Graffiti-filled toilet doors, band posters, darts trophies​ and cigarette machines were just some of the pieces that were auctioned following the closure of Auckland's iconic music venue, The Kings Arms. In this blog, Curator Jane Groufsky describes the objects that were acquired at the auction for the Museum's collection and explains why they were chosen. 

On Wednesday the 28th of February, infamous Auckland bar and music venue the Kings Arms closed its doors after nearly 140 years in business. Established as hotel in the 1880s, the two-storey wooden building at the end of Frances St in Newton had until now survived the changing face of the city. Motorway development in the 1960s stripped the surrounding area of housing but the Kings Arms lived on as a working men’s pub. When owner Maureen Gordon and her family transformed part of the building into a live music venue in the mid-90s, it became an Auckland icon, beloved by local bands and even host to international acts like The Black Keys and The White Stripes in the early days of their career. The well-loved and busy venue could not survive Auckland’s need for high density housing, however, and in 2016 the site was bought by developers who will bulldoze the pub to make way for apartments. 

An iconic part of our recent history, the Kings Arms is a place that resonates with generations of Aucklanders, and its popularity and ultimate demise reflects the changing nature of recreation in our city. It is important to us at Auckland Museum that we are able to tell these stories through our collection, and therefore we wanted to collect objects with a strong link to the venue. We weren’t the only ones – before the bar had even closed, nostalgic punters had already started “souveniring” memorabilia, with thieves going as far as stealing the lightbox sign from the exterior.

Auction day at the Kings Arms.

In the week following their closure, the Kings Arms hosted an onsite auction of all their chattels - from the lighting rig, to darts trophies from the sports bar, right down to the posters plastered to the walls in the greenroom (BYO crowbar). Myself and Nina Finigan, Curator Manuscripts, attended the busy auction with a very small wishlist of items we wanted to add to our collection. When adding objects to the collection, we must make sure they meet our collecting policy and match the themes we have identified as priority areas (in this case, stories that reflect the changing face of the Auckland CBD). We are also required to write a proposal justifying why these objects are important, which is then approved by several people across the Museum before we can attend the auction – no impulse purchases allowed!
The objects we successfully bid for might not sound like your typical precious museum treasures, but they help us to tell meaningful stories about life in Auckland. The cigarette machine we acquired demonstrates the changing face of attitudes around smoking and socialising in New Zealand. Once an essential part of a night out, 2003 legislation which banned smoking in pubs has relegated smokers to the back garden. The cigarette machine sells packs for $10.50 - not 2018 prices, suggesting it remained in the Kings Arms as a curiosity. 

Toilet stall doors from The Kings Arms. Obscene language has been blurred for inclusion in this blog, but is untouched on the doors themselves.

Collection of Auckland Museum, 2018.14.3-5.

We also acquired three doors from the stalls in the women's toilets, which are adorned with graffiti that speaks directly to the pub’s history. Written over and cleaned repeatedly over the years, they form a palimpsest on which women have expressed their thoughts and communicated with each other. They contain references to New Zealand’s music history, contemporary social issues, and obscure in-jokes. “RIP KA” in a heart, written in black permanent marker, encapsulates the feelings of the final punters. 

In a Museum context, these objects come with challenges when it comes to preservation and display. Some of the graffiti is written with lipstick, easily smeared, and features very explicit language. We also have to take care not to store them alongside our tapu (sacred) collections. Although difficult to preserve, they are a tangible link to an important piece of Auckland history. A local icon, the Kings Arms has nostalgic appeal to Aucklanders: from those who visited the sports bar for a quiet pint, to the regular gig-goers and musicians who made it legendary.

Pictured (top): Detail, women's toilets, (bottom left) interior of the women's toilets at the Kings Arms (bottom right), a disco ball up for grabs at the Kings Arms auction. 

Header photo: Mark Derricutt, 2015, Chalice of Blood   

By Jane Groufsky, Project Curator History, 8 March 2018