Sold for $540,000 (£428,570) to an American buyer against an estimate of $300,000-500,000, it was the star turn in the Founders and Patriots sale on May 27 which made up the first of three days of auctions in Denver, Pennsylvania.
The 21in (53cm) long silver-mounted tomahawk has a maplewood haft decorated with two sections of Shawnee porcupine quillwork. The blade is signed R. Butler and the silver end cap to the haft is inscribed Lt Maclellan. As discussed in the preview in ATG No 2443, the tomahawk was made by Richard Butler, an armourer at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania from 1765-77, who was later commissioned as a captain in the Pennsylvania Militia and was a trusted confidante of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians.
McClellan/Maclellan served with the Pennsylvania Riflemen and carried the weapon with him during the American War of Independence. He died en route to Quebec and the tomahawk was given to his brother Daniel, who continued to Quebec and took part in the battle where he was taken prisoner by the British. A British officer plundered the tomahawk along with the rest of his valuable possessions and the war trophy was taken back to England.
In a catalogue of ‘the Rarities to be seen at Don Saltero’s Coffee- House in Chelsea’, printed in 1785 in London, number 148 is listed as an ‘Indian tomahawk, taken in the field of battle before Quebec’.
It was purchased by George Greville (1746-1816), Earl of Warwick, for his arms collection at Warwick Castle. It remained there until it was loaned to the Tower of London. In 1996, the earl offered some of the collection at auction and the tomahawk was sold at Christie’s.
Since then it has featured in several private collections, has been exhibited and included in a number of reference works.