Iolani Palace targets Most Wanted

Published: Jul. 25, 2011 at 11:00 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2011 at 2:30 AM HST
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By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The nation's only official royal residence is putting out a plea for priceless, missing items. Iolani Palace has created a "most wanted" list - hunting everywhere from auction houses to ebay - for new leads.

"We know they're out there because we've tracked them from the original inventories and through our researchers over the years, and we've followed things," says Iolani palace curator, Heather Diamond.

Palace employees and volunteers have been searching for some pieces for more than 40 years. They're specifically targeting furnishings from the bedrooms of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani. Thousands of items are still out there - either purchased a century ago at palace auctions, sold-off by the territorial and state governments, or handed down in families through the generations.

Iolani palace estimates about five thousand pieces are at-large - pieces that once graced the rooms and halls of Hawaii's royal residence. The palace is hoping donors will step forward with valuable artifacts - starting with furniture that once filled the King and Queen's bedrooms.

"They show the private life. They show the spaces that the King and Queen actually sat with family and friends in," says Diamond. "So, it would be very special to get those pieces back and be able to recreate these rooms."

Over the years, the royal pieces spread far and wide. After King Kalakaua's death, Queen Kapiolani held a series of auctions to pay off his debts.

Palace docent educator, Zita Cup-Choy says, "Amongst the things that were sold were his wine cellar and a number of other personal objects that she had no use for or had enough of already - so she didn't need any more of."

Queen Kapiolani also handed down possessions to family members. And after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Queen Liliuokalani put her belongings in a trust, and eventually, many of those items were auctioned off, too. Now, the palace has listed some of these "most wanted" pieces on its website.

Diamond says, "There's also a giant, Gothic revival hutch that we're looking for that we know, from photographs, was on the second floor in the main hall and was last seen in a hotel that has since been demolished."

Palace employees keep track of items through ledgers, logs, and auction records - and even get leads from ebay. We found a King Kalakaua sword and part of a royal collar selling for 30 thousand dollars each, We also took note of a Queen Liliuokalani table selling for a whopping 750 thousand dollars. Of course, the buyer has to check for authenticity. Occasionally, the palace buys items but mostly, it relies on donations.

Adds Cup-Choy, "We do not have a lot of funds. Our acquisition fund, in recent years, has dwindled to almost nothing." Most of the palace money is spent on restoring items that have come in. Over the years, it's received items from four countries and 37 states.

Of course, most of us don't have royal artifacts laying around, but you can still help the conservation effort. The palace has a program where you can sponsor a tax-deductible restoration project. There's more information on its website,

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.