Lot 25
  • 25

Maori Nephrite Pendant, New Zealand

30,000 - 40,000 USD
93,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • nephrite, rainbow abalone (haliotis iris), royal albatross (diomedea epomophora)
hei tiki


Sir (William) Edward Parry (1790-1855), Northbrook House, Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire
Sir Edward North Buxton, 2nd Bt. (1812–1858), Colne House, Cromer, Norfolk, acquired from the above
Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 5th Bt. (1889-1945), Woodredon House, Waltham Abbey, Essex, by family descent
General Sir Thomas Morland KCB KCMG DSO (1865-1925), presumably a gift from the above
Marjorie Morland (1891-1989), Greywell, Hampshire, by family descent from the above
Christie's, London, December 1, 1982, lot 69, consigned by the above
Private Collection, acquired at the above auction
Bonhams, London, December 2, 1991, lot 146
Wayne Heathcote, London, acquired at the above auction
American Private Collection, acquired from the above on July 30, 1997

Catalogue Note

Greenstone, or pounamu, was greatly prized by Maori, who considered it to have mystical qualities. All objects made of pounamu were valued, but hei tiki were particularly treasured heirlooms. They often had their own names, and were passed down within families from generation to generation, gaining in ancestral mana. Interpretations of the significance of the form of these highly recognizable but enigmatic objects are varied and inconclusive.

Pounamu is harder than iron and working with a cord drill and sandstone saws and files a tohunga whakairo, or master-carver, could take several months to complete a single hei tiki. The tohunga whakairo did not set out to create a work of art; he was simply the means by which the gods expressed themselves in material form. The act of creation itself was tapu, or sacred, and subject to certain prohibitions.

The great care taken in the creation of the present hei tiki is evident in its fine modelling and in such details as the suspension hole, which has been painstakingly drilled at an angle through the back of the pendant so as to emerge inconspicuously at the top of the head. Particular attention has been paid to the attachment of the original plaited suspension cord, or kaui. A second cord lashed tightly around the plaited cord at the point where it passes through the suspension hole prevents the kaui from moving and abrading the greenstone. The head and left side of the pendant show traces of the old break-off fractures which Kaeppler states are 'a feature of early greenstone working' (Kaeppler, Polynesia: the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art, 2010, p. 340).

The first recorded owner of this pendant is the Arctic explorer Sir (William) Edward Parry, who was the first European to deliberately winter in the Arctic during his pursuit of a Northwest Passage aboard HMS Fury from 1821-1823. From 1829-1834 Parry was commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens in New South Wales. He did not travel to New Zealand, and whether he acquired the hei tiki in Australia or in England remains unclear. An early 19th century Maori treasure box from his collection is in the British Museum (inv. no. Oc1926,0313.30.a; illustrated in Starzecka, Neich, Pendergrast, The Maori Collections of the British Museum, 2010, p. 232, pl. 10).