The Estate of Late Antiquities Dealer Forrest Fenn, Who Hid a $2 Million Treasure Chest in the Mountains, Is Heading to Auction

Highlights include one of Sitting Bull's pipes.

Rare Wasco or Yakima beaded pictorial hide doll cradle with doll from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $15,000 to $25,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.
Rare Wasco or Yakima beaded pictorial hide doll cradle with doll from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $15,000 to $25,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

In 2010, New Mexico art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn infamously hid a Romanesque bronze chest filled with an estimated $2 million in gold coins and other valuables somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and then challenged the world to find it.

The hunt came to an end in June 2020, just months before Fenn’s death at age 90, when an explorer finally found the treasure. But now the rest of the world has a chance to own a piece of Fenn’s fabled art collection, when it is auctioned off by his family at Hindman in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 9.

The sale, titled “Native American Art: The Lifetime Collection of Forrest Fenn,” will feature 168 lots, including an assortment of beadwork, taken from his museum-like home.

“Beadwork from various Plains tribes filled two entire walls, and a table displayed a collection of rare Plains dolls. The collection spilled over to the floor, under tables, and over doorways,” Hindman vice chair Wes Cowan said in a statement.

Sioux twisted pipe stem with catlinite bowl once owned by Sitting Bull, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

Sioux twisted pipe stem with catlinite bowl once owned by Sitting Bull, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

The sale’s top lots are expected to include a Sioux twisted pipe stem with catlinite bowl once owned by Sitting Bull, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, and a 19th-century Sioux grizzly bear claw necklace, which could fetch $40,000 to $60,000).

A pair of Cochiti storage jars from Fenn’s extensive Pueblo pottery collection are each expected to sell for $20,000 to $30,000, while Native American dolls featured in his book Historic American Indian Dolls include examples that could bring in up to $25,000.

19th-century Sioux grizzly bear claw necklace, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

19th-century Sioux grizzly bear claw necklace, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

Among the other highlights are photos of Native Americans taken by William J. Lenny and William L. Sawyers’s photo studio in Purcell, Oklahoma, including a selection of 19 portraits of Quanah Parker, an important Kwahadi Comanche leader, estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 for the set.

“Forrest started collecting at a young age, combing the plains of Texas and the mountains of Montana searching for arrowheads. He was hooked,” Fenn’s family wrote in the introduction to the auction catalogue. “He loved the lure of ancient places and the lore of ancient peoples. This wonderful collection exemplifies a lifetime of dedication and passion for Native American arts and all things surrounding the West.”

Quanah Parker (1845-1911) photographs taken by the studio of William J. Lenny and William L. Sawyers, from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

Quanah Parker (1845-1911) photographs taken by the studio of William J. Lenny and William L. Sawyers, from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

A veteran of the air force, Fenn got into the art business in the 1970s as a partner in Santa Fe’s Arrowsmith-Fenn Gallery, which eventually became Fenn Gallery. The gallery specialized in Native American art and the Taos School of Southwestern artists.

“Fenn was a celebrated figure within both the Native American and Western Art collecting worlds, and the auction offers bidders a unique opportunity to acquire works from a fabled collector,” Danica Farnand, Hindman’s vice president for Native American Art, added.

Large Cochiti pottery storage jar from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

Large Cochiti pottery storage jar from the collection of Forrest Fenn, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. Photo courtesy of Hindman, Chicago.

Fenn started his treasure hunt in 2010, with the release of his self-published memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. The book ended with a riddle in the form of a cryptic poem that, if solved, would lead the reader to the hidden gold.

The challenge birthed an enthusiastic community of treasure hunters, many of whom spent years in pursuit of the hidden chest. The search sometimes proved deadly, with five treasure hunters dying while on the trail of Fenn’s elusive riches.

Forrest Fenn's treasure is allegedly in an ornate, Romanesque box filled with gold nuggets, gold coins and other gems. Courtesy of Forrest Fenn.

Forrest Fenn’s treasure was allegedly buried in an ornate, Romanesque box filled with gold nuggets, gold coins and other gems. Courtesy of Forrest Fenn.

A 32-year-old medical student from Michigan, Jonathan “Jack” Stuef, finally cracked the code, uncovering the treasure in a still-undisclosed location in Wyoming. Stuef is reportedly considering auctioning off the chest’s contents.


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