Although described as ‘possibly Maori’ and estimated at just £20-30, a 9in (18cm) carved wooden vessel offered by John Nicholson’s (25% buyer’s premium) in Haselmere was more probably by the Haida or Tlingit peoples.
Grease bowls such as this were used to serve food – the largest vessels made for great feasts, the smaller domestic bowls used in the family home. Typically, they held ‘eulachon’ (candlefish oil) or rendered seal oil, an important food source used as an accompaniment to the dried fish or meats.
It was spotted by a number of knowledgeable bidders and sold at the auction on December 17 for £26,000. The buyer was from Canada.
Intoxicating in Fiji
At Rendells (18% buyer’s premium) of Ashburton in Devon on the same day a Fijian hardwood libation vessel carved in the form of a duck sold at £4600 (estimate £150-200).
As detailed by an old collection label, this refined priest’s vessel for drinking yaqona (the intoxicating liquor of the pepper plant) had been acquired on the island of Viti Levu by a Rev Benedict – presumably one of the many missionaries who travelled to Polynesia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to put an end to pagan ceremonies.
Some of the pieces they brought back as souvenirs were hugely inventive: a similar vessel taking the form of a man was ‘borrowed’ by Christopher Dresser and made in Linthorpe pottery and cast in iron.
An equivalent duck-form Fijian priest’s bowl in the Sainsbury collection is described as one of only four of its type known.