FOUR centuries of contact with the North American continent – exploration, trade, settlement, war and missionary activity – mean that, just occasionally, spectacular Native American art objects are found in the United Kingdom.
And one emerged at Warwickshire auctioneers
Bigwood of Tiddington, near Stratford upon Avon on
With the cataloguing falling rather short - it was initially
thought to be Polynesian or Irish and estimated at just £50-60 -
this added a frisson of excitement to those who had identified Lot
361 as an 18th century Ojibwa ball-headed war club.
The elderly owner, who had been led to believe it was Irish, was
given it as a gift by a neighbour in 1961.
The Ojibwa, a hunter-gatherer tribe centred around the Great
Lakes region, are known for their wigwams, birch bark canoes,
sacred pictorial bark scrolls and the use of cowrie shells in their
In colonial times, clubs of this general type, with a tapering
shaft and a globular head carved from a single piece of
close-grained hardwood, were common from the Atlantic coast to the
Even after the introduction of metal tomahawks and firearms
(common trade items by the last quarter of the 17th century) clubs
remained important weapons - although the lightweight versions made
in the second half of the 19th century survived primarily as
ornamental dance accessories.
The size of this maple example - it measures just shy of 2ft
(60cm) long - immediately suggests it was used in anger. But more
macabre proof comes in the remarkable iconography seen to the
shaft. These clearly carved 'stick men' signify the number of kills
made by the owner of the weapon.
Figures depicted with heads were taken prisoner, those without
were scalped. Parallel lines are used to depict different battles
and skirmishes or the number of times the owner of this club had
been on the warpath.
Michigan-based Scott Meachum, a specialist in Eastern war clubs,
describes the pictorial language as a "personal battle record" and
the "visual proof of the owner's prowess as a warrior".
Although they were often beautifully fashioned from select
pieces of timber (the best clubs were made from saplings found
growing on a hillside), it was not unusual for them to be discarded
by a body on the battlefield as a calling card to the enemy.
The 11 figures cut into the shaft of this Warwickshire club (ten
scalped, one prisoner) suggests it was the weapon of a proven
Given its probable late 18th century date, it is quite possible
the club was brought to these shores by a British soldier active in
the western theatre of the American Revolutionary War
Ojibwa warriors fought with the French against the British in
the French and Indian War (1756-1763) but - fearing that a
victorious American army would continue to move onto Indian land -
allied themselves with the British during the American
Similar clubs can be found in a number of UK collections. There
are two fine examples in the British Museum, while the University
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Downing College,
Cambridge has a comparable example (without the inscribed 'war
record') that is reputed to have been acquired from an Indian chief
during the War of Independence by one Captain Goddard of the 41st
But precious few Ojibwa clubs of this date and quality have been
seen at auction in recent times. Following its positive
identification, bidding for this club at The Old School, Tiddington
came from specialists, runners or representatives from almost every
The successful telephone buyer at £19,500 (plus 15 per cent
buyer's premium) was William Jamieson of Jamieson Tribal Art in
Mr Jamieson - the man who in 1999 famously acquired the
collection of the Niagara Falls Museum, including the mummy of
Rameses I - told ATG there is a strong chance this "magnificent"
club will end up in a Canadian museum.
By Roland Arkell
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