“Suitable for decoration of halls and billiard rooms:” finding indigenous agency in historic auction and sale catalogues
Auction catalogues from the late 19th and early 20th centuries at first glance seem to record merely the desires of Colonial collectors. Our detailed study of changes in provenances, types and prices shows how appropriate analytical strategies can uncover changing patterns of negotiation between indigenous makers and Western consumers. We begin by identifying the traits that most captivated the British market and then turn to a detailed analysis of the history of consumption of artifacts from the Papua colony. At the broadest level Gell’s insights as exemplified by Harrison’s study of colonial desire for Kimberley points are supported. A more detailed look at changes in the kinds of Papuan objects for sale allows us to draw out Indigenous agency through creative responses to market opportunities.