Mexico

The infamous Barbones mask from Mexico

Q: Can anyone give me any meaning of this mask? How could it have been used? Jan, 1535

A: They started making these stunning masks out of silver in the mining town of La Parota, Guerrero, way back in the Victorian period. Well over 100 years ago wealthy gringos were vacationing in Mexico and they loved these hammered-metal masks as decorative souvenirs. Later they switched from silver to the cheaper copper you see here, and they are still popular to this day.

The first edition of Donald Cordry’s Mexican Masks came out in 1980 and became a big seller that created a great interest in this subject. Cordry loved masks and had a huge collection. However he believed anything the sellers told him and owned more tourist fakes (also called “decoratives”) than authentic, used masks. Anthropologists, museum curators and serious collectors were troubled by this. I find it entertaining.

Cordry wrote that this type of mask was used in the “Rain-petitioning dance” in parts of rural Guerrero. He called them Barbones (bearded old men). Made from sheet metal, they required skill and patience to make. For many years tourists and collectors paid lots of money for these fake beauties. Today, because of their interesting history, the Barbones still cost a lot more than most Mexican decoratives. I have one in my collection. I also enjoy Cordry’s infamous book, which you can often find on eBay. C++

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