Large ladles of this kind have been crafted for millennia in the territory that is now British Columbia. Used to transfer food from serving containers to dishes, these ladles were either plain, elegant forms or more ornate works with handles and bowls embellished with ancestral figures and crest designs. Antler spoons with crest figure handles from three thousand years ago have been excavated in the region, as well as cores for spoon handles of an even earlier date. There are no prehistoric examples of horn spoons from Haida sites, but it is likely that they acquired such spoons from mainland groups as part of the intertribal potlatch system.
Individual horn spoons were the most elaborately decorated items at a feast. The bowl of the spoon was made from cream-colored mountain sheep horn, steamed and bent in a mould. The curved handles were made from black mountain goat horn that provided a field for artistic display second only to that of totem poles. In fact, many spoon handles were faithful replicas of the poles in front of their owners' houses. Some of the most elaborate spoon handles have a dozen or more diminutive figures carved into a handle that rarely exceeds six inches in length.
This handsome ladle features a plain bowl, broad neck and gracefully hooked handle. The carving of the handle shows a prominent central face with large eyes, strong jaw and wide nose.
One of the earliest European owners of this ladle was ethnologist and collector Arthur Baessler, who donated it to the Linden Museum around the beginning of the twentieth century. Baessler was born in Glauchau, Saxony in 1857. After finishing school, he studied natural sciences, geography and anthropology, and in time undertook a number of international expeditions. Between 1887 and 1889 Baessler travelled to New Guinea, followed by a journey to Australia and research trips to New Zealand, Polynesia and Peru. After his return to Germany, Baessler transferred his collection to ethnological and anthropological museums in Berlin, Dresden and Stuttgart. He died in Eberswalde in 1907.