There are so many amazing contemporary tiki artists in the scene today. When i first got into tiki, there were only a few guys who had been around doing it consistently for a while; Bosko, Crazy Al, Wayne Coombs in FL, of course Leroy Schmaltz, and some others. Back in the late '90s, it was all about finding vintage tiki. I was going to college in Stockton, CA at the University of the Pacific and the thrift stores were littered with Stockton Islander, Harvey's Lake Tahoe, and Tonga Room tiki mugs! I'd flinch at buying a mug if they were asking more than $5 for it. Seriously. This was pre-eBay. They were just weird ceramics to the thrift store clerks... Anyway, I enjoy all of the work that today's artists create, but for me, the ultimate is still in finding that one or two vintage tikis or mugs in thrift stores, antique malls, yard sales, or estate sales... The inexpensive discoveries are rare in my area (Orange County) these days.
On Thursday morning, I woke up super early to drive to the location of an estate sale that was supposed to have a bunch of nautical stuff. Nautical stuff is always great to supplement the tiki decor in your home bar. They go hand in hand. And usually those who collect nautical stuff, seem to have a tiki or two laying around as well. I was hoping that this would be the case with a specifically nautical themed estate sale that I had caught wind of.
I was 8th in line at what would be the greatest estate sale that I have ever attended... Jam packed with absolutely everything that I love. At opening time, there were over 80 people in line behind me. It was hard to restrain myself from going too far... Spending too much. I still managed to grab just about every tiki that was in the house....for really, really good prices.
The estate was that of the man who owned the Nautical Decor store next to El Ranchito on the Balboa peninsula in Newport Beach. I had purchased stuff from him a bunch, in the past. Things like net floats, fish floats, fish netting, and pier pilings from which I carved my first tikis... I carved these guys around 2002 or 2003.
The 'backyard' of his store.
When I'd go to into his store, we'd talk about Newport Beach/ Corona Del Mar's rich tiki history. There was both a Don the Beachcomber and a Christian's Hut in the area during the 1950s...
I actually just discovered all of this Christian's Hut stuff on the web, so enjoy the brief sidetrack into the tiki history of Newport Beach's
And a further sidetrack... This photo shows the legendary Ray Buhen (Former Don the Beachcomber, Seven Seas, Dresden, Luau bartender & cocktail innovator and owner of the Tiki Ti) bartending at the Christian's Hut on Catalina Island. It was moved to Balboa after the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty was wrapped.
Now, back to Thursday morning...
I was really hoping to find some super rare remnants of those Newport Beach tiki establishments in his estate, but I didn't see anything. No relevant mugs, no ashtrays, no matchbooks...
The owner of Nautical Decor was a real nice guy and it was hard for me to watch him deteriorate over the years. The last of the old Newport Beach sea faring men; from a time when Newport was a fishing port and there was a cannery on the harbor...
I always wondered where he lived... Turns out that his house was right on the Newport Harbor. I never imagined that the house would be a super valuable bayfront property with his own dock. Homes right there go for well over $2mil now. Either the nautical decor business was way better than I thought it was or he had something going on from before he opened the store. This is the backyard of the home.
After talking to the ladies who had been working on organizing his estate for the last year, they told me that they kept finding cash hidden all over the house. In a drawer, under some new-in-packaging white tee shirts was $50k... In a big vase, hidden in a closet was another $60k, and amongst a bunch of player piano music rolls was a tightly taped up box. They had been kicking the box around the house for months when they finally got around to opening it. Over $100,000 in $100 bills! Wow! So many questions started winding through my mind... but all they knew were rumors. Crazy stuff.
I could have easily spent a couple thousand dollars at this estate sale. Everything was stuff that I like/ collect. Portholes, ship lanterns, ship cowl vents, ship wheels, tiki, pulley blocks, neon signs, rare giant clam shells, rigging and fish nets...
That's even a Witco piece on the table, toward the right of the photo. The price wasn't bad, but it wasn't a tiki by Witco, so I was over it.
It killed me to leave this giant crab behind. I have absolutely no room in my house for that thing though... I didn't even stop to look at the puffer fish lamps. In any other estate sale, those would have been the stars of the show for me. Crazy.
It also killed me to leave this carved female ship prow figure behind. Only $150, but I was saving my cash for tiki, not carved wooden chicks.
SO many vintage neon beer signs and fish float balls. It got to the point where I saw so many floats that I didn't even consider buying them anymore. At around $125ea, even one or two of them would have destroyed my shopping budget.
That ship's vent cowl was amazing. Must have been off of a BIG ship.
$2,000 taxidermy sea turtles.
He was also known to have the largest giant clam shell collection in North America or something like that... I have never seen so many complete pairs of clam shells in one place before. These were all expensive too. The giant ones were listed at over $2k for the pairs. This medium sized pair was $450.
