Executed in "nanban style" openwork with chiseled and gold-encrusted peonies.
123 cm / 29.2 inch
27 cm by 12.3 cm
Thickness at club: 27 mm
Nggela Islands, Solomon Islands
Early 19th century
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The Solomon Islands are an archipelago in the western South Pacific Ocean, located northeast of Australia. No metals were used on the Solomon islands until the early 19th century, and thus local tribes mostly relied on wooden clubs for warfare. The long-term use of the club resulted in a wide variety of designs in use by the different tribes. Paddle shaped clubs were primarily associated with the Nggela Islands, also known as the Florida Islands, situated in the center of the island group.
"The clubs vary in form in different parts of the group. In St. Christoval, they have flat recurved blades cut out of the flange-like buttresses of a tree having very hard wood which bears a polish like that of mahogany. In other islands, as in those of Florida, they have flattened oval blades like that of a paddle. ... Most clubs are pointed at the butt-end to enable them to be stuck upright in the ground."
Henry B. Guppy; The Solomon Islands And Their Natives London, Lowrey, 1887. Page 73.
A Solomon Islands war club, of archetypical form that is associated with the Nggela Islands. The large club is made of a heavy, dark hardwood. It has a paddle-shaped blade, with raised central rib and semi-sharp edges and point. The staff is of flattened diamond cross-section, creating four ridges that give a good idea of the alignment of the blade when handling it.
It has some dents and even a small cut in one of the raised ribs on the flat of the blade that look like it may have seen fighting action. The working of the wood caused some longitudinal splits, which are superficial and don't seem to affect the structural integrity of the piece.
Oceanic antiques were very popular among wealthy European collectors of the 19th century and as a reaction the region started to produce many items solely for export. Many war clubs on the market today are of that type, made for a willing foreign market. The true collector is of course mainly interested in items that were to be used within the culture. I believe this is one of these early clubs that are actually made for the culture, by the culture. It has all the signs you would expect from a wooden item of considerable age, including the shallow splits over the length due to drying of the wood. The patina is deep, dark and with the unevenness of a naturally patinated item.
Clubs from the Henry Christy Collection.
Mainly collected by pioneer explorer Julius L. Brenchley in 1864.
Now in the British Museum.
Oceanic antiques enjoyed the special interest of some big names that are well-known among enthusiasts of arms and armor: William Ockelford Oldman, Kenneth Athol Webster, William Downing Webster (no relation to the former) and James Thomas Hooper. Material they collected now forms the core of many Oceanic collections around the world. Clubs similar to this one can be found in the Oldman and W.D. Webster catalogs.
A very similar club was listed in Oldman's catalog No 91 Vol vii. It was described as:
"10 (8235) Club; brown wood, ribbed paddle-shaped blade. Florida Island, Solomon Group. £0.06."
W.O. Oldman Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens.
976 reprint of sales catalogs, Hales, London.
A very nice example of a Solomon island war club, peculiar to the Island of Nggala (Florida). It's sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing, and with convincing signs of genuine old age.
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