J. E. Standley opens predecessor to Seattle's Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in 1899.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 7/12/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3442
In 1899, shortly after arriving in Seattle with his family, J. E. Standley (1854-1940) opens a store on 2nd Avenue and Pike Street that purveys Indian curios and other items. In November 1901, Standley relocates "The Curio" to the foot of Madison. In June 1904, "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop" moves to the Colman Ferry Dock on Pier 52. After several more moves it is today (2001) located at Pier 54, next to Ivar's Acres of Clams. Ye Old Curiosity Shop became a famous stop for tourists and a market for traditional and newly made Indian artifacts such as totems and baskets, as well as non-Indian toys, miniatures, and curiosities. Standley and his shop received famous visitors from all over the world, and exerted an odd but profound influence on Northwest Indian culture.

Commerce and Culture

According to Kate C. Duncan, in 1001 Curious Things, Standley had a much-thumbed edition of Franz Boaz's The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutle Indians (1897), which described with illustrations the culture of the Northwest Coast tribe. He showed the book to non-Kwakiutle carvers and they began to reproduce these images in carvings that were then sold in the store. Thus Standley and his store became an influence in a hybrid Northwest Coast art produced for the tourist trade.

Standley loaned the Boaz book to planners for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held on the University of Washington campus, and Boas-inspired Indian images were used widely in the Exposition.

Fused and Confused Mixed with the Genuine

Standley also collected and sold thousands of genuine articles from the tribes of the Northwest Coast and Alaska, and some of these items were purchased by museums or found their way into museums. He became a major market for Indian makers of moccasins and baskets (particularly Makah baskets), totem poles, and clothing. He collected and sold whaler's tools, whalebone (baleen) and ivory carvings, masks both historic and prehistoric, spears, canoes, fishing tackle, and so on. He developed friendships with a number of local Indians, such as Dan White and Sam Williams, and purchased items from Native craftspeople almost every day.

The store was an eclectic mix of confused and fused Indian items, along with genuine Indian items both old and new, plus strange non-Indian items such as the Lord's Prayer printed on the head of a pin.

Visitors

Standley received many renowned visitors, both white and Indian, to his shop. These included Chief Joseph who visited with his nephew Red Thunder in 1902, and Cheyenne Chief Mad Wolf, in town for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. They included the developer of chiropractic healing, B. J. Palmer; founder of the Museum of the American Indian, George G. Heye; Robert L. Ripley ("Believe It or Not"); President Theodore Roosevelt, Irvin S. Cobb, Sir Thomas Lipton, Jack Dempsey, Will Rogers, Edsel Ford, J. Edgar Hoover, and Katherine Hepburn.

After Standley died in 1940, the shop, a family business, continued to thrive. It acquired examples of the bizarre and macabre, such as a pig in a jar and mummies, one "Sylvia" and one "Sylvester," who was acquired in 1955. After several moves the shop is (in 2005) located on Pier 54, next to Ivar's Acres of Clams.


Sources: Kate C. Duncan. 1001 Curious Things: Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Native American Art (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000); "History of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop," Ye Olde Curiosity Shop website (www.yeoldecuriosityshop.com).
Note: This essay was corrected on June 3, 2005.

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