The Thunder Bird Tootooch Legends, by W.L. Webber, , at sacred-texts.com
The gift coppers were curiously shaped plates two and a half feet in length and weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds. They were made from native copper brought from Alaska and the Nass River. These coppers were beautifully etched and painted with the symbols of the owner's clan.
The typical shape of the copper was a raised "T" in the centre. The lower part was called the hind end and the upper part, which was decorated, was called the face. The actual value of the piece of copper was small but, like our bills of high denomination, they represented a large number of blankets made from the hides of fur-bearing animals, and of buckskin. Later, when the white man traded among them, the Indians used the cotton and woolen blanket.
Some coppers had the value of five thousand to seventy-five hundred blankets. The most valuable coppers were etched with Sea Bear, Beaver, and the Moon, the one shown here is of the Sea Bear who was Lord and Ruler of the deep.
Coppers were sometimes offered for sale by a rival. If the offer was not accepted it was an acknowledgment that the chief and members of the tribe did not have blankets enough to make the purchase. However, if the rival tribe had bought the copper, it could then be sold back to the original owner, but always at a higher price.
The ceremonies when selling these .coppers were very elaborate and were conducted during the winter festivals. Wealthy Chiefs, giving potlatches, would sometimes break their coppers in pieces and present them to the most important guests or throw the pieces into the sea. This was to show his utter disregard for its value on account of his wealth. This act would give him greater prestige in the community.
A copper was considered an insignia of distinguished leadership, bringing luck to its owner and warding off evil spirits.