Inuit sea otter amulet – £24,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

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It was one of two similar 19th century Inuit carvings in the sale each estimated at £4000-6000 in the sale of Tribal Art and Antiquities in Salisbury on December 15.

These rare sculptures, carved to show a sea otter in characteristic feeding posture, on its back with hands raised to mouth, were fastened inside the cockpits of Inuit and Aleut kayaks.

It was thought they would bring good fortune when hunting otters for fur – a primary source of income for Arctic peoples in the 19th century.

This 3in (8cm) example appears to be particularly unusual as it features both an adult sea otter and her pup.

Another sea otter amulet, a more conventional type with the animal’s ribs incised and inlaid with baleen, sold for £7500, while a 12in (30cm) walrus ivory bow drill engraved with scenes of figures in Umiaks hunting whales, walrus, caribou and sea birds brought £3800.

The latter was part of the Graham Turner collection of Inuit art.

Eagerly contested


Bamileke beadwork jar and cover – £3500 at Woolley & Wallis.

The most eagerly contested African work in the sale was a 20th century beaded bowl and cover by the Bamileke people of Cameroon.

Since coloured glass beads were valuable objects, imported from Europe, pieces such as this were made for high-status individuals.


Detail of Bamileke beadwork jar and cover – £3500 at Woolley & Wallis.

Standing just shy of 2ft (60cm) high, it was carved in relief with stylised lions and the heads of elephants, buffaloes and warthogs and then painstakingly embellished with beads and discs of sliced coconut shell. Estimated at £400-600, it sold for £3500.