Three hundred items once owned by the late artifact collector Billy Jamieson were put up for auction on Sunday. Here are the six coolest things we could find.
This past Sunday afternoon, the floor of Ritchies auction house was packed with macabre curios. The heads, the swords, the vintage medical equipment, the Gatling gun, the two-headed calf, all of them must have stories. If Billy Jamieson were here, he would explain where all of these things came from, where he’d found them.
I’d met the famed artifact collector shortly before his death in 2011. While planning a dinner with Jamieson for my Fed column in the Toronto Star, he’d invited me to a Halloween party in his home, a multi-storey loft lined with ancient weapons, preserved animals, and a sarcophagus. One wall was entirely devoted to shrunken heads. Every piece of it was labeled, like a museum.
Just as he completed filming for his History Television show, Treasure Trader, Jamieson died suddenly and without explanation, and two years later, a mere fraction of his collection was placed on auction at Ritchies. Curiosity demanded that I attend.
Auctioneer Dirk Heinze spoke fondly of the collector, recounting that he’d once sold Jamieson the contents of Hitler’s desk. He began the bidding with an Alaskan dance mask, which sold quickly for $18,000 to a bidder over the phone. Out of the more than 300 lots, here are the most unique and interesting six.
1. A taxidermy two-headed calf
This sad creature supposedly lived for a few days. Now its soft, cinnamon-coloured coat, in addition to its twin heads, is preserved for eternity.
2. Wooden African helmet mask
Maybe from the Ivory Coast, but possibly a Makonde mask from Tanzania, in which case it would have been topped with hair (there’s a patch of incised wood where that would have gone) and worn in male initiation ceremonies.
3. Cowan’s club and Ojibwe war club
The spearhead in the tip of the Cowan’s club looks useful, for head-splitting and whatnot. But the 18th century Ojibwe weapon was one of the most highly valued lot items, estimated at $125,000.
4. An oversized 1950s Gatling gun
It was used for teaching purposes (presumably to teach shooting many people in a rapid fashion) and it’s not clear if it fires. Either way, with this on your coffee table, just rest a hand on it while reminding guests to remove their shoes.
5. A mummified hand
It’s just a replica. Boo.
6. Phantom shield
The head-to-body perspective is sheer Bobblehead. But this warrior’s shield from the Western Highland tribe of New Guinea, painted with the 1930s comic strip hero, is an unusual case of an indigenous culture appropriating iconography from white people. King Features Syndicate should sue.