Thrown in the skip and rescued at last minute: a rare Cook Islands Pole Club sells for £38,000 at Wessex Auction Rooms

May 24, 2022

A rare 19th century Cook Islands tribal pole club has sold at Wessex Auction Rooms for £38,000. Dating to circa 1840-1880 the pole club (or native name ‘akatara’) came from a local estate clearance in Wiltshire and was in “barn condition” and in need of some TLC. Hugely collectable and incredibly rare, authentic pole clubs don’t often turn up on the market and this one nearly didn’t. “The pole club was on its way to the skip and it was only when the vendors had booked for us to go to the house to see if there was anything of their father’s items than we could enter into auction that as an after-thought they showed to us the pole club” recalls Izzie Balmer, Auctioneer at Wessex Auction Rooms. “It just goes to show that hidden gems are still out there.”

Originating from the Cook Islands, pole clubs have long been attributed to the island of Rarotonga, but there is little evidence for this. There are suggestions they were originally made on the island of Atui and found their way to Rarotonga and the other Cook islands. Travel between the islands was not uncommon, with accounts of hero warriors repeatedly cropping up in writings, myths and songs of the time.

The most valuable Polynesian pole clubs date to the 18th century and are of a beautifully polished dark hardwood with intricate decorative patterns. Pole clubs were prestige items; the most intricate will have belonged to someone of importance in the tribe. It was believed that they contained the ‘mana’ (spiritual power) of their creators and owners. The Polynesian pole clubs are considered some of the finest and most elegant examples of tribal weaponry, especially those made prior to the arrival of Christianity to the islands during the 19th century.

The example at Wessex Auction Rooms dated to the latter half of the 19th century and despite its plain appearance still commanded a huge amount of interest. “We had 5 phone lines, several interested bidders in the room as well as those registered online” reflects Izzie. “The tribal artefacts market is extremely strong. There is a scarcity of these items and a huge market for them, so whenever they appear for sale – particularly those that are fresh to the market – there is always significant global interest.”

If you have items you wish to consign to auction, please email enquiries@wessexauctionrooms.co.uk or call the office on 01249 720888.