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State moves to block auction of items related to overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons
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Queen Liliʻuokalani

The state Department of the Attorney General has put the British auction house Bonhams on notice. At issue are items dating back to the Hawaiian monarchy overthrow that the state maintains belong to Hawaiʻi.

Among the items is a Royal Standard — a personal flag for Queen Liliʻuokalani — which was up for auction to the highest bidder.

The flag was advertised as part of the collection of Colonel John Soper, who was with the provisional government that overthrew the monarchy.

The collection includes Soper’s swords and his portrait, and other Hawaiian collectibles. But it’s the queen’s standard, which the auction house described as what flew over Washington Place during the overthrow, that prompted legal action.

State archivist Adam Jansen says the action was necessary to protect the public artifacts from being unlawfully kept in private collections.

"We were founded in 1905 to collect all public archives. And as such, you know, it's our kuleana to serve as the keepers of public memory. Those events and individuals and organizations that shaped Hawaiʻi's history and need to be remembered in perpetuity is really our focus to make sure that they are preserved and are accessible to the people," Jansen said. "For us to be able to do something very proactive like this, and hopefully bring these things home to the people, really illustrates why archives exist in the first place."

Soper screenshot 101722 bonhams
A screenshot of the lots associated with Col. John Soper on the Bonhams website on Oct. 17, 2022. Bonhams received the state’s Notice of Claim letter on Friday, Oct. 14. Three lots containing documents and items claimed as property of the State of Hawaiʻi have since been withdrawn.

Bonhams received the state’s Notice of Claim letter on Friday, Oct. 14. Three lots containing documents and items claimed as property of the State of Hawaiʻi have since been withdrawn.

"We were very fortunate that one of our most passionate followers on social media brought this to our attention because normally this is not something that we track on a global scale," Jansen said. "As we looked at particularly Her Majesty's Royal Standard, we looked at some of the other objects, and it really struck us that some of these things, they belong to the people of Hawaiʻi, and they need to come back home."

The Soper estate sale continues through Oct. 25.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 14, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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