King Kamehameha’s Hawaiian Feather Cloak, Hooper Collection Christie’s London 21 June 1977 Dream Piece #15 King Kamehameha’s Hawaiian Feather Cloak, Hooper CollectionChristie’s London 21 June 1977 This Hawaiian feather cloak of King Kamehameha III from the James Hooper Collection is the finest example ever to hit the market and in June of 1977 it was hotly contested in the Christie’s London saleroom fetching 140,000 British pounds—more than ten times the cost of the average London townhouse at the time. What recently brought this masterpiece to mind was a phone call from the Native American art dealer George Shaw who was part of a three-dealer consortium that were the winners of that long ago battle at Christie’s. I have since learned the other two dealers were Peter Adler of London and the now deceased American Indian art dealer James Economos. George Shaw related both his excitement of being the winning bidder and his anxiety knowing he and his partners would now have to pay for something they could not afford. An easy solution walked up in the saleroom just seconds after the hammer fell. The New York dealer Merton Simpson offered the group a quick 20% profit right then for the cloak. They refused the offer. Instead Shaw proceeded to have a fire sale to raise the funds to pay Christie’s. In the end the group was able to follow through with the purchase and King Kamehameha’s royal cloak was soon hanging in Shaw’s Aspen home. Shaw lived with it until a phone call out of the blue from the important collector Edmund (Ted) Carpenter, who first introduced himself, then said he was curious about that beautiful feather cape hanging in Shaw’s dining room. It turns out that Ted Carpenter and his wife Adelaide de Menil had rented a condo across the street. Eventually a deal was made and the enormously important feather cape found its way into a properly serious collection. Which is a good thing considering the significance of this particular cloak. As a class the feather capes were coveted as the highest symbols of power and prestige in 18th and 19th century Hawaii. The feathers themselves were of great importance and were collected as taxes. Only a few feathers from each bird were plucked before it was launched back into the sky--nice to know. It is said that a magnificent cloak like the present example could contain up to a half a million feathers. The history of this cape is even more impressive than its construction. It was presented in 1831 by King Kamehameha III to General William Miller who later became the British Consul in Honolulu. From there it went to the Dover Museum from which James Hooper acquired it in 1948. The 140,000 British pounds the piece sold for in June of 1977 equated to $254,000 at the time which in today’s dollars is $1.3 million. I shudder at the fortitude/balls those three dealers had in bidding that high, especially considering South Pacific was not their specialty. What would this magnificent cloak sell for today? God only knows.