Arthur Palmer - Aboriginal, Oceanic & Tribal Art

Thursday, September 21, 2006




Shields Up - Clubs Down
During the last 12 months, using plain Solomon Island Clubs as an indicator on eBay, there is a severe and sharp downward trend. This time last year, even average Solomon Clubs were achieving around the $500 USD mark on a regular basis. Last month an excellent example from a reputable well known eBay dealer in the UK auctioned a club with a brilliant provenance of having been a present from Queen Victoria no less (over the top?). This club sold for $250 USD. Why is this so? Answer – supply and demand. Ebay has flushed out many old good clubs in the last 12 months (this is known in the trade as the ‘china doll syndrome’- once rare & valuable – now pedestrian & minor due huge supply surge). Clubs by nature tend to be fairly robust and indestructible and apparently many people have old good examples tucked away in broom closets and in the shed. Clubs tend to survive. Due to the ubiquitous nature of eBay, many of these are now appearing on the market, whereas pre eBay they may only have appeared spasmodically at church fetes and in flea markets. Aboriginal clubs of average nature have also suffered the same fate over this period for exactly the same reason. High quality clubs continue to appreciate as do all superb rare examples of all types. However, the indicators are that supply is now far out stripping demand. What collectors/dealers now desire/demand are upgraded examples & omissions in the form of rare fine examples.

Shields- both Aboriginal & Pacific - on the other hand are at the top of the collectible list with rapidly rising values being achieved. At a premium are good old, big, bright, bold examples in good condition with an unimpeachable provenance. In common with other high quality artefacts, provenance is often up to 50% of their collectible value. In company with the rising value comes the increasing number of fakes and bodgied up lesser examples. As this trend bites, provenance becomes increasingly important. On this point the market is getting very nervous & particular emphasis is being placed on full provenance. Picked up in a junk shop is not good enough any longer to achieve good returns.

As the Market gets more picky & nervous then this trend in general will affect all other types of artefacts. Dealer & collector reputation & track record together with provenance will have as great a weight as the objects presence on inspection. Give that eBay relies almost solely on the buyers ability to interrogate a 2 dimensional photograph of questionable quality- then the proven provenance of the piece coupled with the track record of the dealer all become critical mass.

How many dealers & buyers are there really? Analysis of eBay suggests that about 200 buy & sell world wide on any regular basis if the one off sellers & buyers are discounted. This conforms to the Artefact Expo experience which suggests most sales are dealer to dealer trades. Also begs the question of how many collectors are now in touch with each other due eBay and now by pass dealers completely on the world market. Is the collector to collector market different to the dealer driven controlled market. The irresistible conclusion is affirmative.

How different? - To be the subject of the next report.
All the best .Cheers Arthur


  • Fake
    is a hard thing to define in oceanic art.

    people say you can tell by the intent of the artist but I believe that is blurred.

    With New Ireland Kap Kaps for example they were often made by an artist under
    commission from a chief.

    When Joel Pitcher of Tatau sold his Kap Kap to a dealer it was generations old, and carved with Neolithic tools by a traditional kapkap maker (as real as can be).

    He commissioned a replacement made by a traditional kapkap maker who used a hand
    held grinder for the backing shell and a knife to make the kap kap. (Fake?)

    When another dealer came along this KapKap was sold as well. Unfortunately the
    traditional kapKap maker had died so Joel commissioned another artist but one
    who did not have the traditional knowledge or magic involved in making a kap kap. None the less he made one, which joel used (Fake?)

    When that one sold Joel got another made but the young innovative artist decided to
    use a piece of plastic instead of the clam backing shell. None the less at ceremonial occasions Joel wore his KapKap as a badge of traditional authority

    Joels brother seeing a booming KapKap market decided he would also get a KapKap made
    even though he was not suppose to wear one. He had it made up but the style was
    varied slightly so as not to infringe traditional copy right (fake?)

    The dealer seeing what was going on went to the young artist direct and got half a
    dozen made (definitely fake)

    What if the dealer had paid a traditional chief to go to a traditional kapKap maker
    and get one of his style commissioned. The chief and the dealer know it is going to be sold but not the artist who does a traditional job using
    traditional materials and tools (Fake?)

    If intent alone is used then a plastic disk with a plastic freize on the top is real while the last scenario is considered fake.

    The Artist in the Sepik’s name is Jeff Liversidge. His history with oceanic art
    goes back to the 1960’s and he is a great carver. I sometimes wonder if he was
    a black Papuan and not a Melbourne lad gone native if he would not be
    considered a modern mutuaga

    I wonder if a Local lower sepik native commissioned a mask from Jeff Liversidge, which
    was then painted and empowered by traditional means and used in a singsing and
    considered by the villagers as real and “hot”, whether you the collector would still
    consider it fake just because the artist was white?

    bilong tingting

    By Blogger masta carvings, at November 20, 2006 4:37 AM  

  • i am interested to know whether Jeff Liversidge is still alive and still on the Sepik. i interviewed him in 1978. Hugh Lunn

    By Anonymous Hugh Lunn, at January 31, 2013 8:44 PM  

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