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Rare New Zealand Maori pendant leads Art of the South Seas Auction in San Francisco
Fine and Rare Maori Pendant in Human Form, New Zealand hei tiki. Greenstone / Nephrite Jade (inanga variety pounamu), height 4 1/2in (11.4cm). Sold for $56,250 (est. $30,000 - 40,000). Image: Courtesy of Bonhams.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- A rare, 18th century, human form Maori pendant, or hei-tiki, was the leading lot in the Art of the South Seas auction, February 9 at Bonhams in San Francisco. The Greenstone/Nephrite jade pendant, originating from New Zealand, soared past its $30,000-40,000 estimate to bring $56,250. It was followed by another New Zealand rarity, a Maori short club, or mere pounomu, also of Greenstone/Nephrite jade, that brought $37,500.

The sale in its entirety featured 184 lots of works from Australia, Indonesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and was marked by a flurry of online and telephone bidding, with strong domestic and international participation from Europe and Asia.

Highlights of the sale included works from the Marquesas Islands, such as an exceptional stone Popoi Pounder, or ke'a tuki popoi, that brought $43,750, past an estimate of $20,000-30,000, and three rare ear piercers, or ta'a puaika/ta'a puaina, that brought $22,500, ahead of an $8,000-12,000 estimate.

Also of note, a very rare, late 19th century, wood fisherman's god from Rarotonga Island of the Cook Islands brought $17,500, past a $6,000-9,000 estimate, and a royal, stone tomb marker from Sumba Island of the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, dating from the 15th-18th centuries and possibly representing the natural balance in the cosmos, sold for $13,750.

The African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art Consultant at Bonhams, Fredric Backlar, commented, “This sale demonstrated continued growth in this collecting field, with new buyers accounting for nearly 20 percent of the sale’s value. California is the "gateway to the Pacific" and the results today indicate the strong interest here for the arts and cultures of the indigenous people of the South Seas. There was strong bidding across the board for good quality works that were fresh-to-the-market, with particularly strong interest in Polynesian art.”

The next auction of Fine African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art at Bonhams will take place May 15 in New York.

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