Provenance: Captain James Cook
54. [TAPA BARK CLOTH]. [Spine title]: Tapa Bark Cloth Collected by Captain James Cook Exhibited Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886. Collection consisting of 7 cloth specimens, as follows:
Specimen 1: 14 x 14.7 cm (5-1/2 x 5-3/4 inches). Dyed, patterned cloth.
Specimen 2: 15.2 x 15.9 cm (6 x 6-1/4 inches). Dyed, patterned cloth.
Specimen 3: 36.8 x 37.5 cm (14-1/2 x 14-3/4 inches). Undyed, plain cloth.
Specimen 4: 36.2 x 36.2 cm (14-1/4 x 14-1/4 inches). Undyed, plain cloth.
Specimen 5: 33 x 38.2 cm (13 x 15 inches). Undyed, plain cloth.
Specimen 6: 33 x 95.3 cm (13 x 37-1/2 inches). Undyed, plain cloth.
Specimen 7: 54.6 x 94 cm (21-1/2 x 37 inches). Undyed, plain cloth.
Larger pieces are waterstained and show some disintegration; smaller samples are in good condition. Each has small, oval inventory paper sticker attached. Preserved in cloth clamshell case. Accompanied by an autograph letter signed and dated May 26, 1967, from Captain Cook descendent L. Rickman-Adams to Maggs Brothers explaining the provenance of the cloth samples: “I am afraid that I can add little to the details in Christie’s catalogue except to assure you that the pieces of tapa cloth were in actual fact among the many relics of Captain Cook which came to my great-grandmother on the death in 1835 of Mrs. Cook (her cousin). The relics which I sold formed part of my grandfather’s share; the remainder, together with those belonging to other members of my family were all presented to the governments of Australia and New Zealand. The two small pieces of coloured tapa were actually in one of the illustrations in the catalogue of the Indian & Colonial Exhibition which was included in Lot 106 of Christie’s Sale.” Cook’s wife was Rickman’s great-great grandmother. This is perhaps the most desirable provenance one might expect to find for tapa cloth.
Tapa cloth is usually made from the bark of a paper mulberry or breadfruit tree. After processing in water the resulting strips are pounded to the appropriate thinness and then overlapped and pasted to make larger sheets. The Natives used the cloth not only for clothing but also as a type of money and an indicator of relative wealth and social status. Finally, it was also used in such other venues as funerals and religious rites. The cloth is manufactured widely in the South Pacific islands to this day.
Cook and his companions were extremely interested in this indigenous art, and many crew members collected samples of it, so much so that Alexander Shaw, who published the most famous contemporary work on the subject, could advertise that he had samples available for sale. Shaw published the following work: A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth Collected in the Three Voyages of Captain Cook, to the Southern Hemisphere, with a Particular Account of the Manner of Manufacturing the Same in the Various Islands of the South Seas... with Some Anecdotes that Happened to them among the Natives, London, 1787 (see Beddie 3640, Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 139; Hocken, p. 26; Holmes 67; O’Reilly-Reitman 4903). Two copies of Shaw’s assemblage sold recently (2004, Sotheby’s Sale 4401, Lot 293, and Christie’s Sandwell Sale 7196, Lot 39). Rare as Shaw’s book might be, it is still more common than samples of cloth such those offered here that are descended directly from Cook himself. Cf. Beddie 3643. ($10,000-20,000)
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