The Dundas collection of Tsimshian objects deserves a week of posts – not just for the stunning beauty and resonance of the art but for the profound issues in heritage management, cultural property ownership, and repatriation ethics which it raises or exemplifies. I’ve been reading up on it a bit, and at one level the isssue is very simple: these Tsimshian treasures should have been repatriated – not to Canada per se, but to Tsimshian Territory. At another level, there are complex, interwoven threads of (mutual) respect and ownership which make (and made) for no easy solution. And no easy solution was reached: the collection was broken up, with the majority of the pieces sold to foreign hands (by foreign, here, I mean non-Tsimshian though I am prepared to argue this).
But for today, I was interested to see the Sotheby’s auction catalogue from the 2006 sale of this collection is still online. The most interesting piece, of course, is the northern-style maul, seen above. It sold for a surprising USD $1,320.00. I wonder if it was in use at the time of collection or if it was already an archaeological specimen. Collection of such materials from archaeological sites and their sale is, of course, now illegal although so far as I know there is a grandfather clause for older collections pre-dating the modern legislation. I imagine any maul without such prominent provenance would be worth very little indeed. Despite fetching far more than I would have imagined, it was a mere snip compared to the mask below which sold for a jaw-dropping USD$1,808,000.00.