19th-Century Split Whale’s Tooth Necklace

Value (2011) | $8,000 Retail$10,000 Retail
Watch  

GUEST:
My mother gave this to me when I was a young girl before I left home. And so I've had it ever since.

APPRAISER:
And where is home-- where was home?

GUEST:
Samoa, South Pacific islands.

APPRAISER:
Mm-hmm.

GUEST:
And I grew up in Hawai'i and El Paso.

APPRAISER:
Okay, now did she tell you what it was?

GUEST:
Yes. This is a traditional Samoa necklace, worn by a chief's daughter at the end of ceremonies or special occasions, and so I do use it every now and then.

APPRAISER:
Oh, you do?

GUEST:
Yes. Oh, that's wonderful.

APPRAISER:
That's all you know about it?

GUEST:
That's all I know about it. I wanted to find out what exactly is the material.

APPRAISER:
The material is from a whale's tooth. From the tooth of a sperm whale.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
And up until the 19th century, when the whalers arrived and would trade the teeth, the only whales' teeth that were available to the islanders was the odd whale that would wash up. And because it was so rare, the teeth were the prerogative of the chief. And he would decide what to do with them, and he would sometimes gift them to other chiefs, things like this. This is probably from the mid part of the 19th century. And what they've done, they've taken the whale's tooth and they've split it into these much narrower... because a whale's tooth normally can be anything from four to seven or eight inches and quite fat. So they made these very elegant pieces out of it. And they've interspersed the pieces with red beads, which are probably Italian, but definitely 19th-century.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
And they are called red-white heart beads. They're red on the outside and white in the middle. Now, you felt that it was a Samoan necklace.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
And then this would be called an ula nifo.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
Okay?

GUEST:
Ula nifo.

APPRAISER:
Ula nifo.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
But I think that it's probably come from Fiji originally.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And it would be called a wasekaseka.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And why I think that is that the way it's strung, it's actually-- you've rethreaded it, or somebody has.

GUEST:
Yes, I did.

APPRAISER:
But just the spacing... the Samoan ones tend to be on a thicker band. That would affect the price a little bit, that it's not on the original early 19th-century binding, but it's pretty wonderful. I mean, the color is fantastic. It's golden honey brown. Things have been going rather crazy in the Polynesian art market recently.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
Normally, a good conservative price retail would be between $8,000 and $10,000.

GUEST:
(gasps)

APPRAISER:
But in the last couple of weeks, there have been some serious surprises in this area.

GUEST:
Uh-huh.

APPRAISER:
And I wouldn't be surprised if it could even reach probably about $15,000.

GUEST:
(gasps) Oh, my God! Oh, my goodness! Seriously?

APPRAISER:
I think you're surprised.

GUEST:
I am surprised! Oh, my goodness.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Anthony Slayter-Ralph Fine Art
Santa Barbara, California
Appraised value (2011)
$8,000 Retail$10,000 Retail
Event
El Paso, TX (June 18, 2011)
Period
19th Century
Form
Necklace
Material
Tooth

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