Amazing collection of corals and sea stars as well... and more clam shells...
I loved this jukebox too. AMI made some of the coolest ones in the '50s!
Everything I bought was for my collection. Not for resale. I hope he's up there, happy that his tiki collection went to a fellow collector who has a love for the oceanic history of the beach city that we both grew up in. Not the vapid, sun bleached millionaire breeding ground that it has become.
This is the stuff that I came away with...
For that vintage tiki hunter, this was an absolute dream day for me. It brought me back to the old days of thrifting in Stockton.
Close-up of the two Hawaiian tikis that I got. Each, is about 16" tall. Notice that that one on the left is grabbing his man boobs? What the hell?! After a second look, my girlfriend, Ashlyn Coco, has decided that that one is a female. She pointed to the pregnant belly compared to the thin waist of the other one. Makes sense to me. Female tikis are extremely rare.
I also scored the port and starboard lights pictured in the foreground of the picture above. I'm going to wire them to work again.
All of these masks are from Benson's Tropical Imports (since 1949).
I've conferred with some of my knowledgable fellow tiki collector buddies and we all seem to be in agreement that these tiki masks are vintage Oceanic Arts. OA is thee one-stop-shop for tiki decor, dating all the way back to the 1950s. These were most likely hand painted and maybe hand carved by the legendary Leroy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts.
I also picked up this guy. There's been a lot of discussion amongst my friends as to whether or not this guy is African. If any of you, reading this, have an idea, please leave a comment. We are all super curious.
...And a couple of cement yard flamingos rounded out the absolute best estate sale that I've
...But then, Saturday morning, on a whim, I decided to go BACK! I heard that everything was half price. Usually, I wouldn't bother going back to an estate sale on the third day, but this place had SO much stuff that I figured that there must be something left.
I was intent on avoiding an ATM for cash to spend on more 'stuff', so I emptied a bunch of change-holding tiki mugs and hit the local Coinstar. $160 in loose change already felt like I was winning.
Arriving at the sale, I heard the mumblings of someone having stole 'the list.' At many estate sales, lists are put out to keep everyone knowing their spot in line... For whatever reason, on Friday afternoon, they started the list for Sat morning's sale. a bunch of people arrived at the sale on Saturday morning really early. Those people arrived super early and found themselves already 30th in line. I'd be pissed too. So one of them must have thrown it away or something... The only thing to do was start the list all over with the people who were waiting in line. What else could you do? If the list is gone, the list is gone...
With the sale opening at 8:00, around 7:45, all kinds of people on that first list started showing up... Things got tense QUICKLY. I was contently 18th place in line or something, so I didn't care. I just watched the battle ensue. Ladies were yelling at each other, guys were cursing... And then this dude on a skateboard rolled up. HE was PISSED. After hearing what had happened, he shoved his way to the front of the line, using his skateboard as a battering ram. He started yelling at the lady who was reading names off of the list, and really went after her. Swearing at her and pushing her out of the way, he kicked the gate door in and started toward the entry of the house. Two big guys went after him and wrestled him in the side yard of the place. At this point, I couldn't see what was happening, but it sounded like a pretty good fight. Eventually, things quieted down while the guy was still in the sideyard trying to get into the house. The estate sale people had locked the house. Then the cops came. When they brought him out on the other side of the house, we could all see him bleeding from the side of his face. Crazy morning.
A new employee came out, holding the list, called my name and I left all of that idiocy outside.
What I found inside was a place still filled with amazing vintage netted fish floats, nautical port and starboard lights, shells, and weird stuff that had just been overlooked by people through the course of the sale. Like this old sea jug thing. Priced at $5, I got it for $2.50 (!!!) because of the last day half-off sale.
What, your bedroom doesn't have a ton of vintage fish floats hanging from the ceiling?? They were all marked at $125, so I left them there on the first day. At a half price of $62.50, I could bring at least one, home with me.
Even after the sale had gone on for two days, there were still a bunch of these lights left over. I grabbed two of them.
I didn't know what the hell these things were, but I did like the moai one, so I grabbed it. In hindsight, I should have bought all of them. Some of my tiki friends agree that these are forms for pouring tiki necklace molds! The moai one is probably the most famous. Usually you see it with jeweled eyes.
So this is what I ended up with after my return trip. A rope boat bumper, that little sea jug, nautical lights, a big block and hook pulley, a vintage fish float, a buoy, a ship's vent cowl, and another tiki mask! I found the mask behind a big picture that was leaning against a wall.
And THAT was the end of the greatest estate sale that I have ever attended.
Now to totally redesign The Breezeway to accommodate the new stuff.
Hope you enjoyed my little adventure as much as I did! What a crazy experience.