A humble man brought an old Navajo blanket he had thrown over the back of a chair for years. The Antiques Roadshow appraiser just about had a heart attack.
Back in 2001/2002, the Antiques Roadshow came to Tucson, Arizona. A man named Ted decided to bring in an old Navajo blanket that his grandmother had placed on his bed on cold nights when he was a boy. He had since inherited the blanket from his aunt and kept it tossed over the back of a chair.
Ted unfolded the blanket for Antiques Roadshow appraiser Don Ellis. Ellis said that he stopped breathing.
The appraiser had security men escort Ted around the venue before his television taping, giving him an idea that the blanket might be of some value.
It turned out that Ted had what is known as a Ute First Phase Wearing Blanket. It’s extremely rare; only around 50 are known to exist.
“This is Navajo weaving in its purest form,” says Ellis. These blankets were very expensive even back when they were being made by the Navajo. A single blanket could bring many times an average person’s annual income, or many, many horses if it was sold or traded to another American Indian.
The wool weaving is so fine that it feels like silk, and is capable of shedding water. The blankets were traded with the Ute, Cheyenne and Sioux, and owning one signified great wealth and stature in the tribe.
As Ellis tells Ted the estimated monetary value of the blanket, Ted is flabbergasted. Conservatively estimating the value at between $350,000 and $500,000, Ellis’ appraisal blows Ted away.
As a backstory, the blanket was acquired by Kit Carson, who gave it to the foster father of Ted’s grandmother. If that provenance can be verified, the value of the blanket could increase by 20 percent, Ellis said.
In an endearing moment he struggles to maintain his composure. His voice cracks and he wipes his eyes as he explains that his family is not wealthy. Ted has since passed away, but he sold the blanket for an undisclosed sum to a major American museum and financed his and his wife’s retirement home with part of the money.
It remains one of the finest moments in the history of the Antiques Roadshow.
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