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Oceanic art with a bloody past sparks bidding war at auction

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A fine collection of Oceanic Art triggered a flurry of interest from international bidders at Staffordshire auction house Cuttlestones’ recent Fine Art Sale. With nine lots originating from the same private collection, much interest was attracted from bidders in the room, on the phones and on the internet. Live bidders from as far afield as New Zealand, Italy, the Czech Republic, China, Poland and the USA were all up against some substantial commission bids.

Cuttlestones’ Auctioneer Dave Eglington with lot 319, a
Mauri/South Seas style walking stick which achieved a hefty
£3,186 at the firm’s 25 May Fine Art and Antiques auction.


With the collection, which encompassed lots ranging from Coco de Mer nuts through to Fijian and Polynesian war clubs, realising a notable total of £8,920 (including buyers’ premium), there were several stand-out lots. First, (lot 315) a 19th century Fijian Totokia – or Pineapple war club – and a splendid example of its type, fetched an impressive £2,006 against its estimate of £800-£1200. Designed to peck a neat hole in the enemy’s skull, such clubs were carried by chiefs of the notoriously fearsome Fijian tribes; favoured as a weapon of murder and in skirmishes in thick undergrowth. This impressive piece features a pointed attack head backed by eight rows of individually carved spiked bands sitting upon an 89cm plain hardwood handle. With the main head split, it’s not hard to imagine that the club had seen martial action in its time; no doubt proving a highly effective method of despatch.

Perhaps the most grisly of the items, lot 317, a Fijian/South Seas throwing club or ‘Ula’ came with a morbid reminder of its purpose – within the various crevices of the stick’s bulbous head is embedded what appears to be a human tooth! The hammer fell at £1,062.

However, the biggest surprise came in the form of lot 319, a Mauri/South Seas style walking stick. Measuring 96cm and featuring a carved head set with mother of pearl for eyes above two masked figures, the main body of the stick with a flowing twist-style carving with notches and originally set with similar mother of pearl, many of which are now missing, sold for a hefty £3,186; shattering its £150-£250 estimate despite the absent decoration. The lucky telephone bidder fought off stiff competition from all angles to secure this fascinating lot.

Auctioneer Dave Eglington says:

“This was an impressive collection by anyone’s standards; somebody had taken much time and effort to find items of such quality, and this was reflected in the huge interest from the niche Oceanic Art collectors’ community. The fact that many of the bids came from overseas was unsurprising – such works have a dedicated international fan base. It’s easy to see why people become so fascinated with Oceanic Art – fighting clubs in particular – you only have to watch the pre-match Haka performed by the Pacific Islands rugby teams and imagine them armed with Ula and Totokia to see what formidable opponents they would have been in battle!

And it was not just Oceanic Art that performed at Cuttlestones’ May Fine Art Sale, with more conventional lots across the catalogue achieving solid prices. In the silver section lot 42, a Hester Bateman silver and coral baby’s rattle, circa 1776, sold for an impressive £495. A standout in the Jewellery section was lot 90, a pair of ladies’ two stone diamond drop earrings of around 1.5 carat, which fetched £1,121.

Watches also saw some strong sales – an 18ct gold full hunter manual wind pocket watch (lot 143) sold for £1,121, while the hammer fell on lot 146, an Omega 53 Military RAF6B broad arrow wristwatch, at £885.

In ceramics, a Clarice Cliff Fantasque series ‘Sunrise’ coffee set was the star (lot 191), achieving £1,416, while a rare Royal Doulton Chinese Jade figurative spill vase (lot 226) went for £1,180. Representing the clock and barometer sections, a large French Louis XV style gilt brass mounted ‘Boulle’ bracket clock and bracket saw the hammer fall at £1,652, with lot 404; a 19th Century stick barometer by R Dunken of Penzance selling for £767.

In miscellanea, a set of late 19th Century jockey scales (lot 435) tipped the balance at £1,770 – despite being in need of full restoration and having two detached legs! The furniture section also saw some very strong results and, with over 95% of the lots within it selling, gave rise to cautious optimism within the somewhat subdued brown furniture market. Among the top performers were a 20th Century Empire style side cabinet (lot 459) on which the hammer fell at £2,478 thanks to the iconic ‘Gillows’ stamp to the door, and a Georgian oak housekeepers’ cupboard of wonderful colour and patina (lot 423) that sold to a local Shropshire buyer for £4,484.

Last, but by no means least, of the star lots was lot 481; a single bottle of Chateau D’Yquem Sauternes, 1957 vintage, that topped the wines and spirits section at a hefty £306.

For full results of Cuttlestones’ Friday, 25th May Fine Art Sale visit The next Fine Art Sale is set to take place on Friday, 14th September – to consign goods for auction, or to arrange a valuation, call 01785 714905.

Please note: all prices inclusive of buyer’s premium

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