the front from the rear legs.
The inscribed glyphs don’t look like a form of writing. They may simply indicate marking on whatever animal this is. The idea that it may be a game piece seems pretty plausible, the metal portion with the post and the ring merely an indication that represents that it was in captivity.
Artistically it is pretty rudamentary. I would say that it was probably not made by someone who made a lot of pieces like this. If you look at a lot of art by so-called “primitive” peoples, they tend to have a lot of style and precision even if they are very simple like the work of Inuits or Pacific islanders in the 19th and 20th centuries. American scrimshanders who would make intricate carvings from sperm whale teeth would generally also have precise lines and cuts even though none of them were professional artists. The object would never pass muster as a netsuki.
If I were to take a wild guess, I would say that maybe these were made by some hunter holed up in a shack over winter in Europe or America sometime in the last three centuries with no purpose in mind save for that of keeping his hands busy.
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