Maori boat-shaped feather boxes – or ‘waka huia’ – are infrequent visitors to UK salerooms so it was unusual to see two examples sold in close proximity this summer.
That seen at
Toovey's (22.5% buyer's premium) of Washington, West Sussex, on
June 20 measured 17in (43cm) and was typically carved with
curvilinear decoration and to each end with stylised mask handles
from which to suspend the box from the low ceilings of a Maori
To the underside of the lid (now broken in two pieces) was the
inscription George Hawthorn 1830 - perhaps the
original Western recipient and an indication of the date of this
particular box. Estimated at a very buyable £1000-2000, it took
The waka huia seen just four days later at
Cottees (15% buyer's premium) of Wareham had been brought in by
a local couple who had seen a similar item valued recently on
The Antiques Roadshow.
In the possession of the vendor's family for at least two
generations, it had some more pressing condition issues - with two
of the three figures that form a crest to the lid having suffered
particularly badly - but international bidding ensured that the
price flew over the £600-800 estimate. It sold via the internet at
Delicately carved waka huia were used to contain the 'tapu' or
sacred huia bird feathers, combs and ear jewellery touched and worn
by Maori chiefs. As they were designed to be hung out of the reach
of children, they are carry as much decoration on the underside as
they do to the lid - as can be seen in both these
Equally emblematic of Maori culture is the jadeite or greenstone
hei tiki, the figural pendants associated with fertility
and the ancestors.
Tiki, like waka huia, were seen and collected by Captain Cook's
crew, but their 19th and 20th century popularity both with the
Maori and western collectors means they are notoriously difficult
The example seen at
Moore Allen & Innocent's (18% buyer's premium) sale in
Cirencester on June 6 came from a promising source. It was given to
the vendor's family by Lady Rose Talbot de Malahide, the last
chatelaine of Malahide Castle in Dublin and, from 1976 until her
death in 2009, resident of a mid-19th century colonial villa (also
called Malahide) situated between the South Esk and Break O'Day
Rivers in Fingal, Tasmania.
Her hei tiki was not in the best condition (the
lower left section had broken off and was missing), but it retained
its original plaited flax suspension cord secured with a bone
toggle - typically made from albatross wing-bone. That rare
survival sent it to £5800 (estimate £800-1200).
Maori artefacts made up the closing moments among 660 lots at
Woolley & Wallis' (22% buyer's premium) dedicated Tribal
Art sale on June 19.
A greenstone hei tiki with inset red wax eyes that
had been purchased in the early 1970s from Bortignon's Antiques,
Sydney, was followed by a 15in (37cm) long greenstone hand club
or patu carved with a tiki to the terminal. It
had the remains of an old label. These both performed well above
hopes, taking £3200 and £5500 respectively.
Estimated at £5000-7000, but sharing the top price of the sale
at £13,000, was a carved house post figure or
poutokamanawa of a type that were designed to support
the main ridge-beams of Maori meeting houses.
House posts typically depict ancestral figures, this example
standing just under 3ft (90cm) tall, incised with facial tattoos
and carved with both a large hei-tiki suspended from the neck and a
prominent navel. They are considered to be the link between the
living and the spirit world. It had entered the vendor's family in
the 1930s after it had been bought at auction in or near
A 13in (33cm) Maori wood mask with notch and line carved
decoration and black and red finish that would have once attached
to the gable end of a house sold for £1400 (estimate £200-300).
It likely depicts an ancient warrior engaged in a war dance, his
tongue thrust out in defiance of his people's enemies.
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