A 19th century toothpaste lid bearing an image of a Māori chief has sold for $21,622 at auction in Upper Hutt.
Kiwi Auctions won’t disclose who bought it but auctioneer Warren Roberts says they have "good purposes" for it.
A nameless chief features on the lid of the UK-made porcelain pot - one of 144 commissioned by an Auckland pharmacist in the 1880s.
It’s one of only two left and was found by a collector scouring a rubbish dump in Melbourne in 1995.
Mr. Roberts convinced its owner to put it up for sale in New Zealand,
“We call it the holy grail. It’s the one everybody aspires to own,” said Mr Roberts.
But to some, the artefact is a symbol of New Zealand’s divisive past.
A senior lecturer in Māori studies at Auckland University Dr Ella Henry said she’s "appalled" people would bid for it. But she had hoped someone who understands that it is cultural appropriation would buy it and gift it to the nation as an example of cultural appropriation.
An 1880s soft drink bottle depicting Māori chief Tāmati Wāka Nene sold for $2,200. Dr Henry says his iwi, Ngāti Hine, will be "outraged to know that their ancestor, one of their great chiefs, is being abused and used in this way".
She says New Zealand has a long history of cultural appropriation such as trading on Māori women’s bodies to sell tourist spots. Dr Henry says Pania of the Reef is one example. “The nubile, native women with her breasts out.”
But Mr. Roberts said he sees very few antiques come by his auction house with Māori imagery.
“The Māori motifs and particularly portraits were very rarely used in European products. Very few manufacturers dared to probably use a Māori image.”