Polynesian Clubs: The Ultimate Investment Hedge?
Polynesian Clubs: The Ultimate Investment Hedge?
By Michael Hamson
Risk management strategy
Reduce exposure …
With the world in upheaval, certain qualities become more important in your investments. Stability and liquidity are obviously crucial, but what else can give you peace of mind? Polynesian clubs are beautiful works of art whose market has grown enormously over the last 20 years, with top examples appreciating in value over 10% annually. Unlike any other investments, these beautifully wrought lengths of wood have an inherent quality, a physicality, a latent purpose that becomes ever more relevant in times of crisis. As a hedge for your investment portfolio, Polynesian clubs hold their own, but when it comes to protection over life and limb, they reign supreme.
The market for Polynesian clubs has grown significantly over the last 20 years—from total sales in 1999 of 47,377€ to 768,645€ in 2019—a more than 1,500% increase.
In 1999, there were a total of 11 Polynesian clubs offered at auction, of which 10 sold. They ranged in price from a 1,239€ Maori Taiaha to a 14,494€ Marquesas Islands U’u club. In total, the auction market for Polynesian clubs brought in 47,377€—averaging out to 4,737€ per lot.
Twenty years later, in 2019, there were 74 lots, of which 58 sold. They ranged in price from 277€ paid for a Samoan club to 191,772€ for the spectacular Helena Rubinstein Marquesas Islands U’u sold at Sotheby’s New York. The total sales of Polynesian clubs sold at auction in 2019 was 768,645€, averaging 13,252€ per club.
The increase in average values is largely due to growing demand for the very top pieces. The prices of run-of-the-mill clubs have stayed the same or, in some cases, dropped. As with the broader market for Oceanic art, as the number of Polynesian clubs on offer grows—both at auction and from dealer websites—connoisseurship and selectivity increase. The serious collectors with serious funds are focusing on only the best examples. The competition at the top drives prices well beyond previous levels.
Two Specific Examples:
Marquesas Islands U’u
Two club types in particular are worth a closer look. First, Marquesas Islands U’u clubs were the most expensive club type in both 1999 and 2019. Aesthetically, they have a scale and beauty that transcend the club genre into actual pieces of sculpture. As such, they are classics and are a staple at high-end auctions of Oceanic art and top many serious collectors’ wish lists. The market for these has been especially strong. In 1999, there were two U’u sold—solid examples but hardly masterpieces. One went for 6,729€ and the other, quite nice, sold for 14,494€—averaging the two comes to 10,611€.
In 2019, there were seven Marquesas Islands U’u clubs on offer—all sold—ranging in price from 16,000€ to the aforementioned Helena Rubinstein one for 191,772€. Besides these two outliers, the other five were in a tighter price range, averaging 65,142€. Overall, the average price paid for an U’u increased by an annualized rate of 10.3% over that 20-year period. How does that compare to most people’s portfolio performance?
A more modest and consistent trend can be seen with the Maori quarterstaff club, Taiaha. Like the Marquesas Islands U’u, Taiaha are also a recognizable and classic Polynesian weapon. While narrow and thin, they are topped with bold and often exquisite stylized heads. Taiaha combine the allure of an old, traditional object crowned with a respectable-sized portion of a Maori master carving with a warm and glossy, dark-brown patina—usually at a very reasonable price. Because these are relatively common in the market and have, at first glance, a standardized composition, they often fly under the radar. Few people take the time to walk up close and really appreciate the deep and confidently executed design and the abstract face on top.
In 1999, there were four Taiaha at auction, of which all sold for remarkably consistent prices between 1,258€ and 1,716€—averaging 1,461€ per lot. By 2019, there were 12 at auction, with one left unsold. By this time, the market had begun to pay more attention to differences in quality. The low price paid was 650€ and two went for over 9,000€, but the majority stayed in a consistent and narrow range between 1,000€ and 2,000€. Averaged out, the price for a Taiaha at auction in 2019 was 2,830€—which was a sober 3.36% annualized increase over the past 20 years.
A Priceless Allure
Most art objects are best enjoyed through quiet contemplation. You stand back and let your eyes take in the entire form before walking forward to discover the smaller details. This is primarily a visual experience that can be both intellectually challenging and emotionally satisfying. The aesthetic appeal of Polynesian clubs is yet even more complex. They are often composed of graceful lines, intricately carved details and warm, glossy brown surfaces. The rounded shafts and textured grips provide a tactile experience when touched. Taken a step further, when lifted, the combination of the club’s heft and balance invites physical interaction and participation.
Most Polynesian clubs are of a size that requires both hands to grip and swing. The hoisting up and swinging is a full-body experience. It starts in the soles of your feet as they grip the ground in preparation for the dynamic forces to come. One’s stance instinctively widens for balance and stability. The core is engaged when both hands hold the club aloft above the shoulders. Polynesian clubs are virtually all top-weighted to increase velocity and momentum when swung. The force generated by swinging is enormous and its devastating potential can send shivers down your spine.
Polynesian clubs are intriguing art objects that combine an elegant formal aesthetic with a clearly murderous intent. It is an object that holds its own when displayed for its aesthetic merits yet begs to be taken from its stand, gripped firmly and hoisted onto the shoulder or, better yet, to be swung at some imaginary and very unfortunate foe.
The Ultimate Investment Hedge?
As investments, Polynesian clubs are solid and worthy; as a hedge against societal downfall, their value is persistent and latent. That ferocity of intent engendered when originally carved has never left the club. It is dormant and undiminished—ready. In a calm and prosperous society, its formal beauty of graceful lines and shiny surfaces becomes its dominant trait, its reason for being. But as civil rule deteriorates, in times of crisis or in the immediacy of danger, the Polynesian club regains its primary function, its original reason for being, with authority and menace. Those formal qualities attractively lit from above as it stands upright on a pedestal now take on a whole different meaning. Hastily plucked from its display base, wielded with strength and purpose, the art and the investment value are forgotten. The club’s true nature is restored. It becomes once again something to be reckoned with, something that instills courage in the holder and fear in anyone within its range. It protects more than your portfolio—it manages risk—vulnerability and exposure are reduced. It becomes that barrier between you and the wilderness—the ultimate hedge.
March 24, 2020