Brazilian slave ship figurehead sells for £50k

Figurehead Image copyright Sworders
Image caption The 25in (63cm) high figurehead was part of the ship "Piratenim"

An "incredibly rare" wooden figurehead from a Brazilian slave ship has sold for 10 times its guide price at auction.

The carving, representing a South American gaucho, was bought for £50,000 at Sworders auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex.

It was originally estimated to fetch between £5,000 and £8,000.

Historian Richard Hunter said the carving was "like a Fabergé egg of the figurehead world".

"It's one of the rarest surviving figureheads of its kind," he said.

"Even finding items from these vessels [slave ships] is as rare as you can get.

"I thought it had been lost. But all of a sudden it reappeared, having been in private hands for decades," said Mr Hunter.

International interest

The carving, which is 25in (63cm) high, was originally found on the "Piratenim" slave ship, which was captured by a British warship in the 1850s.

It is likely to have been considered a "trophy" from the ship's capture, and was later given to Sir Joseph Bailey, an MP and Victorian industry chief, Mr Hunter said.

A spokesman for Sworders said the figurehead was sold to an American bidder on the phone.

He said eight phone lines had been booked for the item "from across Europe and the United States".

"I was surprised about the amount it went for," said figurehead historian Mr Hunter.

"I thought would go to £30,000. But it's just so incredibly rare, that's why there was so much interest."

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