Primitive Exhibits Rare New Guinea Pottery Used Like Money

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Primitive, the well known Chicago gallery, unveiled a collection of exceptionally rare pottery used as the principle means of exchange by people in New Guinea.

A Sago storage pot used like money

An exceptionally fine Damarau over thirty inches tall

Like rare coins, there are so few in circulation their value keeps going up

Primitive, the well known Chicago gallery, unveiled a collection of storage pots from the village of Aibom in Papua New Guinea. Known as Damarau in the “pottery world,” the pots are considered one of the rarest and most collectible types of ceramics, and are usually seen only in museums. Originally created to store flour made from the Sago palm tree, the pots also had value far beyond function, being the principle means of exchange among villagers and neighboring communities. For all practical purposes, this type of pottery is now extinct. Glen Joffe, the owner of Primitive, said, “You could think of these pots as money; not just storage vessels. Like rare coins, there are so few in circulation their value keeps going up and they become more collectible.”

The pots are exceptionally fine, large examples of Damarau, some standing over thirty inches high. The pots have no known ritual or ceremonial purpose, although each is modeled and decorated with the face of a local deity. In describing this decoration for the public, the gallery published the following statement, “Why do these faces appear on their surface? Is it for good luck, to safeguard the food, or do they make an appearance like past Presidents on paper money? Perhaps it’s just to remind us that even ordinary objects can be meaningful, beautifully designed, and have value far beyond function.” The pots originated among the Sawos People, a small tribal group living along the Sepik River. They were originally crafted just after World War II and never shown publicly until the Primitive exhibit.

About Primitive: located in downtown Chicago, Primitive presents authentic one-of-a-kind collections of furniture, artifacts, textiles, jewelry, fashion and artwork from around the world. Whether visiting in-person or on the web, you will find a vast colorful mosaic of authentic collections brought from some of the world’s hardest to reach places. Everything offered by Primitive is collectible, has a story, history, purpose and design heritage, and comes “from the hand and heart.”

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Shira Soskel
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