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Bubble Artefacts Oceanic Tribal Art Gallery

Collector Series Interview


Colin Davidson

Colin is a retired accountant who has been collecting coins for about sixty-five years and Primitive Moneys for some fifty years. In 1974, Colin became member #29 of Neil Kent Becker's International Primitive, Odd & Curious Money Club (IPOCMC) - later renamed as the International Primitive Money Club. During the period 1978-79 he took over as Acting President and Editor of the Club and edited and issued 8 Journals.

When Neil was able to resume the presidency again, Colin started up the Australian based Traditional Money Association which promoted the study and collecting of primitive moneys. This club lapsed in 1998 but, during the period 1980 to 1998, twenty-six Journals of the TMA were issued.

Colin is a keen collector and student of all forms of Primitive Moneys with his own published book called “Money Substitutes and Favoured Trade Items of Torres Strait and Papuan Gulf” being illustrated with items from his collection.

Colin has a huge wealth of knowledge in the field of Oceania and primitive money and is a wonderful addition to our discussion group. I hope you enjoy his interview.


WC - In one word how would you describe yourself?

CD - Obsessive


WC - Approx. how many pieces do you have in your collection of New Guinea Tribal Art?

CD - My collection consists of worldwide items of Primitive Money or custom money substitutes. It includes about 1200 items from Oceania including about 800 from New Guinea. Most of these would not be classed as Tribal Art as many are simple objects such as stone axe blades, tobacco sticks, pig tusks, shell strings, minor shell valuables and the like. However, there are a number of true art items such as the Massim carved betel implements, the Santa Cruz feather roll, tortoiseshell armbands, Kap-Kaps, Oro tapa cloth and the lovely, stenciled money mats from New Hebrides.


WC - Can you recall the first time you came across Oceanic Art?

CD - My first view of Oceanic Art was in the rooms of the Paulian Society’s New Guinea Primitive Arts store in the early 1970s. At that time, it was managed by Geoff Cary and Chris Bolan who were extremely helpful and generous with their time.


WC - If so, where were you, what artefact was it and what was your response – was it love at first sight, or did it take some time to grab you?

CD - There was no particular object – there were just too many lovely items to take in. – the fabulous carved and ochre painted masks, intricate carvings in wood, lintel posts and the like.


WC - What was the first artefact you purchased and what made you want to buy it?

CD - Again from the Paulian Society – a stone blade axe from Tambanum Village on the Sepik. I purchased it because, with the stone blade, it was a money/trade object, it looked marvellous and – I could afford it.


WC - When did you realise you had earned the title of “Collector”?

CD - I have always been a collector. I first found a Palestinian coin (I still have it) when I was five or six and been seriously collecting ever since. First coins and then Primitive Moneys.


WC - What is your most treasured ‘find’ and where and when did you find it?

CD - I have a superb 380mm high stone sculpture of a woman which came to me from a one-time ex-patriot who lived in the Mt. Hagen area. My sculpture is about 3000 to 8000 years old, and she is beautiful.


WC - What methods do you use to find pieces for your collections – i.e., charity shops, online, auctions, garage sales?

CD - All of the above, plus word of mouth, and I have been really helped by some wonderful dealers. In the last century I attended most of the Tribal Art Auctions of James R Lawson. Through the 70s and 80s, I sent many aerogrammes to various places in the Pacific (Trade store Kundiawa, teacher Public School Honiara, Parish Priest Aoba, etc.) and, in doing so, “met” a number of lovely people (including islanders) who helped me. Also, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s I published a worldwide journal, first for the IPOCMC and then for the Traditional Money Association, through which I could trade and correspond with many collectors worldwide (You can find free downloadable copies of the Journals by Googling Col Davidson Traditional Money Association). More recently I finally ticked one item off my “bucket list” when I self-published a book on Torres Straits and Papuan Gulf Money items.


WC - What mistakes have you made with collecting and what can your experience teach new collectors out there?

CD - I made mistakes in not fully knowing the value of first the value of the item being obtained and secondly not knowing the true value of the item that I was trading or selling. My main mistake however was not buying items because I thought them a little overpriced but which I could have afforded at the time. If you like an item and can afford it – buy it.


WC - What other advice would you give to new collectors?

CD - Get as much information that you can on your area of interest. Look at items in collections, museums, dealers’ shops and lists, or data available on the Internet. Buy books and download any free books, articles or information from the Internet for your library so that you can identify items more easily and (hopefully) identify the better items. Talk to and write to collectors, dealers, museum staff and anybody with knowledge on the subject.

The old adage of “if it seems too good t be true, then it probably is” is not always correct. Sometimes you might find an outstanding item at a reasonable price. I once passed up a superb Marshall Island fishhook as it was obviously newly made. I found out later that it had been collected over a hundred years previously in that lovely condition.

If money is tight, try and save some money to build up a “bank” purely for the purchase of your items. A little saved each week can add up to a reasonable sum. Do not overspend and regret it later – do not underspend and regret it later.


WC - What are your three top tips for getting a good deal on a piece you love?

CD - Most dealers are very helpful and knowledgeable, and a regular customer often gets a small discount or can pay in installments.

It never hurts to ask for a “second price”. The seller can always say “no”.

Make sure that you have as much information as possible. Try and check auction prices, other dealers’ catalogues and the Internet so that you can get a good idea as to the value of the item. If you can afford it, it appears genuine, and you really like it – then buy it.


WC - What are you most passionate about collecting now?

CD - Money-substitute items from Torres Straits/Papuan Gulf and Massim artefacts plus items “with a story”.


WC - Where do you see the New Guinea Arts industry going in the future?

CD - I feel that the numbers of collectors will reduce with not as many younger people being interested and the high prices being asked for many items scaring prospective collectors away. Possibly rarer and better items will increase in price as most are already in collections and there are not as many similar items coming on to the market from their sources. Medium pieces might show slight gains, but commoner items might even have their values reduced.


WC - Has the use of technology made it easier or harder to buy pieces? If so, how?

CD - New technology has definitely made it easier to buy pieces. With the Internet alone you can see auction lists, bid online, “talk” to other collectors and dealers, advertise worldwide, check on prices and values and search for specific items.


WC - Give 5 words that describe the emotion when you sit in a room with your collection?

CD - Pleasure in such wonderful company.


WC - Any final words – Open for you to add something or just leave as above.

CD - I feel sorry for people who do not collect or have no real interests. You can obtain so much enjoyment and satisfaction from any collection and one of Oceanic artefacts, many of which have amazing stories or show lovely workmanship, make it a joy to be able to see such works of art on a daily basis.


Many thanks to Colin for this fantastic interview. We look forward to seeing more of his expertise on the group chat alongside his collection!

Kind regards,

Warren Campbell

Executive Director

Bubble Artefacts Oceanic Tribal Art Gallery